Children from the Mukuru Talent Development center showcasing their creativity in the Lunga Lunga slum in Kenya.
From Bombay to Manila to the favelas in Rio, more than one billion people are estimated to be currently living in slums. According to the United Nations , this figure is expected to surpass the two billion mark by 2030.
With no roof or solid walls and no access to clean water or toilets, living conditions in the slums are unhygienic and hazardous. Considering that approximately 70% of slum dwellers are under 30, the future of the slums rests in the hands of the young generations. What do these youth need to reverse the trend and improve the daily lives of slum dwellers?
Transforming the slums from within
During a recent trip to Brussels , I met Benedetta Mwongeli Kyengo, a social sciences student and founder of the Mukuru Talent Development  (MTD) center. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, this community organization seeks to help young people living in slums develop their creative talents.
Kyengo was raised in the Lunga Lunga slum. She was 25 years old when she launched the Mukuru project. She envisioned a place for meeting and exchanging ideas, where “young people would gain the confidence needed to take control of their lives.”
I was expecting her to explain to me how her initiative would help these young people leave the slums, but I was mistaken. When one is growing up in a slum, isn’t finding a way to get out a matter of urgency?
“Leave the slums? That is all well and good, but to go where?” Kyengo told me that the majority of young people in the slums drop out of school at a very early age without any qualifications. They know nothing but hardship and believe they can do nothing to change their circumstances. This attitude leads some of them to embrace a life of drugs and violence. Many would like to leave to avoid that fate, but where can they go, and will they be able to start a new life?
MTD’s mission is not to help young people escape poverty, but rather to help them overcome it. By giving them the skills and the confidence they need to have the courage to be vocal and realize their plans, Mukuru provides them with an opportunity to take ownership of their future and transform not only their lives, but the lives of their families as well.
For MTD, art, sports, and fashion are an integral part of vocational training because being a success is not just about learning to “do;” it is first and foremost about learning to believe in oneself.
Dance, music, acrobatics, karate, yoga, and jewelry and sandal making are just a few of the myriad activities offered by the center. Events are organized on a regular basis to present the work of the young people and showcase their creations.
As a result of the support provided by MTD, dozens of out-of-school youth have been able to earn an income from their work at the center, and many plan to start their own businesses. With the help of Kyengo and other MTD volunteers, these young people have found a way to do something that they like while contributing to the development of their community. Isn’t empowering young people to take back control of their lives the most effective way to bring about fundamental change?
To learn more, go to Mukuru Talent Development’s website  and Facebook  page.
Tell us, what is your strategy to help alleviate poverty?