ACHOLA ROSARIO EXPLORES DANDORA AND FINDS INTERESTING DEVELOPMENTS
By Achola Rosario, Contributing Editor at www.ATCNews.org
(Posted 27th March 2021)
Every great story begins with two standard elements: either someone is entering or leaving town, or someone gets so fed up with the status-quo that they decide to do something about it. The latter is usually more impressive because it requires strength of character to undertake a personal upheaval, and then drag the rest of the community with you. This is often tiresome and dangerous because people don’t like to change much, and making them do things differently usually frightens them. That is why it was so refreshing to see the cheerful enthusiasm that the Dandora Transformational League brought to their community regeneration. One truly felt like they were in a LMFAO music video with people ready to break out in a spontaneous shuffle, such were the ‘good-vibes’ around.
Out of the grey cinderblock concrete jungle lanes come bursting forth a Skittles-colored park, complete with proper lawn grass painted tire armchairs with woven rubber supports, oil drum tables with bottle tops embedded in colored concrete, lime green gum-boot planters with purple paint splashes and a hidden budding fish-tank on the side of a fully-fledged library built out of various grandmothers’ dining cabinets. There is water, electricity and a functional toilet onsite and its free for community residents to come spend a cheerful afternoon with bunny-rabbits, guinea-pigs and pigeons, while eating from the fruit trees and sugar-cane shoots. A kind contribution of only shs30 ($0.30) per visitor for the daily upkeep and keeping the lights on is usually pressed upon the hands of the author of this lovely garden, Evans Otieno, a.k.a. The Transformer. He named his garden The Believers Corner. A native of Dandora who grew up across the street, he played at this very spot when it was a stinking garbage dump, dangerous and abandoned, one of numerous such corners in this 30km sprawling town in Eastern Nairobi, with a population density so high that kids seem to sprout out of endless alleyways.
He said he got tired, and got convinced his friend to help him clear up the place instead of just idling around like they usually did, and found that as they cleaned, the trash they uncovered became materials they could use to create their fantasy corner, and several shades of paint later, magic was unveiled. Neighbors confess to neighborhood children coming more and more to sit and read story books, or practice for their school dance festivals. Residents have even taken to hiring it out as a venue for weddings and family get-togethers, block-parties and mentorships. The book library system is clear and respected, and of course donations of new books can never be rejected. A friend once told me, much to my current chagrin for my own personal collection, that books are not to be kept, for knowledge is to be shared. It took him 4 years to get this place to where it is now, and of course it is still growing; but not within the confines of his own walls… This is an idea that is spreading to many other dump-sites in the vicinity. I follow him out of his sanctuary, and down several alleyways, past the electric pole height tree planted by Wangari Maathai herself and lovingly tended since by the neighborhood, into another Skittles colored hub of fun called Sister Brother Love C.B.O. (Community Based Organization).
Painted stepping stones extolling the virtues of patience, politeness and hard work, lead to a little grassy enclosure with stacked-tire minions and flowering wishing wells, where a group of 18-35 year old community youth leaders from other neighborhoods in Nairobi, came to view what is possible and exchange best-practices, an activity they called bench-marking, organized by Community Champion Josephat Karumi and supervised by the overall administrative group Public Space Network, whose project coordinator, Ivy Maina, invited me to come and witness this youth-led urban regeneration project for myself, at the Greenbelt Movement celebrations for Wangari Maathai a few weeks back. Sister Brother Love founder Mercy Wanjiru, a soft-spoken ebony beauty, elaborated in clear-cut tones that she sought no help from any county leader to create this safe space for the local children. She took the time that COVID took from us last year and built this little play area complete with a classroom in the back for supervised story-book reading and crafts. She repeatedly said when asked how she deals with deadlocks, that “she crosses that bridge when she comes to it”. Strong words softly spoken. And once again, the area was pleasantly carpeted with lawn worthy of a bowling green.
As we left kiddie-paradise and walked through the alley-ways with my newfound friends Bob, Anthony, Wairimu and Charlie with the teeth, each glowing excitedly with the possibilities they will be returning with to their communities, former pro-footballer and boxer Josephat elaborates about the size of this youth movement. He tells me they have 5 groups in 5 wards bringing it to a total of 25 groups, each consisting of about 30 members maximum. He estimates the current number to be about 540 youth in Dandora alone, who are volunteering their time towards creating such spaces in their communities. He says so far, they have transformed about 120 spaces and affected close to 4000 residents, bringing the good cheer and clean living to dark poisonous corners, and reducing crime infested streets. But by far the most important result, is not so much the physical, but the MENTAL TRANSFORMATION this project has produced. Once one’s eyes are opened, they can no longer stay shut. And it all began at The Mustard Seed Community grounds, pioneered by founder, gardener and youth mentor Charles Gachanga and his smiling brother in the background. A thick fragrant home-made beef stew was served to all with a mountain of Ugali and greens, while we all shared what snippets we had personally gathered on Revisionist African History on our carpet lawn. There is hope after all.
The Public Spaces Network is co-founded by Robinson Esialimba and welcomes all collaborations, donations and volunteers. Contact the project coordinator:
Ivy Maina: +254 722 569 516
To volunteer or rent Believers Corner for an event (max. cost Kshs10,000 per day):
Evans Otieno: +254 714 400751
To rent Mustard Seeds gardens for an event (max. cost Kshs10,000 per day):
Charles Gachanga: +254 702 736 433
firstname.lastname@example.org (to volunteer)
To volunteer at Sister Brother Love C.B.O:
Contact Mercy Wanjiru +254726246740