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Youth Exhibitioners at UNODC’s December Youth Conference Display Incredible Courage, Leadership and Determination

Nairobi - At UNODC ROEA ’s first Youth Conference on the Promotion of Good Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption in December of 2018, youth exhibitioners under the age of 35 lined the hallway of the United Nation’s Office in Nairobi showcasing their businesses and organizations to conference participants, UN employees, and high-level officials.

In 2013, Marlene (name changed for privacy) was told by human traffickers in Nairobi posing as job sponsors that she could make 20,000 ksh a month working at a hotel in the Middle East. As the traffickers ensured they’d cover all travel costs, Marlene dreamed of being able to finally make enough to save at least half of her salary each month to support her family. However, when she arrived in Najran in Saudi Arabia, she was told the hotel jobs were filled and she would be working as a house help instead.

“I was locked up and couldn’t go out…he owned me, hiring me out to other people…I went to ten homes in a day, two hours at each, working from 6am until 2am. Every day was a nightmare…When you’re young you think you should take risks and our assumptions as Africans is when you work abroad there is a lot of money. It is not anything I’d advise someone to do. It is modern slavery…At many times I tried to commit suicide because I thought I’d rather be dead. I had to work for one and a half years, making 30,000 ksh a month, money I never saw because it was just to pay back the traffickers so I could get back to Kenya.”

In December of 2014 when Marlene finally returned to Kenya, she met other women who had gone through similar situations in countries across the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Qatar. One of the women had to hide in a container before the embassy of Libya brought her back to Kenya. As Marlene explained;

“…many of us came back very sick, so we decided to start this project to help provide a source of income.”

Of the ten women behind Kikwetu African Products, many are single mothers who, in addition to selling their crafts through the company, also wash clothes, clean houses and iron, earning around 300 ksh per day. As the other woman at the company booth explained;

“…the problem is that traffickers know what you want. For me, I was looking for money for university.”

Through the money she’s earned with Kikwetu African Products, she is now on track to graduate from Kenyatta University in April, while Marlene, who also couldn’t afford school, will finish her high school degree in 2019.

Instagram: @kikwetuproducts

Twitter: @kikwetuproducts

Facebook: Kikwetu African Products.

Email: kikwetuafrican[at]


Senior Managing Partner of Holby Training Solutions, Farhia Jama (left), stands with Sales and Marketing Director Hodha Mohammed and Team Member Ruth Nzomo (right).

In addition to being a lawyer and UN intern in the Urban Legislation department, Farhia Jama took over Holby Training Solutions in January of 2018 as Senior Managing Partner. Previously the company was assisting in community development work, but Farhia worked to expand their services to offer vocational training to young female business owners, youth-run businesses and organizations.

“I found that many young people don’t have relevant skills for the market, or they have the skills and talents, but just don’t know how to use them.”

After trying to start her own businesses many times before, Farhia personally understands the difficulties youth encounter in the market. Noting that the highest rate of unemployment is among those between 18 and 35, Farhia and her colleagues target their assistance to this age group.

With ten representatives covering most universities across Kenya, the company has been able to reach many young people, providing workshops, conferences, and 22 courses starting at 10,000 ksh. The beginners course takes place over four days within a period of one month, training youth on four key components of entrepreneurship: how to start a business, raise funds, make financial projections, and keep it sustained, in addition to teaching the intricacies of operation and management. More importantly, the course also comes with three years of follow up and monitoring of the enrolled youth, ensuring the success of their businesses.

“I tried to start businesses and failed so many times, but I learned. I began training women on how to sell their groceries, and now they have small-scale businesses…At Holby we monitor you and grow with you; many of our youth come back and partner with us to empower other youth and it becomes a cycle. If there’s just one person you’re able to help, that matters.”

Holby also offers comprehensive training to corporations, costing between 100,000 and 500,000 ksh depending on the number of employees. Although a relatively small company, Holby has partnered with UNICEF in addition to working with Google and county government stakeholders, among other experts, in order to provide youth business owners and entrepreneurs with the best skills as taught by professionals in the field.

In 2019, the company intends to reach around 3,000 more young people. Farhia is now becoming a published author, writing books on entrepreneurship skills so she can further this education to youth beyond those who can attend the classes.


Makena Njeru, founder of Yromee Jewels, holds a necklace she made using dark blue ceramic beads traditional to the Kisii tribe.

