I am living in Kisumu, Kenya

21 April 2009 at 06:32 19 comments

I am living in Kisumu, Kenya. Here is a picture of the street where I volunteer, in the Nyalenda slum.

Nyalenda Slum in Kisumu, Kenya

Walking around the slum, one quickly comes across evidence of the post election violence.  Burned buildings are common.  As are random herds of goats.

Evidence of post-election violence in Kisumu

White people in Kisumu are usually in self-contained SUVs.  Not too many ever enter the Nyalenda slum.  As a result, as I walk, I am usually chased by children.

Children in Nyalenda

If I stay in one place for too long, they gather to stare.

Children in Nyalenda

In the slum, you find many teenage girls.  Their stories show a lot of common themes.

I am 20 years old.  My parents passed away when I was 14.  A lack of school fees made me leave school.  We were left 10 children.  Everyone searched for places to stay but I was left alone and went to be a street girl.  A guy hired me as a maid but forced me to have sex.  Within one month he raped me and I was pregnant.  I went to the Kenyan police and they did not take any action about that case.  They wanted money but I didn’t have even a single cent to give them.  I became a mother of a child but there was no job or anything to do.  I wake up early in the morning to wash clothes for people.  They only give me 50 shillings (*equivalent of less than $1USD) in order to get food to eat with my child.  Without washing clothes, we go to sleep hungry. If I can get someone to take care of me and return me back to school, then I can be proud and be happy as some people are.  Maybe my life can change and I can be someone different.

I’m a girl of age 20 years.  I dropped out of school in 2005 because I did not have money to continue my education.  I have been staying at home doing nothing.  I have no money to start a business.  I have no knowledge of anything.  I tried to convince my father to look for money to take me to high school but he did not.  I have been walking day and night to look for employment even as a housemaid but the salary is as low as 100 shillings a month (*$1.31 USD per month).  There is a time I succeeded in getting employment in a rich man’s house.  He promised to pay me well but was exploiting me sexually.  When I threatened to report him he sent me away.  I was frustrated beyond words.

I am 22 years old.  I am the first born in a family of five.  I live with my mother and step-father and dropped out of school.  I used to go clubbing and really had a bad company.  I got pregnant and now I have a kid, he’s 2.5 years old.  Life has been so hard I even tried marriage to find happiness and comfort.  I was married to a young man who gave me everything but mistreated me and my kid.  I had no choice but to stay with him since he provided me everything.  Nobody cared about me.  My husband was cheating on me but there was nothing I could do.  Now I am HIV positive.

A Sisterhood for Change participant posing with her child

A Sisterhood for Change participant posing with her child

Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (“KMET”) is one of KIVA’s partners.  In 2006, KMET created a program to address the seemingly hopeless situation for teenage girls.  KMET recruited orphans, single mothers, high school drop-outs, HIV/AIDs patients and commercial sex workers for a program called Sisterhood for Change.  The stories above are taken from profiles written by the girls recruited by the program.

At the Sisterhood for Change center, the teenage girls are taught about reproductive health and family planning.  For the first time, the girls learn about menstruation, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and how to use a condom.
At the center, the girls are also trained for 6 months in vocational skills, like cooking, hairdressing or tailoring.  Experienced tutors work with them from 8 am – 5pm, making sure that they have the skills to find legitimate jobs.  This is a huge opportunity – before they joined SFC, many of the girls had supported themselves and their children by “getting a boyfriend.”  These “boyfriends” are rarely monogamous and they rarely use condoms, contributing to the high rate of HIV infection in Kisumu (15%).  In the 1990s, the rate of HIV infection reached as high as 38%.  Along the streets, you can buy shirts, mangos, and coffins.  Funeral processions line the streets every weekend.
Susan teaches tailoring skills to an SFC girl

Susan teaches tailoring skills to an SFC girl

When Sisterhood for Change began, KMET expected that upon graduation, the girls would immediately get jobs in local communities.  Unfortunately, Kisumu just… doesn’t have jobs.  So even with their new vocational skills, the girls were still unemployed and relying upon men for income.

So KMET conceptualized an idea for Safe Spaces.  KMET has purchased a building in the Nyalenda slum and stocked it with the equipment needed to run tailoring, hairdressing and catering businesses.  KMET will train the girls in business and entrepreneurship, and then they will be free to work in the Safe Space for as long as they wish.  The girls will be purchasing supplies using KIVA loans.
For a long time, I wondered whether it could work.  We held a lot of preliminary meetings to discuss our plans for the Safe Spaces, and the girls usually yawned in indifference.  I would smile. I would pump my fists in excitement.  I would lure them with cookies.  Still, they seemed disinterested.

