The social enterprising women leading the fight to reduce recidivism and poverty in Nairobi

Hilary Nicole Zainab Ervin, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 14 August 2015

As highlighted in a previous article focused on the legal empowerment and land rights education programming undertaken by Kituo Cha Sheria Legal Advice Centre, the intersectional issues of poverty, incarceration, and access to representation create concentrated vulnerabilities for individuals caught in the criminal justice system.

Globally, recidivism among prisoners results from the nexus of effects that come from being incarcerated, extremely low-income, and without access to professional development or legal representation. For Kenyan women, who face higher rates of poverty, and tend to have received less formal education and literacy training than men, finding employment and social inclusion after time spent behind bars can be exceptionally difficult.

Though all formerly incarcerated persons face challenges during the process of reintegration, one organization has specifically targeted its advocacy efforts to raising awareness of the unique challenges faced by women. During her own incarceration and subsequent exoneration, Teresa Njoroge listened to the stories of the other residents at the Langata Women's Prison. She has spent her time since building a dynamic social enterprise.

Founded in 2012, Support Me in My Shoes (SMiMS) is a social justice organization providing female inmates with critical items such as soap and sanitary products alongside literacy training and motivational support. Through this work the need to provide quality professional services that equip individuals with skills in business, marketing and financial management emerged as key innovative components of a diverse program that targets some of Nairobi's most marginalized residents.

From these efforts grew the social enterprise Clean Start, which provides female inmates and ex-inmates with training and employment opportunities in the services industry. Viable employment and income-generating activities for micro-enterprise development targeted towards individuals with criminal justice records is increasingly gaining recognition as an effective strategy to break the cycle of incarceration and poverty.

Kenya's youth unemployment rate is 17 percent, and for many urban youths drawn to Nairobi for the promise of opportunity, frustration over lack of gainful employment quickly pushes many towards petty street crime. An easily-accessible form of survival that accounts for the multitude of snatch and grab gangs that are no stranger to the Nairobi commuter are one of the quickest ways Kenyan youth find themselves behind bars.

Vickie Wambura Wamonje, the founder of Nafisika Trust, highlights how reducing recidivism rates among this population is intimately tied to tackling the poverty, lack of education and unemployment that is common to many first-time youth offenders. The trust works in collaboration with the Kenyan Prison Service and partners such as Children in Freedom to provide a spectrum of services with the aim of reducing recidivism rates and increasing opportunities to ex-convicts.

Nafisika Trust's approach is fourfold, providing direct counseling, education, employment, and re-entry programming to encourage professional and entrepreneurial development. With one of the highest prison occupancy rates in the world, Kenya requires innovative approaches to tackling the concentrated risks and vulnerability associated with urban poverty and unemployment. These enterprising individuals and organizations such as the African Prisons Project are working to find dignified and restorative solutions to realize positive transformation in Nairobi and other communities across Kenya.

Photo: Africa Prisons Project.

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