Founder of Yromee Jewels, as well as the upcycling designs and custom banner supply company, Lusso Creations, Makena Njeru sat at her booth in the United Nations hallway gluing together a bridal shower banner made entirely from recycled cardboard and painted newspaper. In addition to her wide range of creative skills and passion for environmentally-friendly products, Makena intends to pursue inclusivity through her beading. Noting that the lines drawn between tribes have continued to cause discrimination and even violence as in the case of the 2007 Kenyan elections, Makena hopes to use jewelry designs to show the beauty among all tribes. In July of 2019, Makena plans to hold a jewelry festival bringing together jewelry designers from all 42 tribes in Kenya to showcase their designs and admire those of their peers;

“…my main aim is to educate others around the artistic world of all tribes. Right now, the Massai are the only ones with their designs so prevalent in the market... I want to tell the story of all African accessories to the world.”


Co-Leader of CADCKE in the Kibera sub-county, Isaiah Nyongesa, stands in front of his booth.

The Community Anti-Drugs Coalition in America (CADCA) was founded in 1992, and since has expanded to 23 countries worldwide including Kenya (CADCKE). Representing just one of the over 5,000 coalitions within the rganization, the Co-Leader of CADCKE in the Kibera sub-county, Isaiah Nyongesa stands as a sterling example of leadership and mentorship to vulnerable youth. Noting the amount of youth on the street in Kibera, Isaiah couldn’t stand to see one more young person not able to attend school, so in 2010, he opened a school in his home community of Kibera, or “Kibra,” the more common name among locals. As the founder and director of Silver Springs Secondary School, Isaiah has always had a passion to serve his community. Seeing so many young people in Kibera suffering from drugs and alcohol abuse, he fights to bring access to education, positive mentorships, safe spaces, food and shelter, to as many youth as he can.

“At my school, we make sure to provide the students with morning tea and lunch. If kids can’t eat in school they’ll leave and many will go back to the streets. This school attracts them to come again tomorrow and learn…School can be hope. An assurance that somebody loves me somewhere. I’m not after money, I’m after transformation; opening a pathway for their dreams.”

Within the school’s first year, over 100 students enrolled and it has since expanded to include almost 300 consistent students between the ages of 14 and 21. After seeing that some of the young women attending his schools were having trouble at home, Isaiah also opened his school to house them permanently; around 20 young women currently stay there. Isaiah also has assisted them with sponsorships so they can continue their education even beyond his school. During their time at the school, he encourages them to engage in sports and many have gone on to play for Kenya football clubs. As he explained, through sports, youth stay away from substance abuse and crime; many have also been offered scholarships to play for universities who waive their school fees completely.

Isaiah, however, worries about the state of the boy child in Kibera. Over 60% of his students are young women. As he explains, it has become much easier for the girl child to receive sponsorships for their school fees than the boy. As many remain uneducated and unemployed, the suicide rate among the young men in Kibera has risen significantly. Thus, although his school isn’t completely free, of the 300 students, only around 70 pay the term fees. Of those 70, many are only paying partial fees; those paying in full mostly have sponsors assisting them. 

“It is time that we change our mindset to give hope to the boys as well…Every time I see a youth unable to attend school it breaks my heart and I allow them without school fees because how could I deny them quality education? I want them to achieve their dreams and make Kibra a safer community overall.”


Emily Wambui from MCF demonstrates how to fasten a washable sanitary napkin.

Mathare Children’s Fund (MCF) Panairobi assists with connecting vulnerable youth in Mathare with sponsorships, opening the door for many to access to education. However, Mercy Odero and Emily Wambui of MCF who both assist with women’s initiatives within the organization, make note of the fact that affordability of education doesn’t always keep girls in school. The rate of teenage pregnancy among young women and girls in Mathare is very high, and as sponsorships typically cover educational fees, they don’t provide sanitary supplies. Emily explained that a lack of sanitary napkins is a major reason as to why so many young women and girls become pregnant. As many young women can’t afford the sanitary supplies, they often exchange sex for pads. While a pack of five reusable sanitary pads that last around a year only cost around 350 KSH, with many people in Mathare still survive on under a dollar a day. Thus, even 350 KSH is still unaffordable for many. As a solution, MCF continues to look for partners to assist with the production costs of the pads so they can give them out to young women in Mathare for free.

