At 20, a number of youth usually don’t know what they want in life. You will find most of them engaging in unhealthy sexual behaviours or abusing drugs. June Syowia is not one of them.
The second year economics student at the University of Nairobi from Dandora has beaten all the odds and gone ahead to do stuff that puts her head and shoulder above of her peers.
She says in 2013, she and a few of friends including Robinson Esialimba, Charles Gachanga, Samuel Ikambi and Abubakar Mope, decided to form a community-based organisation called Mustard Seed Organisation to clean up Dandora slum and create employment opportunities for youths.
“ We started by cleaning up one court comprising between 10 to 15 houses. We unclogged the drainage systems, collected rubbish which had piled up, leveled the ground and put up gates to create a gated community, hence creating open space for children to play. This helped in improving security in the area,” says June.
She says when they were starting, they were ridiculed and residents dumped garbage in places they had just cleaned. “What is your interest in this?” people would ask, and to this they would politely respond that the question should be, “What are our interest in this?”.
County Government of Nairobi askaris were also happy with the idea as they thought these youths would make them jobless.
Eventually, the youths saw a common need to keep their courtyard clean and safe, and more began to volunteer to clean instead of idling around. Soon, more neighbours began to clean their spaces.
In a bid to replicate this concept in other estates in Nairobi, in 2014 the organisation decided to develop a challenge dubbed “Changing Faces Challenge” with the winning court getting Sh100,000.
A total 86 courtyards with over 500 youths took part in the competition, producing a winner that walked away with Sh100,000.
In the same year, their work was recognised by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
They have also won an award for Best Place Maker under the Best Agenda category which was presented during a conference on urban solutions at UN-Habitat.
Further, Deputy President William Ruto and National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse board member Charles Njagua Kanyi (Jaguar) have come out in support with a contribution of Sh1 million each.
One of the greatest challenges facing the youths is lack of resources to buy tools and seedlings and raising prize money.
June says it is unfortunate that they could only pay the winner in the clean-up competition two months late after a number of well-wishers back-tracked at the eleventh hour.
Secondly, June says the County Government of Nairobi needs to support what they are doing instead of looking at them with suspicion.
“They need to issue letters to the youth teams guaranteeing that the spaces they are rehabilitating will remain public and they can continue to use them for activities that generate income in as much as a standard of cleanliness is maintained,” she says.
June says this is important because on a number of occasions, “private developers” have colluded with unscrupulous police to arrest and harass youths working in these areas.
Third, the youths are currently being paid by a partner and contributions from owners of courtyards, which is not appropriate as in developed systems, ward service delivery is funded through rates on property.
The government, working through county representatives and ward managers can ensure there is proper rate collection and that the residents determine how much of the land rates at the courtyard level go towards paying the youths.
Finally, the government can support initiatives such as the one in Dandora so that Changing Faces can also be active in other parts of Nairobi such as Kayole, Umoja, Huruma, Githurai and Kibra, where the National Youth Service is currently carrying out amazing clean-up exercises.
About June Syowia
In 2015, she established her own company, Beiless Group Limited. The company offers creative advertising solutions in transit media marketing on public service vehicles and online advertising.
She also has a construction agency called Syowaks Limited which for example, if a construction company wants to hire 100 workers, her platform has their contacts ready.
Last year, she featured in the Business Daily’s Top 40 under 40 Women for the clean-up of Dandora.
One of the biggest challenges she faces is her youth. She says she sometimes has to go the extra mile to prove her worth and the quality of her services as most clients thinks she is too young to handle their brands.