Many argue that the true creativity, versatility, and adaptability of humankind is exposed in the most desperate and dire of circumstances. In Kibera, the slum that houses at least 250,000 people, food, water, electricity, and housing are extremely limited, and the path to gaining these basic necessities comes only through employment. Unfortunately, employment opportunities are few and far between, resulting in 50% of the slum’s eligible workforce being out of jobs. As a result, Kibera’s residents are finding new and creative ways to sustain themselves, give back to their community, and even influence the selling practices of large corporations in their favor.
Across Kenya as a whole, the largest industries are agriculture and livestock, accounting for 40% of the Kenyan workforce and contributing 25% of the annual GDP. Kibera, however, is extremely densely populated, so there isn’t sufficient access to land and water to grow crops or raise livestock. Instead, most jobs in Kibera revolve around filling the missing gaps in the needs of the surrounding community. Many residents work freelance construction jobs building housing and infrastructure. Construction workers often operate in groups, where one person is hired for the job and then outsources work to others in the slum. This process helps bring more job opportunities to those in the slum, and is a testament to the tight connection that Kiberans have to others in their community. These freelance jobs, however, are not reliable in providing work opportunities, meaning that there can be times when people struggle to make ends meet while there aren’t any jobs available.
Others choose to get more consistent jobs outside of the slum, which are more organized, can have better pay, and also ensure that workers will be employed year round. These jobs tend to be low-level, due to limited access to education and therefore insufficient qualifications for the higher paying, more advanced positions. Positions like security guards, reception and desk workers are common for those who work outside of Kibera. These jobs are more common for men, who are seen as better suited to security and desk jobs. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to have jobs within the slum, reselling individual items they bought cheaply in bulk, selling handmade bags or other clothing items, offering fresh vegetables and food ingredients, or running a food stand. Martha Odhiambo, who was born and raised in Kibera and now studies in the US says that, “the vendors in Kibera have a different type of selling, where they sort of harvest things from bigger vendors, mainly selling kale, onions, tomatoes, carrots, and everything.”
Other common jobs include teaching jobs and child sitting for parents who work long, inconvenient hours. NGOs and other charity initiatives also provide jobs for those within the community, allowing for new opportunities to circulate within Kibera, strengthening the economy. What is notable about buying and selling practices in the slum is that many of them serve to circulate money within Kibera, providing as many residents as possible with the means to sustain themselves.
The practice of reselling bulk items individually has made important changes for the accessibility of certain items to Kiberan residents. Many cannot afford to purchase items from the initial seller, but providing them on a smaller scale has meant that more people can now have access to these products. Corporations have taken notice of how effective and profitable this is, and have expanded that to make more products more affordable.
There is no doubt that Kibera still struggles with employment, or that more needs to be done to bring new job opportunities to alleviate the residents from the extreme poverty they endure. Yet the community is not helpless in improving itself, and the continual efforts to assist others in finding jobs and purchasing items from within the community proves Kibera’s resilience. With this attitude, time, and support, Kibera can be transformed to a place where people no longer have to worry about accessing the basic commodities.