Kiambu Kaputei 168Kiambu Kaputei 167
In recognition of the deplorable living conditions in the slums, Jamii Bora decided to create high-quality, low-cost housing for its members. This simple idea has spawned the creation of an entire town. Some 2,000 houses surrounding commercial and community centers will be built in Kajiado District. The town is to be called Kaputei, after a Maasai place name. The houses will be financed and sold only to Jamii Bora members. Already there is a long waiting list for these houses with priority being given to those members living in the slums of Nairobi.

The houses are built from cinderblocks and are roofed with red clay tiles. Both of those materials are made on site, providing employment in the area already and saving money on transportation of supplies.

Kiambu Kaputei 126Another brilliant component of the project is the two constructed wetlands that will treat non-sewage wastewater (greywater). These are very advanced applications of an extremely cost-effective technology. The wetlands component will be done in conjunction with teams from two of the top universities in Kenya. The semi-arid land in Kaputei makes water management and conservation a necessity.

The project faced opposition from various groups, but has finally been given clearence by the courts. The construction phase has started and over 200 homes have been completed by the time of this writing. The pipe dream has become a reality.

Two weeks ago I finally got the chance to see the site where this town is coming into being. I drove out with the two Swedish guys. We drove for a while outside of Nairobi through brush- and grassland. The town site is actually well over an hour away from Nairobi, a fact which causes some concern among people who hear of it. How will being so far outside of Nairobi affect people who have businesses in the city?

I’m not sure that anyone can accurately answer this question. However, the members are all dying to get out of the slum. They’re also resilient entrepreneurs. i’ve heard from a few that they will simply try another business there, filling in the niches of demand. With 2,000 families living there, a sizable market will exist.

Kiambu Kaputei 077We started the visit in the temporary factory where the blocks and roofing tiles are made. Teams of people mix together the components of each and use a mechanical shaking device that homogenizes the material within the molds. They have been doing this for several years now and the stock of materials that they have lying in wait is impressive.

Some container architecture
From the factory we went briefly to the site office where the site managers were showing us the plans. This building is made from two cargo containers. They have been placed about six feet apart with their longer sides parallel. The entire space was then roofed. It made for a nice little office and with some tweaks could easily become a home.

From there we went on to the site of the already constructed houses. It was amazing to see them with my own eyes. It is easy to see why some Jamii Bora members are skeptical that the houses are being built at all. They look like they could be a development in Southern California. The houses are in neat rows, all of them free-standing, with their red tile roofs. Even knowing that there are only 250 or so built, there are a lot of them.

Kiambu Kaputei 175We were visiting the site with Wilson Maina. He lives in Mathare valley and was the one who showed me around that slum. He is also going to be one of the first residents of Kaputei. We were looking at his future home. He is very excited about the prospects and anxious to see the project completed. They are going to have people start to move in as soon as the services are in place; before all of the 2000 homes are built.

The house that we looked at was a two bedroom. It is a good size with the bedrooms on one side, the kitchen and living/dining room on the other and the bathroom in the middle across from the front door. It is much bigger and much nicer than the fire-prone single room that Wilson and his family currently live in.

I have become as anxious as the Jamii Bora members to see the project completed. It is an awesome undertaking that is actually coming to fruition. When it does it will be a great boon to the members. They have climbed out of poverty and soon they will climb out of the slums.

The Kitengela boys home and a little safari
On our way back we stopped at the boys home in Kitengela. We chatted with one of the men who looks after the boys. There are two adults who live there and look after some 70 kids. A good number of those are older and are away at school now, so the numbers are much more manageable.

When we arrived the boys were still at school. So we drove out by their school and decided to wait for them. While waiting though our driver, Wycliff, drove us down a dirt road that peeled away from the main road. All of a sudden we were on safari.

We saw zebras and some gazelles first off. Then we started seeing the giraffes. There was a herd of them meandering through. We were all pretty excited. The Swedish guys and I were busy trying to take pictures. Wilson, who was seeing live giraffes for the first time, was ecstatic.

At one point the van was approached very closely by a bull giraffe. Wilson got out and waved his jacket around just to see the reaction of the animal. It moved away towards the rest of the herd. Wilson said, “Imagine me, scaring a big animal like that!” We were all smiles. The Swedish photographer, Casper, printed out the photos from that day when we returned to the office. They were enjoyed by all, especially Wilson who took his home to show his son.

After our excitement with the giraffes we went back to the boy’s home where the children had now returned. The boys were cleaning up after their day at school. There was much industry and excitement among them. They were more than happy to show us around and to share their stories. They are all orphans or former street boys. I know they must have problems, but they were all so happy to show us the bunks they slept in and the small desks they studied at. They were like a huge family of brothers.

We spoke to the kids for some while and they even sang for us. Then it was back in the van for a traffic-lengthened trip back to Nairobi. Once back I went to the hostel of Per and Casper where we hada few Tuskers and shot some pool on the warped felt of the table at the Nairobi Bacpacker’s Hostel. That place was nice enough, laid-back with an outdoor fireplace, but I wasn’t convinced I’d want to stay.

All in all, it was a very nice day.