They say, “A business is only as good as its product.” There is some truth to this statement.

With all the well-intentioned Nairobi nonprofits I’m bumping into every day, it’s difficult to tell what’s working, who’s helping and how, if possible, I’m supposed to get involved.

Young Entrepreneurs (YE) is an exception.

While people certainly aren’t products, the alumni of YE—who each help facilitate two cohorts of teenage girls in either the Kawangware or Mathare slums—are certainly the measure of the success of Tanari’s newest initiative.

A week or so ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing the YE alumni regarding what the program means to them and why they take time out of their busy schedules every week to voluntarily give back to their communities.

I became endeared—once again—to the fierce, tender hearts of young women determined to overcome seemingly inescapable circumstances.

Take Alice, Milly, Peris and Suzzie, for instance.

Alice (Photo by Barry Rodriguez)

Just ordinary girls ushering other girls into extraordinary transformations.

Alice & Milly

“Before, I didn’t have enough confidence. I used to be shy.”

Alice, 22, was quite straightforward when I asked her to tell me about YE. She lives with her mother and five younger siblings in Kawangware. Her parents separated as she was finishing college. She hasn’t seen her father since 2009, despite the fact he lives just 30 minutes away in Nairobi.

When Alice first heard about YE from her sister, she wondered why she should just sleep, cook and eat, when there was a free program that could help her help her family.

“Now, I don’t depend on my parents for what I can do on my own.”

Her co-alumnus, Milly, became involved for similar reasons.

Milly first heard about YE through a “door to door” visit from one of YE’s facilitators.

“We saw we could do something for ourselves.”

Milly (Photo by Barry Rodriguez)

And Milly certainly has. Perhaps YE’s most successful entrepreneur, Milly sells her colorful, beaded jewelry at Maasai Market—one of Downtown’s hottest tourist attractions. Yet, like Alice, she wants to be helpful to other ladies and is thankful for the opportunity to mentor younger girls.

Peris & Suzzie

Peris, the eldest of the alumni duo volunteering in Mathare, credits YE with helping her provide for her family. At only 23, she is married and the mother of a 5 year-old daughter and a 3 year-old son.

Peris’ fruit juice business is a vital part of her family’s income. Through YE she learned the skills needed to develop a business plan and manage her records. She also linked with an IT class for further training.

Like Alice in Kawangware, Suzzie—the youngest alumni—used to be incredibly shy. However, by the time she finished YE’s 6-month program, she was the Chair Lady of her cohort of nearly 50 girls.

According to Suzzie, the most important lesson she learned from YE is, “I am able.”

Suzzie & Peris

Her greatest desire for the girls she now teaches is they stop discriminating against themselves and learn to support one another through the lifelong friendships they form through the classes.

Surmountable Circumstances

All of the alumni were quick to note the challenges facing the girls enrolled in the YE program. Some are teenage mothers. Others are high school dropouts. A few are prostitutes.

“They’re just there,” said Alice, describing girls forced into early marriages and even, at times, to live on the streets.

But at YE club, the girls regain their dignity. Provided with I.D.s, YE facilitators train them how to compose a résumé and practice job interviews. Every time they attend class, they receive $1 they can use to buy food or invest in their experiential business. They can even choose to save as YE partners with another nonprofit which helps the girls open their very own bank accounts.

Achievable Dreams

Newfound skills and confidence enable the girls to dream.

Alice hopes to one day own a business where she can make and sell complimentary dresses and jewelry. She plans to live in a big house with a swimming pool and plant a garden where she can grow bananas, greens and corn.

Making and selling bangles is a popular YE business

Milly wishes to marry her boyfriend, Leonard, and have two kids. She hopes her jewelry business grows internationally. Most of all, she wants to change her environment. While she genuinely loves her home, Milly wants to get out of Kawangware.

Peris desires to return to school to study accounting, and Suzzie wants to operate her own salon when she isn’t traveling for her simultaneous soccer career.

Like Milly, I see that these girls can do something for themselves, and along with Suzzie, I chant, “You are able!”

And while the girls currently going through YE may learn how to make juice, style hair or sell fashion accessories, I acknowledge with them that their personal transformation will certainly be their greatest product.

What greater success could anyone ask for?

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Next Steps
    • Pray—YE’s grant from the Nike Foundation, specifically the Girl Effect, is finished. The program is currently looking for other sponsors.
    • Mentor—The success of YE depends on the dedication of facilitators and alumni. Youth need adults who believe in them. Consider mentoring a teenager in your own community.
    • Like—Want to keep connected? “Like” the Tanari Trust Facebook Fan Page to stay informed of their various life skills programs. You’ll can also find info on their website, Twitter feed and Blog.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Jocelyn is a freelance photojournalist with World Next Door. She studied Creative Writing and Missions at Concordia University Irvine. She enjoys reading, writing and traveling. She also likes butterflies.

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Comments

  1. jenny fitzgerald said... 

    Reply

    August 4th, 2011 at 2:33 am  

    Jocelyn,

    Love those stories! It encourages my heart to hear that these girls have DREAMS! Praise the Lord for that! Thank you so much for sharing a part of their journey!

  2. LeAnne Hardy said... 

    Reply

    August 6th, 2011 at 8:24 pm  

    May their dreams come true in ways that inspire other girls to dream.

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