MOSES WAWERU is beaming in the torchlight, surrounded by 500 bags of soil in a blacked-out attic room in the Kenyan hills. Sprouting from the earth are home-grown button mushrooms.
“I am so happy,” he says. “I am a graduate: to get a job in Kenya is difficult. So, as a youth, to be self-employed I am very happy, because I am able to sustain myself, and start my own life here. I am optimistic about the future.”
Unemployment rates among graduates are a national crisis here. Seven million Kenyans — one in seven of the population — are unemployed, of whom 1.4 million are actively looking for work. Nine in ten of the unemployed Kenyans are under the age of 35.
Five months ago, Moses, who is 24, was one among them. We have been invited into the one-up-one-down house he rents from his father in the Kiambu County, a rural area about 20 miles from the centre of Nairobi.
The cool, wet climate in this higher altitude region is perfect for growing mushrooms, which have a two-month-cycle. Moses picks every day, and, for the first two weeks, sells up to 100 punnets a day for 150 Kenyan shillings each: a little more than a British pound.
“Even after four days of harvesting, you are already breaking even,” he explains. “The rest of the weeks in the cycle you are making profit; so it is very viable compared to maize, which takes five months.”
HATTIE WILLIAMS/CHURCH TIMESThe rural community outside Moses’s home
His profits have allowed him to employ other people to help him harvest, package, and take the punnets to market. He now has chickens, and three cows, who produce up to 40 litres of milk a day.
“At first, I had to get help to get the timber to construct this shelter,” he says. “Rachel told me the process of composting, growing, and harvesting; she introduced me to the markets available, and now I am training others.”
RACHEL KARANJA, a businesswoman and champion of the Church Mission Society (CMS) Africa, and Moses’s mentor, set up the Mushroom Project as part of her wider mission to solve youth unemployment, and to bring young people away from the perils of drugs and terrorism, into church.
Moses met her, and her husband, Pastor Joseph Karanja, when they were out ministering in the community. The couple live with their three children on a small plot of land, half a mile down the road.
The family moved to the house two years ago, after planting the Karura Community Chapel, Kabuku, in 2008, originally a shanty structure with just four in the congregation. Mrs Karanja was then its main financial supporter, but, after suffering a temporarily incapacitating stroke, the “Mother Church” stepped in with funding.
“It is by God’s grace that we are where we are this day,” she says.
Today, the church is a vast circus-style marquee set on a brick platform in three acres of gardens. Growth has been rapid: more than 250 people travel miles across the region to attend the Sunday service.
Mrs Karanja serves the “scattered church” in the markets, she says, to transform and build businesses through the CMS programme Farming God’s Way.
She is extremely proud of her own garden. On just one-eighth of an acre, she grows (organically), among other vegetables, cabbages, pears, beetroot, and a plethora of herbs which she turns into natural medicines. This includes the German-plant Artemisia, which prevents and treats malaria.
Mrs Karanja has used her skills in natural medicine and the plants from her garden to host a free medical clinic once a year for anyone in the area, most recently last month.
Hundreds came, and evangelism followed. “It is a holistic gospel: we reach out and address the health issues, free of charge,” she says. “Last month, we served 700 people from the area. This is the only church-plant around here that does that.
HATTIE WILLIAMS/CHURCH TIMESKarura Community Chapel, Kabuku
“We also have other income-generating programmes. You can give people clothing and food today, but what will happen tomorrow? Instead, we come up with skills that people can make a living from: making and selling soap, cake-making, farming, tailoring, and carpentry.
“Now, they have a sense of ownership in the church, and many people come.”
CLEARLY, she has no time for idleness. “Everybody gets engaged. If you are not doing mushrooms, make something else. At the end of the day, you have something in your pocket. We don’t want people to say ‘There are no jobs, no employment’ — there is a lot of work to be done.”
This extends to her family. Her husband and son harvest mushrooms at 2 a.m., to be packed by Mrs Karanja, and, sometimes, her two daughters, ready for market by 5 a.m.
The house is lit with small solar-panelled lamps, and the gas comes from a brick biomass tank, which processes methane gases from cow manure. It is one of 22 tanks that Mrs Karanja planted in Kiambu County through her company Greenspan Biotechnologies, a CMS partner, of which she is chief executive.
As a trained mason in biogas, she has supervised the installation of more than 100 biogas units in Kenya: “It is free gas: you just connect it.” She has also trained people in tree-planting, herbal medication, and solar, energy-saving stoves.
