In Nairobi’s highly concentrated, low income areas a free, open community park is an unusual sight. This lack of public space inspired Evans Otieno, the manager of Believers Garden, to make a change.
“You’ll find it’s very rare to find a garden that the government has just made for [people] to go and rest. So that is when we decided we are not going to wait for the government to come, because I know for sure they won’t do that, but we are going to be that change that this society needs.”
Dandora, the suburb where Otieno lives, was a planned development built in the 1970s with basic infrastructure like drains, roads and even spaces for public use.
But over time more families squeezed in and conditions became crowded around double the population it was built for. Infrastructure became dilapidated and with no regular upkeep or maintenance, public spaces became an easy place to throw trash.
Dandora became one of Africa’s largest dumpsites and a dangerous place to live. Otieno explains how this challenging past influenced him and his friends to improve their community,
“We’d bury 2 – 3 youths in a week. It reached a point that we said, what if we started something? Something positive that can bring change into this Dandora.”
Otieno’s work alongside the Dandora Transformation League has cleaned up drains, turned rubbish dumps into places of beauty, shaped community spaces with lush greenery and even made an area with a trampoline for children. He talks to Inside Africa about his motivations,
“What gets me up in the morning it’s to continue with the transformation of my community. To wake up in the morning to make sure these streets are clean, to make sure the places the children are playing – are they safe? And are they clean?”
The scheme has also been good for recycling. Otieno talks about how he reuses materials for the garden,
“Most of the raw material here you’ll see that I have come and recycled them to be as flowerpot. We have made them using the material that are hazards to the environment so when we bring them here they are not hazards here, we are using them in a positive way.”
The development of public spaces has many positive effects on people’s wellbeing. Anne Tehlova of the Public Space Network talks about these benefits,
“When you work on public space you can affect a lot of different areas. You can generally improve public health because people breathe healthier air. People get more exercise. You will improve safety, you will improve social cohesion.”
These views are echoed by the UN Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif. He tells the programme,
“A good public space is needed, it’s like a lung to a city. So this is where the people integrate, the children playing to get a healthy living and the parents integrate with each other and it is like a space for the community to be happy and to also engage at the same time.”
The work in Dandora has inspired other projects across Nairobi. There are even competitions to see which neighbourhood can create the best public spaces. Otieno stresses that the projects are accessible to anyone and that the most important thing is the community,
“We want to be that generation that is going to bring a change to this nation. Change it’s not that you must have money or that you should be a millionaire to bring a change in your community, it’s just a simple thing that you’re doing that can have an impact to the community or to the people living around you.”