“I come from this background and have felt the embarrassment…I know what it’s like to miss school because you can’t afford the napkins…and many young women aren’t even taught the basics of menstrual health, so each pack comes with an instruction manual and training. We go through how to properly use them, place them in the wet bag and wash them, also teaching the girls proper hygiene management and values of integrity.”


Account Associate at Sia Consultancy, Evans Kaman, holds a flyer for the company’s new pilot programme Stand Up, which will launch in 2019 to provide trainings on leadership skills and development to youth.

Focusing on youth in high school and at university, Sia Consultancy goes to each school to conduct a gap analysis, assessing the overall strengths and weaknesses of the students. After determining which skills and trainings are most needed, they tailor trainings to properly assist the youth. Furthermore, the consultancy’s Step Out programme focuses particularly on youth leaving university and entering the job market. They are taught job ethics, how to conduct themselves in a professional setting, what to wear, and how to interview well. As explained by Account Associate Evans Kaman:

“The motivation for the program came from the suffering we saw inside and out of schools as many youth struggled to present themselves, especially in the workplace. The overall goal is to provide youth with the skills they need to sustain themselves, effectively manage money and know how to present themselves in the workplace.”


Founder of the Fountain of Hope Centre, a children’s home and youth centre in Limuru, Joan Gachuhi showcases crafts made by the kids in the centre.

In 2009, a potato farmer in Kiambu County, Joan Gachuhi used the money she earned from farming to buy a nine-bedroom house and turned it into a children’s home known as the Fountain of Hope Centre. Those in the home range from just three years old to twenty; Joan takes in young pregnant mothers, youth with disabilities, young women form the Kirigiti Prison in Nairobi, and those previously on the street. Taking to the streets herself, Joan goes around looking for vulnerable youth, encouraging them to attend her centre for vocational skills and entrepreneurship training. With three official youth members and many other volunteers, the youth are given counselling, vocational and life skills training, in addition to rehabilitation and reintegration assistance. They’re also taught how to make various crafts, in addition to products such as yogurt, soap and Dettol. All profits from the sales go directly into investing in the small-scale businesses started by the youth in the home. 

“Many young people from rural communities believe there’s no money in farming and they come to urban centres for jobs, but then end up on the streets and often get into drugs…We want to remove the mindset of the white-collar job and instead embrace self-employment. The money from the crafts help them invest in their small businesses. We assist them until they are fully independent and feel ready to go back out into the world.”


IT Associate Derick Mokonge of The Youth Café, an online platform that focuses on marginalized communities.

Founded in 2012, The Youth Café is an online platform intending to incorporate all youth in the social, political, and economic decision making of both national and county level governments in Kenya and beyond. On the platform, youth have an opportunity to socialize with one another, discussing and voting on policies affecting their communities before they are passed and implemented. The platform then collects the information to present the youth position to policymakers, while also inquiring government officials on how they have specifically been able to reach the youth, engaging them in leadership positions and policymaking. Information Technology (IT) Associate Derick Mokonge explains a main focus for the platform is providing a voice to those within marginalized communities including women and those with disabilities;

“Growing up, I saw the marginalization of my mom as she was not given autonomy or allowed by my dad to speak her opinion; this is what I hope to change.”


Kate Kibarah, CEO of Kate’s Organics Ltd, holds a bottle of aloe-vera juice her company makes.

Without a single business loan or any funding, Kate Kibarah was still determined to start her own business. After losing 29 kilos in just a year and a half, Kate began to offer consultations on eating well and living healthy to people she met through her church. In 2013, she started a small organic farm and began packaging products from her house. Her business has since expanded to employ over 50,000 farmers throughout Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, producing honey, juices and teas – all certified organic. An advocate for both youth and women, Kate primarily employs young farmers and others who are single mothers or widows who need a steady source of income.

In addition to Kate’s Organics, Kate began her own NGO, the Organik Action Network in Kenya (ORGANIK). The NGO works with many farmers to encourage and train young people on starting their own farms and agricultural businesses, in addition to providing tailored information for each region on which products will thrive in the environment while also filling market demand. As the Organic Ambassador to Eastern Africa, Kate travels to various countries with her organization to bring this training to youth across the region

“Many young people look at me and are confused because I don’t look like a farmer. We aim to show them that farming can be very modern as well as profitable, encouraging them to start small and focus on producing organic products that are as environmentally friendly as they are healthy.”


Caren Wanjau of Wakilisha, a pro-bono legal aid organization for youth, sits in front of her booth.