But now it’s actually happening! They are working in the Safe Spaces, selling french fries, avocado juice, and sassy hairstyles. Training takes place from April 29th-May 7th, with the generous help fof the Child at Venture Foundation. I still sometimes wonder if they are ready.  I still sometimes wonder if Muhammad Yunus would approve.  These girls really are the poorest of the poor, and we are trained that microfinance is not always effective with that group.  Will high school drop outs be able to run their own businesses?  We’ll find out…

Sisterhood for Change girls relax in the Safe Space

Would Muhammad Yunus lend to us?

Milena Arciszewski is a year-long Kiva Fellow.  She has been in Kenya since January 2009, helping to develop the Safe Space initiative.  She loves getting emails, and can be reached at milena.kathryn@gmail.com.

Entry filed under: Africa, All, Kenya, Kisumu Medical & Education Trust (K-MET). Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

A charming walled town on Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast Lake Titicaca and the Floating Islands


  • 1. florence  |  13 May 2010 at 02:25

    i also got pregnant in class 8 but i did not give up i am now at uon hoping to gradguate soon encourage the girls that its not how u fall but how u rise that determines ur future

  • 2. EVELYNE ALUOCH ECHESSA  |  10 May 2010 at 03:45

    Iam nurse by profession living with hiv, please kindly assist me get some fund to help me upgrade my qualification from certificate to diploma.Iam in kisumu, due to my health condition, iam unable to meet the required amount of fee,and i have been admitted in kisumu medical training centre. Kindly please assist me or advice me on the same.Thanks.

  • 3. Jacqueline maikuri  |  23 March 2010 at 04:49

    Whaau! I just lack words to say. You people are doing a wonderful job. Keep up the good work. Only God will reward you.

  • 4. William  |  8 December 2009 at 03:46

    This is a great job you are doing. I now live n Kisumu and your blog is an eye openner. Great work. Thanks. E-mail.


  • 5. jasmine muthoni  |  7 December 2009 at 03:37

    wow again i say wow. M inspired

  • 6. jasmine muthoni  |  7 December 2009 at 03:30

    wow is all i can say. Wow. Thanx 4 caring 4 them. God bless you immensely

  • […] I Am Living In Kisumu, Kenya, Milena Arciszewski KF7, […]

  • 8. Michael Donahue  |  18 May 2009 at 07:17


    Thanks for the work you are doing. Found your blog while searching for someone with KIVA to connect with regarding presenting KIVA model to a group of teens from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and South Africa here in Denver, Colorado. In 2007 we delivered a program to Kenyan teens, and a portion of the project included introducing and training them in micro lending. Go visit the Kisumu Girl’s School, Mary, the principal and David, one of their instructors are incredible folk! Beryl, one of the three girls we worked with at that school is still there working on her projects. To look at your photos brings back such great memories of my time there. Much of it spent dodging traffic!

  • 9. Hanna Mocharla  |  2 May 2009 at 17:56

    Milenka: you are doing fantastic job !. We all enjoy your writing and photos very much. Cannot wait for the next report.
    Ciocia Hania

  • 10. Pawel Stefanski  |  1 May 2009 at 18:34

    Milena: we’re friends of your parents. You’re doing great work! Do you feel safe, despite this surrounding violence?

  • 11. Tomasz Arciszewski  |  27 April 2009 at 10:32

    I am proud of you


  • 12. Tatiana  |  26 April 2009 at 11:43

    Milena, these girls’ situations upset me so much. Thank you for helping to give them hope and an alternative path to that to which their society relegates them. It’s very upsetting to me that all those bright young faces have been exploited and forced into giving sex to be able to feed themselves and their children.

    Even worse is the fact that they’ve been taught that’s all they’re worth, that they aren’t worthy of respect and a decent life. That’s such a lie. They are of great worth, inestimable worth, and any one of them can change the whole world for the better. Please tell them I said that, and thank you again for this work you are doing. It matters so much.

  • 13. Ike Song  |  23 April 2009 at 08:16

    Milena, can you call me?

  • 14. kieranball  |  23 April 2009 at 06:51

    Love the photos, love the writing. Cheeky little kid in the red t-shirt caught my eye. As Abby said, inspired me all over again! Thanks Milena.

  • 15. Joanna  |  23 April 2009 at 05:12

    Thanks Milena for sharing a taste of your reality and theirs.

    Free cookies and fist pumping, mixed in with vocational skills, can make a difference. You are amazing.

  • 16. Abby Gray  |  22 April 2009 at 14:06

    great post, Milena. Sometimes it’s hard to feel inspired when you’ve been in the field long enough, but your post makes me think about possibilities. thanks for pumping your fist 🙂

  • 17. Kerry  |  22 April 2009 at 09:23


    Congratulations on helping to make Safe Spaces a reality! I will keep an eye out for these loan opportunities as this sounds like a very worthy experiment.

    Thank you for all your hard work and the wonderful photographic essay in this post!


  • 18. Megan  |  21 April 2009 at 20:13

    Another great post Milena.

  • 19. Jan & John  |  21 April 2009 at 08:32

    Thanks Milena. We try to lend to K-MET whenever we get the chance. Great photos. Those children deserve better. jan

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