Kenyans as a whole are very well-versed in the lingo of development.  They don’t need Wikipedia to tell them what terms like CBO, IDP, and SACCO mean.  Rich and poor alike are familiar with the nuances of NGO work because many of them are directly affected by their projects.  They know the importance of finding donors, submitting grant proposals, and applying for microloans.  In fact, development work is so widespread and well-established, many people are left asking one big question: After years of development dollars pouring into this country, why is there still poverty?

Families living in slums like Githogoro on the outskirts of Nairobi struggle to break the cycle of generational poverty.

Families living in slums like Githogoro on the outskirts of Nairobi struggle to break the cycle of generational poverty.

The answer is complex and difficult to nail down.  Some blame unjust laws, violence, corruption, climate change, or unequal trade agreements.  One key reason is the culture of dependency that can be created by unwise distribution of donor funding.  Why would someone look for a low-paying job if their basic needs can be, or should be, met by someone else for free?

But for all those who are looking to others to change their situation, many are breaking out of the dependency culture.  One of my Kenyan friends named Thome (pronounced Tho-may) is leading the way…and he has enough initiative to transform his whole community!

Thome is generous about giving his friends a chance to practice using his cameras.

Thome is generous about giving his friends a chance to practice using his cameras.

Three years ago, Thome was a high school graduate without a job. His mom’s addictions made her unable to work, so he lived with his two brothers in his grandparents’ house at the edge of a small slum called Githogoro.  He didn’t have an income, but he knew that he liked photography, and that he wanted to do something productive with his life.

About that time he started attending Karura Community Chapel where he heard about Mavuno Project, a small savings and loan group organized by an NGO partnering with the church.  Even though most of the people joining the group were older women, Thome decided to give it a try.

After opening one of the first photo studios in Githogoro, Thome is ready for lots of customers.

After opening one of the first photo studios in Githogoro, Thome is ready for lots of customers.

When he had saved enough to apply for his first loan, he used the money to buy a digital camera.  As soon as everyone in Githogoro found out about his purchase, he quickly became the most sought after photographer in the area.  Since then, his business has taken off.  Thome is constantly busy documenting weddings, funerals, sports, and church events.  Since 2006, he’s purchased two more cameras and a video camera.

If there is anything Thome likes doing more than taking pictures, it’s dreaming up more plans for the future.  In September, he told me that he wanted to open a studio in Githogoro so that he could take portraits and print pictures for his customers.  And he was serious!  A few weeks ago, I found myself on a tour of his new studio, and before I left I had my own instant print of my picture in hand.  Soon, he hopes to employ a few people to expand the business and also pass on his skills to others.

“I’m a go-getter.”  That’s how Thome describes himself, and he is proving it everyday.  The best part is his contagious optimism.  Parents often ask him to talk to their kids and encourage them to set goals and pursue them.  Already, he has started a savings group for young adults in Githogoro, and in a year and a half, they have managed to save over $2,000.  Now they are loaning to each other so they can start more businesses.

Thome passes on his joy and energy to everyone he meets!

Thome passes on his joy and energy to everyone he meets!

One thing not included in Thome’s dreams for the future is a career in Europe or America.  Unlike many Kenyans who may long for a chance to find fame and fortune overseas, Thome sees too many opportunities right in front of him to think about leaving.  Right now, he is working with some friends on a script for a movie they hope to shoot in the slum that captures the realities and challenges faced by poor people in Africa.  After that is finished he wants to try his hand at documentaries.

In all of his success and plans to achieve bigger and better things, Thome hopes the lessons from his own life will inspire others like him.  “Now the community will see there is potential.  Despite the problems you are facing,” he says, “if you work hard, and you are focused, and you believe in God, you can deliver.”

Thome never believed that he had to wait on a check, or a degree, or a US visa to get out of poverty.  And it’s exactly that kind of initiative, that spirit of “un-dependence,” that is needed to transform lives in Kenya…in Githogoro and beyond!

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Next Steps
    • Read Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa by a Zambian banker, Dambisa Moyo, for one perspective on how smart investment is better than development aid as a strategy for eradicating global poverty.
    • Make a list of the resources you have been given to fight social injustice in your context.
    • Email info@karuracc.or.ke if you have any photo editing equipment, computers, or software you'd like to give to expand Thome's business.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Jessica Shewan is a journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from The University of Evansville with a bachelor's degree in History. She loves making new international friends and is passionate about seeing the global church pursue justice and peace!

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Comments

  1. Jim M said... 

    Reply

    December 11th, 2009 at 8:08 pm  

    Interesting….why this one man, and seemingly so few others. Thanks for showing this story. We know there must be many other stories of “Un-dependence”, we simply do not hear enough of them. It is sometimes mind numbing when you try to grasp the scope of poverty, and pray for a vision of God’s plan in all of it. This is a breath of fresh air…

  2. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    December 12th, 2009 at 11:16 am  

    Great story and paradigm shifter! Thanks Jess!

  3. Nick said... 

    Reply

    December 14th, 2009 at 1:40 am  

    Thumbs up, great inspiring story

  4. rob yonan said... 

    Reply

    December 15th, 2009 at 11:51 pm  

    Go Thomas go; shake the system.

  5. Thome said... 

    Reply

    February 28th, 2010 at 11:09 am  

    Thank you , am so much humbled for the honour of seeing my story on this website knowing God has brought me this far, it has been a tough journey but God’s favour and strength has kept me going. Am still working hard and the studio is still growing. God bless

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