Muungano Partners with Engineers without Borders UCL on Sanitation

Alexa Bruce, Nairobi (

So, as the blogging season begins for EWB UCL, with all of our teams heading off to their respective destinations, I contribute here on behalf of our Kenya Project with Muungano Support Trust. Before I delve into the excitement of all the activity that has been going on, I will begin with an overview of the project and its objectives for those who are not familiar with the project to date.

Project Overview

Muungano Support Trust (MuST) is the technical secretariat to Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a settlement based federation of slum dwellers across 300 informal settlements, representing thousands of urban dwellers in Kenya. ‘Muungano, a movement of the urban poor was formed by slum dwellers to address the challenges of forced eviction, with a keen interest of addressing matters of secure tenure and livelihoods of the poor communities’. In a new collaboration for this academic year, EWB UCL is partnering with MuST to engage in a participatory design process of a community sanitation facility in two locations: Kisumu and Naivasha. Through a series of participatory workshops over the month that will be spent in Kenya, the EWB UCL team will work on the design of the facilities through an iterative process, incorporating the desires, aspirations and feedback of the communities into the design following each meeting with them. The Federation, through their savings scheme, along with the local WASCO, will then be responsible for funding and implementing the construction of the sanitation facility.

In the second week of June 2014, I took the opportunity to stop over in Kenya for a few days, ahead of the arrival of the rest of the team at the end of July, and travel to Kisumu with MuST for a stakeholder meeting with the various parties involved in the project.

A news clipping on the state of sanitation in Kisumu

A news clipping on the state of sanitation in Kisumu

Firstly, it was such an amazing trip. MuST were very hospitable and it was an extremely interesting crash course in getting to know the organisation. As much as you do your research online and have conversations over Skype, this was the kind of insight one can only get by travelling for 6 hours in a car with the Secretariat’s Director, Irene Karanja and our contact and Programme Manager, Leonard Kigen. We travelled up to Kisumu where representatives from the federation were gathered (the National Chairman, the Treasurer, The Secretary and others) as well as community leaders from the slum we will be working with in Nyalenda. Also there was a representative from the local WASCO, who will be co-funding the sanitation facility (along with money from the communities savings schemes), and the locally elected county council representative for Nyalenda. Upon arrival, a member of the federation handed us a clipping from the newspaper of that day, and how timely it was, affirming the relevance of the project in our eyes. The article discusses the appalling state of the slums sanitation facilities and describes how “when it rains, the waste from the latrines floods most of the houses”.

The meeting involved introductions and how each was involved in bringing the project where it is today. The work described by Muungano to establish sanitation as a priority for the community was also important context to the project. Following this was an outline of the expectations of each of the representative parties with regards to the project. It was in this meeting that I was introduced to the unique and powerful way in which every member of the Federation greets one another and introduces him or herself. The member of Muungano begins by interlocking his/her fingers and declares, ‘Muungano (unity/federation)’, in response, other Muungano members chime ‘nguvu yetu (is our strength!)’. This initial call is followed by any combination, of all or none, of the following:

‘Akiba…. Mashinani! (savings at the grassroots)’;

‘Pesa zutu…. uamuzi wetu! (our money, our decision!)’;

‘Ardhi na makao…. Haki yetu! (land and shelter is our right!)’; 

‘Uoga…. Umasikini milele! (fear/cowardice will make us poor forever!)’;

‘Umoja…. Silaha ya maskini! (unity/organisation is the weapon of the poor!)’;

‘Chingli!… Chingli! (Shillings/our savings)’

‘Chingli!… Chingli Chingli!!

‘Chingli!… Chingli Chingli Chingli!!!

There was something very striking about a chorus of people answering in unison to the greeting of their peers. It reminds me of the exhilaration and power that one feels witnessing the call and answer of a Samba band, perfectly in sync. A strange parallel to make I know, but hopefully some of you out there have either played in one or witnessed this and can understand where I am coming from. To everyone else, I am probably making no sense!

A group photo of the Nyalenda Community, Muungano Federation, EWB UCL and MUST

A group photo of the Nyalenda Community, Muungano Federation, EWB UCL and MUST

Also at the meeting were representatives from a nearby informal settlement called Kibos. This community has emulated the Muungano model by mobilising themselves putting a savings scheme in place. A sanitation block was built in their slum but it collapsed before it had even been used and is now in a state of disrepair. They informed us that they had mobilised their community and that we absolutely had to go and visit the site as the community was waiting for us. We travelled to the site where the community was in fact waiting for us and another similar introductory meeting ensued. The meeting was mostly in Swahili so I only got brief translations from Irene, but the community was essentially expressing their desire and readiness to engage with a similar process to the project in Nyalenda. They were ready and waiting with their site and wanted to know when we would come back. Our capacity to engage with Kibos in a similar process, as well as with the other two communities we are committed to, is something we at EWB UCL are in the process of discussing.

Erickson Sunday, Federation Leaders in a discussion with the Kibos Community

Erickson Sunday, Federation Leaders in a discussion with the Kibos Community

We got a call late in the afternoon from the locally elected county representative who had been present at our previous stakeholder meeting in Nyalenda, informing us he had managed to secure a last minute audience with the County Governor. We therefore travelled to the government building in Kisumu CBD for the meeting with ‘his excellency’. Everyone was excited as this was a big break for Muungano but the last minute nature of the meeting left little room for nerves. In the meeting that followed the various members of MuST and the federation introduced themselves (of course in the true call and answer style of Muungano) and essentially pitched Muungano to the Governor. He liked what he heard. He stated he had never quite witnessed a greeting like it and was struck by how ‘those who appear to have nothing have something’. He followed his own pitch as to what his vision for Nyalenda is (Nyalenda is notorious for its appalling sanitation and general services as you can tell from the press coverage shown above! and so is the focus of his 3 year development plan). It was inspiring if perhaps a little ambitious and idealistic. I felt his intentions were true and he often reiterated that he does not wish to evict the residents of Nyalenda as is feared because this would encourage informal settlement to move elsewhere, merely shifting the problem rather than solving it. His views seemed to align with that of Muungano and a fruitful relationship is likely to develop. Most importantly for us, he committed to providing the land for the sanitation facility in Nyalenda. Here are a couple of photos of the group with the County Governor.

The delegation that paid H.E. Jack Ranguma a courtesy call were MuST Executive Director Irene Karanja and Chief Finanace Officer Leonard Kigen,, EWB UCL, President Alexa Bruce, MWW-SDI Kenya National Chairperson Rahid Mutua,National Treasurer Fatuma Saleh and National Executive Member Erickson Sunday and Nyalenda B Ward Manager Bernard Nyadida



The team then met with the community leaders to establish a preliminary itinerary and walk around the four potential sites for the sanitation block. Some photos of the sites are shown below.  That’s it for now but keep an eye out for our next blog at the beginning of July when the project gets fully underway!


Nyalenda Sanitation Site

Nyalenda Sanitation Site




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