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“Impossible to make a change? Not!”
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“Impossible to make a change? Not!”

Four years ago the Mathare Festival started with the goal of promoting peace and preventing election-related violence. Eric Omwanda, 26, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Nairobi in Kenya, was instrumental in that successful effort and reports what happened next.

Immediately after the Mathare Festival, one of my friends asked me, and I quote, “Now after Mathare Festival, what next for you in terms of projects and career”? I responded by telling him watch the space, there is more to come from me.

I did a deep reflection of what I would really do with my life. Coming from a very humble background, I knew it would be difficult to go back to university or college. My parents could not afford this because even in my high school life well-wishers and local organisations were paying for my school fees.

All was not lost. From 2007 to 2013 I was involved in the youth photography project in Mathare slums, where I learnt photography, film making and life skills. Luckily I was selected to go for project management, proposal writing and fundraising courses since I was very passionate in those areas and had a good combination of photography, film making and management skills.

In March 2013 was the turning point in my life. I was an average student both in school at the grassroots organisation. None of my peers could believe that I could establish a youth led organszation at the age 22.  After consultation with my friends and wise elders, I decided to co-found the Mathare Foundation.

The organisation started as a non-registered entity before we were officially registered as a Community Based Organization with the Ministry of Gender, Culture and Social Services in May 2013. The Foundation did not have an office space or any of its own equipment. The main purpose of this Foundation was to train and create opportunities for young people aged 10 to 16 years in photography, performing arts and sports.

At the beginning, most people thought we did not know what we were doing with the project. It operated in the Mathare slums, which have a population of about 500,000 people – more than 50 per cent of them youth. We soldiered on and did a couple of small projects with either no budget or very limited funds. Together with my co-founder we could do casual work and purchase balls, uniforms, small digital cameras and organise events. It was not that easy. However, since we had vowed to make this venture a success we did all we can. We tried to engage other young people to join the Mathare Foundation and support us with in-kind support, since that was what we needed the most at that time.

As we are speaking today, Mathare Foundation has implemented more than five successful projects. Our work has been featured in local and international news agencies. We have an operating office where we conduct our photography and performing arts trainings. One of our co-founders received the Commonwealth Youth Worker Award for Africa region in 2016. He was awarded the trophy for his tremendous, indefatigable effort in making his community a better place. We have trained more than 100 young people and supported most of them in their education through the recently-started project dubbed Mathare Education Fund.

I want to thank the every individual and organisation who supported me and the Mathare Foundation to be where we are today. The list would be long so I will mention some of the persons: Lyda Mallant,Wings of Support Foundation; Mr. Mark Mccord, Young Africa Leaders Initiative Chief of Party; His Excellency Nic Hailey, British High Commissioner; Nairobi Women Representative Rachel Shebesh; Youssef Boulkaid, a web designer from France; Awesome Foundation Nairobi Founder Robinson Esialimba; Richard from Australia and Stefanie Hartwig from Germany; Claire Baudoux of the French Embassy Program Officer for Social Fund for Development; Lawrence Muli, Commonwealth Young Professional; Alliance of Slum Media Organization Chairperson George Karanja; Lensational Co Founder Bonnie Chiu; the, Balloon Ventures Team in Nairobi and United Kenya.

I want to encourage anyone who will read this article: In life there is never enough, and most of the time is not about you but about us. Keep on pushing to ensure that you achieve your desires. If you have the courage, the only thing that you need is to start. Please never stand and wait; start now and move on. Though the journey is tough you will learn along the way.

Photo credit: courtesy of Eric Omwanda, Mathare Foundation

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About me: I am a Co- Founder and Project Manager at the Mathare Foundation. I am the 2016 Commonwealth Youth Worker Award winner for Africa region. I have been writing for the Commonwealth since 2013. You can see my work on www.matharefoundation.org.
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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/
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