Set to graduate Law School from the University of Nairobi this December, Caren Wanjau is the Deputy Director in the Legal Department of Wakilisha, a youth-led organization less than six months old that provides free legal aid to children in conflict with the law. However, the scope of the organization goes much further than just pro-bono assistance. Wakilisha helps the children into rehabilitation centers, in addition to providing youth mentorship programmes so upon release, they have skills for success, preventing recidivism. The organization intends to bridge the gap between the child and the advocate as well as between the child and society, advocating for understanding and acceptance of previously incarcerated youth.

The organization is currently running an eight-week mentorship program to youth in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi. They have also begun handling the cases of two children who’ve each been in remand for at least a year. Caren explains that despite the funding for Wakilishi coming directly out of their own pockets, they still plan to continue expanding their efforts; their plans include recruiting volunteers to do research and follow up on court cases, furthering education on Kenya’s legal processes, in addition to expanding their advocacy program

“Under the law, all children are entitled to legal representation, but statistics show that legal representation is not currently being handled effectively. The children who can’t afford representation are often not immediately given access to one and stay in remand homes, sometimes even for years without any education. There are many cases of child abuse and rape inside remand homes, Welfare Associations, children’s homes, and prisons…in addition to providing legal representation, we focus on mentorship programs to change their perspective on life, helping them to understand they don’t have to commit a crime to get their daily bread. These youth need to be loved and shown another way. In a small way we want to create a ripple effect, and we will impact a lot of people.”


Linda Chepkwony, founder of the Abraham Lincoln Youth Initiative (ALYI) as well as Kenya Youths in Trade & Business (KYTB), holds two paintings made by youth she assists through her organizations.

Just 26 years old, Linda Chepkwony is the founder of two youth organizations, the Abraham Lincoln Youth Initiative (ALYI) and Kenya Youths in Trade & Business (KYTB), both of which she funds from her own pockets.

KYTB aims to empower and support youth entrepreneurs and business owners who operate locally, but hope to expand to international markets.

ALYI focuses on assisting youth through capacity building programs. Partnering with businesses, she teaches the youth financial literacy, how to run and invest in a business, how to reach the target market, and how to grow their company through social media marketing. Linda also sets up meetings with businesses and organizations so the youth can pitch their business ideas to associates who provide them with the small loans the need to start their businesses.  

“Most youth have a mentality that they must be employed in an office, but they remain unemployed despite having passion and willpower…I want to emancipate or Kenyan youth from the slavery of unemployment by empowering them to be job creators more than job seekers.”

Trained by the Red Cross, Linda has taken ALYI a step further, providing humanitarian and disaster prevention programmes to youth in the vulnerable, informal communities around Nairobi. Youth are taught what to do in case of a disaster, in addition to knowledge of basic first-aid skills. As fires are often prevalent in the vulnerable, condensed urban areas, Linda feels this is a necessary step to saving the lives of youth, especially as response teams often take too long to effectively assist the communities.

Qfter noticing a trend of youth marrying drug dealers to acquire wealth primarily in Mathare, Linda has also begun a separate programme to combat the glorification of drugs.

“Youth particularly in Mathare have a mindset on marrying drug dealers. I want them to understand they can use other means to become successful because through engaging in drugs and getting into crime, the police don’t hesitate to shoot them…the notion in the slums by the police is they don’t negotiate with criminals, they shoot to kill. We’ve buried kids of 11, 12, 13 years…just this year, between 60 and 70 youth under the age of 18 have been killed by police in Mathare. These cases almost always go unreported or the police just deny the killings.”

Furthermore, Linda prioritizes economic empowerment among mothers; noting that if mothers can afford to educate their children, the children are less likely to see crime and drugs as their first choice. As an option to those who can’t afford school fees, Linda runs a community library project in Mathare to encourage a culture of reading and decrease the high rates of illiteracy among youth. She also intends to buy computers as to educate youth on current technological systems to adequately prepare them for the current job market.

“We also must acknowledge that in 2030 most jobs will be in the technological sector, so we need to include these youth in this…My focus is in Mathare, but I’ve expanded my projects to every slum in Nairobi…you know that only 5% of the people in Soweto are educated? Education must continue even over holidays, since during this time young girls often prostitute themselves or Kombi, they have sex with men for security…Education must fill that gap.”

Facebook: Abraham Lincoln Youth Initiative

Twitter: @YouthAbraham

Facebook: Youths in Trade and Business