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Self-help initiatives

In the almost complete absence of interventions or assistance from national or local government, or other agencies, mutual support in the community seems sometimes to be the only lifeline. Martha says she get virtually no help from her husband or any of the community initiatives such as the Constituency Development Fund; she relies on working with her women’s group “to do something constructive”.

Helen is a member of three women’s groups, which seem to provide both practical and emotional support: “among ourselves, from day to day, we help each other”.

Although all women seem to belong to at least one self-help group, sometimes a problem is tackled through an informal grouping. For example, Nyiva tells of how women and elders got together to address the problem of girls being raped in Kibagare, which was being ignored by the police.

George tells a similar story of Kibagare residents coming together to tackle a big increase in robberies and muggings. Everyone knew the people responsible were local. Eventually, “the people of this area combined forces and arrested [three people]”.

Joseph and other young people started the Kibagare Youth Trust Fund, saying that every Sunday they would clean up the community. They were eventually defeated “because the dirt was too much… There are no toilets and that actually made our job a hard one…” They asked their MP for help with sanitation – without success. Rather than admit defeat, they “decided that we should not wait for the government…” and formed their own savings club: “When the money becomes enough we will try and construct toilets.”

Another kind of club helps people of same ethnic identity; George, a Luo, mentions such a group in Kibagare: “When I am caught up with problems, they can contribute something for me…or they take me to hospital and help my…family.”


Self-help initiatives 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