In fall 2007, Environmental Youth Alliance interns Justin Sekiguchi, Sean McHugh and Nathaniel Canuel travelled to Nairobi to set up the campaign. Working to address the region’s two most pressing problems—unemployment and waste management—the trio helped build the Soweto Youth Group Waste Management Centre.
An initial capital investment set up the centre and hired a few dozen staff to process and sell recycled metals and plastics to local businesses. Designed in consultation with local communities, the centre will act as a pilot project for three other youth groups in the area. Read more here.
At the event, attendees viewed a series of photos by project participants. Much like Pivot Legal Society’s “Hope in Shadows” project, Seikiguchi, McHugh and Canuel handed out disposal cameras to local youth and turned the results into calendars and framed prints. The fundraiser also featured a performance by Corbin Murdoch and the Nautical Miles and The Sappers.
“Community involvement in the project [was very important to us]… Arriving in Nairobi, the extreme poverty and corruption gets to you at first, and it’s a difficult place to understand… With the project, we focused on building relationships and made lots of good friends and colleagues.” —Sean
“For me, the most powerful photo is of two children behind a barbed wire fence… We tried not to focus only on the garbage-filled alleys, but also on the positive… There’s such a strong, supportive community there.” —Sean
“I work as a social worker on the Downtown Eastside, and it’s a different kind of poverty over there… There it’s a lack of government support… while here [the problems are] more linked to drugs and alcohol—which in turn stem from factors beyond the control of individuals… There are people in the Downtown Eastside who are the most caring, selfless people you’ll ever meet, who will give you the shirt off their back if you get to know them… It’s the same thing in the [Nairobi] slums… Come to Oppenheimer Park or Carnegie Centre and strike up a conversation with someone. You’ll learn more in one day than you will in weeks of reading newspapers or watching TV.” —Justin
“The photo that struck me was of the kids behind the barbed wire fence—that is the closest thing they have to a playground. They are playing in garbage, barbed wire and compost, but they’re still having a great time.” —Justin
“What I was thinking about [when I first arrived] there was that it’s so real. People are facing problems that seem unsurpassable… In the media, these areas are expressed as being pretty violent, but inside, we had so much fun… The slums have a stigma of being filled with criminals and vagrants, but they are actually full of people who are trying to live their lives normally under difficult circumstances.” —Nathaniel