You are here: Home » Oral testimonies » Living with poverty: Kenya » Employment


One narrator, Helen in Oloitokitok, is married to a development worker, and Lemaron is self-employed as a hairdresser. For Peter the search for employment has involved temporary migration from Oloitokitok to Tanzania. “I would get a small job and work there for several months and come back to Kenya. Manual work, just manual work… not work that was permanent.”

Otherwise, almost all these narrators describe having to take whatever casual work they can find, including fetching water, labouring on other people’s farms, and in Kibagare, brewing illegal alcohol. Some women earn a little money from petty trading.

In Kibagare, explains Martha, young people face a grim future. “The ones who have finished Form 4 are just idling at home. Unemployment is too high; they just look for casual employment here and there.” Joseph notes how demoralising this is: “I observe that they have low self-esteem: they see that they have gone to secondary school, their elders are also educated and yet there are no jobs.”

George mentions widespread nepotism and says there is no chance of getting a decent job unless you know the right people. The same problem exists in Oloitokitok: tourist lodges have created some jobs, but several Maasai narrators say that anyone in a position to give work favours their own family.

Lemaron, who runs his own hair and beauty salon, believes that business opportunities exist, but acknowledges that people are often too discouraged by continual poverty to see them. In Kibagare, Mercy agrees that there are opportunities, but points out that “the problem is getting money to start the business”. Several narrators say that access to small loans would make a huge difference to their development options, but few seem to have had such an opportunity.

Nyiva, a single mother of six, has a small kiosk and sells vegetables, milk etc, but is unable to make enough profit to cover, for example, her children’s school fees. “It is hard… I would like capital to expand my business.”

Mercy also expresses frustration at the lack of opportunity to gain a skill such as tailoring or a small loan to start a business selling vegetables. She openly admits that she is often reduced to living off men because work is so hard to find, but she remains determined that a better future is possible: “if I am given money to start a business, or if I received training in some vocational work, I am convinced – without any doubt – that I could change my life and the future life of my children”.


Employment is a key theme of the Living with poverty: Kenya oral testimony project.


Alice: sleeping hungry

Deborah: widows have rights

Elias: cultural change

George: no jobs

Helen: poverty of war

Joseph: keeping optimistic

Lemaron: challenging discrimination

Martha: battling corruption

Mary: life of struggle

Mercy: completely forgotten

Nyiva: cardboard homes

Peter: search for work

Key themes






Self-help initiatives

Sanitation and health

Political representation


Crime and unrest



Homelessness and insecurity

Pastoralism and agriculture