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NPO Little Bees International ~ Giving African women and children living in slums hope for their future ~

© LBI

Mr. Go Takahashi
Little Bees International (LBI)

The November issue of Close Up introduces the Nonprofit Organization, Little Bees International (LBI). LBI is an organization offering humanitarian and social assistance to the inhabitants of Korogocho, a slum in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Korogocho’s 200,000 inhabitants have long faced discrimination as a slum within a slum where people live in levels of extreme poverty and insecurity even greater than in other notorious Nairobi city slums. The mission of LBI is to foster in women and children living in Korogocho the ability to change themselves and become independent. We were fortunate to speak at length with the representative of LBI, Mr. Go Takahashi, about what led him to develop activities to help Korogocho and the results of these activities.

Q. Please tell us about what led you to involve yourself in Korogocho.

A. I was dispatched in 2012 to a Kenyan international organization to participate in a NGO study program organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I worked every day in a nice office at regular hours. It felt just like Tokyo and did not feel like I was actually in Africa. Then I thought about visiting a slum, a big social problem in Kenya. One day as I was exploring the city of Nairobi, I noticed a man in a park speaking to a group of women. My curiosity aroused, I went to speak with him. He told me he was a social worker from a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi named Korogocho, and explained that he was informing these women of the slum about a mother/child health program. “Now that we know each other, would you like to visit Korogocho?”, he asked. This was the first step in my involvement with Korogocho slum and the date was December 2012.

Q. From there what led to the establishment of LBI?

A. Getting to know the social workers of Korogocho, I listened to their stories and learned that Korogocho had formerly been a dumpsite of Nairobi and that the inhabitants of Korogocho were discriminated against by the people living in the adjacent areas. “Korogocho” means “useless” in the local language. In fact, Korogocho was abandoned even by international aid organizations because of security concerns. Though some NGOs had at one time initiated activities, they withdrew within one or two years. If I had known about this, I would likely have resisted my temptation to get involved with Korogocho. After a few months in Korogocho, the inhabitants organized a farewell party in my honor upon learning of my departure for TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) in Japan. This kind act greatly impacted me, and it touched my heart that the Korogocho people asked repeatedly for my support even after my return to Japan. As a result of reflecting upon the Kenyans who needed me, I decided to group voluntary people to establish LBI, which was founded in July of that same year.

© LBI © LBI

LBI is an organization that began with an encounter with people struggling to survive in the slum of Korogocho
© LBI

Q. What are the principal activities of LBI in Korogocho?

A. The cornerstone of LBI activities is to help the women and children of the slum who need it most. With the extreme poverty of Korogocho there is millions of women who do not have any options but to be commercial sex workers for surviving. As a result there is a high rate of HIV infections, around 40%, and more than half the children do not attend school. To address this, we are working primarily with young HIV infected mothers to provide them with employment opportunities as an income generating activity through producing recycled bags by utilizing wastes materilas. In addition, as an educational project we manage a community school, “Amani (Peace) Education Center”, to provide the opportunity for quality education to the street children and orphans in Korogocho. We also focus on the environment issues as an approach to address the poverty, by implementing environmental education, seminars and community collective green actions such as planting trees toward the goal of establishing a sustainable community.

Q. What sort of response have you had with the activities so far?

A. The number of students attending the Amani Education Center has increased every year, which currently has more than 250 students. Originally a school for street children and orphans, we now also accept children that have families. Every day more parents “want my children to learn at the center” because we offer various supports such as school meals, textbooks, uniforms and improved school facilities. The activities of the women’s group are also growing quite well and providing income improvement to the women. In the months of July to September of this year for example, 300 bags were sold in the market. As for reforestation, 1,300 seedlings were planted on the banks of the Nairobi River which passes through the center of Korogocho. Because of the determined and steady progress of the activities, the number of supporters has gradually grown so that it is now easier to implement the activities.

© LBI © LBI

Left: Bags made by the women’s group are also sold in Japan, such as at the Global Festa
Right: Happy children from the Amani Education Center receiving new textbooks
© LBI

Q. Please tell us about any problems you have experienced with the activities.

A. The majority of staff helping with activities are volunteers and the most urgent problem at hand for them is “what will we eat from day to day?”. Though they understand that the activities they are conducting now may bring them and their community a better sustainable future, it seems to be sometimes difficult for them to continue due to the urgent issues of poverty. In addition, there is the worrisome issue of security. Youth gangs are a serious problem with several mafia-like groups extorting money from strangers, like myself. As we never yield to these groups they stole staffs from our office, harass the leader’s home, or thugs attack us, as I was. More than a few think deviously, “At least I know something about assistance”. Many join the program thinking, “they must give me something”, and there are some who after organizing a seminar insist that, “it is common practice in Africa to pay money of appreciation to the participants”. I feel our most difficult task is to eliminate the gap between the ‘real’ and ‘ideal’ in fostering participatory community activities with the goal of achieving independence and autonomy of aid framework.

Q. Facing such a stark reality how can you continue with the project without losing hope?

A. It is my fourth year with this project. The longer I continue with the activities, the deeper are my ties with the local people. This gives me the renewed desire to try harder to establish a positive loop to reach a level of sustainability, though at times I do feel dispirited. How can I give up the struggle while the local leaders are investing tremendous effort, even though they live in conditions much more difficult than mine? The majority of leaders supporting LBI activities are women. These women of the Kenyan slum are full of energy and I am learning much from them. They work tirelessly and participate in activities thinking solely of the community. I am very grateful to the local leaders who work hard, even though we cannot pay them a fair wage. I have been able to continue with the project this far because of their dedication.

© LBI © LBI

Workshops and seminars are held periodically.
© LBI

Q. What activities are planned and what are the future goals of LBI?

A. More than anything else, I would like to complete the construction of the school, the Amani Education Center. LBI activities still require outside assistance, but I hope that one day LBI is able to administer itself without depending on support from Japan. The security of Korogocho is improving, albeit slowly, and the situation is getting less dire with streets being repaired with the help of a government project. However, tragic events and incidents still occur in the poorer areas of the slum that make us want to cover our eyes, such as child rape. I would like to work to eradicate these problems. I not only think, but strongly feel, that I must do it.