At Mabatini, Mathare Slums, Mwangi is giving members of the community access to books, digital literacy and entrepreneurship training through Oasis Mathare, a community-based organisation he founded in 2013.
“Like most young people in informal settlements, I was born and bred in a one-roomed house in Mathare. During those days, we didn't have a tranquil space for our studies or access to reading materials. I remember in 2002 while in class seven, I had to stay at home for almost an entire term because I didn't have the books needed in school.
When I completed secondary school in 2009, amidst financial struggles, I got a chance to study a two-year course on web development and mobile app at Nairobits, a registered trust based in Nairobi that empowers youth from under-served backgrounds using Information Communication Technology (ICT),” he says.
Mwangi later got a chance to train with Digital Opportunity Trust and it was while here that the idea of Oasis came to the fore.
“Oasis means hope and this is what I endeavour to provide to Mathare kids. I value education and I believe that every kid deserves a right to enlightenment regardless of their social background. The Oasis community centre has a library and an ICT learning area. At the library, there are a host of different genres of books donated by individuals and organisations both local and international. We also have four laptops which are used for browsing and training,” he offers.
To establish the community centre, Mwangi used about Sh 10,000 which was part of his savings and spent the money on procuring reading materials, paying rent and making partitions on the hall. Friends and well-wishers also came on board, donated books and helped with other activities.
“I have received immense support from people in Mathare and beyond. When I introduced the idea to my previous landlord, he reduced the rent by more than half the normal rate. I had other individuals offering to buy some renovation materials or help in carpentry,” he explains.
With the help of volunteers, who offer their services depending on their availability, the facility offers skills such as Web Development to enthusiastic unemployed young people.
“For such skills, we charge Sh 2,000 because it requires sourcing for expert services depending on the number of students that have registered. However, we don’t charge any amount to library users. Occasionally, through partnerships with different organisations, we offer entrepreneurship training in a quest to reduce the unemployment rate in Mathare," he explains.
Currently, I have five volunteers. Sometimes I have even up to 15 volunteers working with us,” he says.
To offer a stipend to the two full-time volunteers and meet his own expenses, he runs a soft drink side business and also offers Web Development, IT consultancy services.
But for the 28-year-old, it has not been a smooth sailing all through. Last year, they were kicked out of the place they had occupied for five years after it was obtained by a private developer.
“That really set us back because as at this moment, our biggest concern is space. A small parcel of land was donated to us by Mabatini residents and we have since managed to set up a semi-permanent structure but it is quite tiny to host the numbers that come at any given time. Also, we have a deficit of curriculum books because what we have mostly are novels,” he notes.
Challenges aside, Mwangi is delighted with the positive impact his organisation has had in Mathare residents.
“I get parents telling me how their kids have improved in school and I also have people who've managed to start well-to-do businesses or secure jobs after training with Oasis Mathare. Such news makes what I do, even when encircled with challenges worthwhile,” he explains.
By virtue of being Queens’ Young leader, it has opened many opportunities for him both at home and beyond.
He has since gained access to bespoke mentorship and training at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education. Also, it has helped him to network, learn from other young leaders and have a mentor who is present to offer guidance.
“My vision is to improve more on the infrastructure; add more books, computers and be able to not only provide skills but also resources to the young people in Mathare. Most people in informal settlements miss out of opportunities because of lack of resources. I wish to close that gap,” he concludes.