By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 11 december 2018)
In the last two years, nearly 2000 young women from Kibera, Korogocho, Mukuru and Kangemi have been trained in the ‘Dream Girls program’ run by the community development NGO, AMURT which has aimed to empower girls from disadvantaged background
Yet Anuja Prashar, director of AMURT’s department of development and CSR says that program had flaws. It didn’t teach the young women the kind of vocational skills that would enable them to become financially self-sufficient.
“They were basically trained to become house maids,” says Anuja who has much higher ambitions for the women. She’s started a vocational training program that aims to teach them practical and ‘employable’ skills which her research has shown will meet a market demand. The market she’s been focused on initially is the fashion industry since it relies on skills labor to create their high fashion.
The updated ‘dreams program’ that she has created teaches young women between the ages of 19 and 26 both employable skills ranging from handicrafts, including beading and sewing, to hairdressing and beauty to health care and hygiene.
But as important as these hands-on skills are in her program, Anuja is convinced that it’s the entrepreneurial skills that will help them most to become self-sufficient entrepreneurs.
“I want them to be able to start their own jua kali enterprises. Their businesses may initially be small scale, but I’m convinced there’s a ready market that’s prepared to keep them occupied once they have the right kind of skills training,” Anuja says.
The ‘Dreams Entrepreneur & Enterprise Program’ (DEEP) will provide that kind of training, she adds.
“We already have the program set up and we’ve begun training the young women. But we still need funds to expand our infrastructure since we want to take DEEP countrywide,” she says. “What’s more, in the near future we hope to include young men in the training.”
AMURT itself has been in Kenya since 1993 but in the past its primary focus has been on bringing health care services to disadvantaged people.
“AMURT has already set up three hospitals, the largest one being in Kangemi,” she says. “I was brought in to develop enterprise training programs after AMURT realized that many of the illnesses they treat are either directly or indirectly the result of poverty.”
But as it isn’t everyone who understands the link between skills training of young women and improved health, Anuja recently launched an African Beads and Print Challenge.
“It aimed to get people thinking about the role that [accessories like] Maasai beads and African prints play in developing our local fashion industry,” she says.
For 30 days she challenged herself and friends to dress in African designs and beads. At the outset of the ‘challenge’, she organized a panel discussion highlighting how the African Bead and Print industry is linked to Kenya’s socio-economic development.
Last Sunday, the challenge culminated with a fund-raiser fashion show at Spinners Web in Kitisuru. The show featured collections by top Kenyan designers’, all of which were modelled by 30 ‘dream girls’ and 10 child models, all of whom came from ‘informal settlements’ (or slums).
The top designers whose fashions were feature included Deepa Dosaja, Niku Singh, Kiran Ahluwalia and Spinners Web designers such as Tracy Kamau, Jackie Resley and Weaver Bird.
In the introduction of the show, Anuja invited several ‘dream girls’ to come forward to tell what the Dream program had done for them thus far. Among them was Aisha Wandia Muchiri, 23, from Kibera who has a primary school education. She said the program had already given her the self-confidence to stand up and speak in public which she couldn’t do before.
The highlight of the afternoon was the arrival of the renowned Kenyan Gospel singer, Gloria Muliro, who had once been a ‘dream girl’ herself. She said she too had been employed as a housemaid, something she did from 2000 to 2003.
“You would never believe that I was a house girl if you look at my life today,” says the acclaimed singer. “But what lifted me up was that I never lost hope and I never let go of my dreams,” she added.
Muliro inspired the youth that day, singing and dancing with them. She also invited them to join her as she sang one of her favorite tunes, Narudisha..
Anuja raised KSh250,000 from the Challenge and another SSh150,000 from the fashion show. She now plans to ramp up DEEP in the New Year.