A UN-HABITAT training school sponsored by the United Nations Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon with generous financial support of Norway and Finland is now teaching young people from the most deprived neighbourhoods of the Kenyan capital how to build better homes.
Known as the Moonbeam Youth Training Centre, it was born after Mr. Ban paid his first official visit to the giant slum of Kibera in January 2007. The Secretary-General said he was appalled at life in Kibera and promised that something had to be done. But he urged young people to be patient.
Last September, the Pony Chung Scholarship Foundation of South Korea awarded Mr. Ban USD 100,000 which the Secretary General in turn donated towards uplifting the living conditions of youth in the informal settlements of Nairobi. This is seed capital for the training centre. UN-HABITAT has since received an additional USD 1 million from the Government of Norway and USD 135,000 from Finland in support of the youth training activities and empowerment at the Centre which will cater for Kenya and the entire Eastern African region.
Launching the programme, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka pointed out to about 300 youths from the slums of Nairobi in attendance that housing is a sector for the future and the young, because it takes time and needs a long-term engagement. She urged young people to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Secretary General and the sponsoring donors to learn income-earning construction skills that will transform their lives.
The Executive Director of UN-HABITAT recently briefed the Prime Minister of Kenya, Mr. Raila Odinga of the progress made. Mr. Raila, the MP for Kibera, has expressed his personal interest and enthusiasm for the project.
The centre is located at the outskirts of Nairobi on a 50-acre plot acquired by UN-HABITAT with support of the Government of Finland through a pioneering debt for land swap programme with the Government of Kenya. Finland wrote off a USD 10 million loan in exchange for a 100 hectares (240 acres) of land that will be used to develop a sustainable neighborhood with affordable housing for poor people. UN-HABITAT is developing a pilot project on 50 acres of the estate as a model for other developers of the site on affordable housing using youth community contractors, or youth construction brigades.
The programme is divided into four training areas with each class fairly divided among young men and women. The first is brick making and masonry, providing training skills on the job for a team 28 youths. They are being taught how to build the ‘Habitat Brick’ made of cement and gravel and developed by UN-HABITAT Architect-Engineer Rainer Nordberg. These bricks cost five times less than an ordinary brick. Mr. Rainer says that in his experience, the women have proven more adept at it than the men!
The second training area involves sending young people on special attachments to big construction developers and related businesses so that they can learn the necessary skills. Here, 30 young people without any previous training or qualifications, are being assisted. Their placements are ensured by an implementing partner, the Umande Trust.
The third focuses vocational and life skills training including construction management and real estate administration. Another class of 30 youths will eventually support the administrative aspects of the brick Contruction Brigade.
The fourth area of training involves placements into plumbing, carpentry and electrical companies. UN-HABITAT has further entered cooperation agreement with implementing partners including Umande Trust Kenya, the Environmental Youth Alliance, Canada-Kenya, and The Constant Gardner Trust, Kenya. The latter is also to assist find additional funding.
In parallel and complementary to these activities is the organization of low income people into housing cooperatives so that they have access to the improved houses that will be constructed. The project is part of the agency’s Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme. The key partner is KEWLAT, Kenya Women Land Access Trust, a financial intermediary focusing on organizing low income women housing cooperatives to access mortgage finance and occupy the improved houses that will be developed.