JEREMY WOODHAMRachel Karanja outside her mushroom shed in her garden
It was through her work with CMS UK in this area that she was able to secure a grant to start the Mushroom Project, which is the basis of the Master’s degree for which she is currently studying at St Paul’s University, Kiambu.
As we leave the community for the last time, one of our party, Margaret Karuri, a friend of Mrs Karanja’s, says: “If you come to Nairobi and just stay in the city, stay in the concrete blocks, you really don’t know what is going on in Kenya. Kenya is not in the big hotels: it is in the communities; here, you are able to see something different.
“This is Kenya.”
THE city of Nairobi has a ramshackle feel. For long stretches of road, there are no pavements except piles of rubble that seem to spill over from the vast number of half-finished buildings.
Makeshift stalls selling bananas or cola multiply into markets that stretch along the roadside as we drive farther out of town on our second day. After a few miles, the landscape is significantly flatter, more crowded, and crowned by the smell of an open sewage-system that has not been maintained.
Our destination is a church on the edge of Kibera, south-west Nairobi, home to the second largest slum in Africa and the largest in the country. We are greeted outside St Alban’s, Makadara, by the Pastor, the Revd Jackson Wanga.
The church was planted 19 years ago — it is practically ancient for the area — and constructed from timber and sheets of corrugated iron.
Mr Wanga grew up in the Kibera slums, where he is now supporting young people (17- to 35-year-olds) to build a livelihood and become disciples in the community through the CMS youth-training programme 3D: Discover, Develop, Deploy.
JEREMY WOODHAMThe pastor of ACK St Alban Church Makadara, the Revd Jackson Wanga
“Slums are actually growing in Africa,” he says. “The challenge is that, where there is a high estate, a slum will develop, because these people are employing workers, and paying them very poorly. So, because of that, [the workers] will find some shanties around and develop so that they can live near where they work.
“But there are huge transformations going on in slums, too, including Kibera, because many young people are embracing this teaching and doing great things.”
He is a graduate of the 3D programme, and his childhood in the slums has made a “big difference” to his training, he says. “It becomes a living testimony. I tell them: I have been here with you, I know what you go through, and I know you can move on from here.”
MORE than 500 young people have been trained through the CMS course. One of Mr Wanga’s graduates is Joseph Owino, a former banker whom we meet later in a new office in the centre of Nairobi. He is now a small-business consultant, a service he offers for free to graduates of the 3D programme.
For him, like Mrs Karanja, business and evangelism are intertwined. “When I meet a client, senior executives, we discuss business, we agree terms, and from there on I can share with them the gospel in a way that they can relate, because we already have that trust.”
Changing the mindset of young people is not always easy, Mr Wanga explains: “A few years ago, you would see young people sitting in Kibera all day, playing cards. You would think they are sitting waiting for money to come from the sky. I tell them that the days of money are over: you must wake up and do something to earn your living.
JEREMY WOODHAM/STEPHEN WELLSThe Principal of Shilce Community School, Meshack Oduke
“Many young people in Africa believe that work is a curse; so we begin by defining and working through: What is work? Then we get into what is your potential and talents; and, finally, finding three things that they want to achieve. We teach about business, and every week there is a scripture.”
The training is not always fruitful. “One challenge is that they now have a career, but do not want to live in slums. The other challenge is that many young people are spoilt: they think that if they come to be taught, you need to pay them. They are not embracing academia, they are embracing money. We make it clear that there is no payment.
“By the end of the programme, they are turning that mindset around. And among even those who do not complete the programme, many decide to go back to school.”
The 3D programme is currently being rolled out to schools and parishes around the continent. As a co-ordinator, Mr Wanga has trained in Uganda, DRC, and Burundi, and, in the next five years, hopes that it will reach one million young people.
THE figure may seem ambitious, but connecting schools with the programme makes it plausible.
On the final day of the trip, we head west, on the east side of Nairobi, to meet Meshack Oduke, the Principal of Shilce Community School, which he founded in 2001 to serve children in the densely populated area of Riruta.
“At that time in Nairobi there was a problem with street children,” he tells us. “There were few schools, and school fees were a problem. The Church sponsored me to do teacher training. We charged minimum fees. Since I began the school, the numbers of students have been growing.”
Roads are non-existent in Riruta. Rows of shanties (boxes of corrugated shelters of about three square metres) flank the mud tracks, which our driver has to navigate slowly. The children, like many in Jackson’s congregation, come from families living in slum conditions, most of whom cannot afford regular school fees.
The school, which began in shanty structures a few miles away, now sits on a plot of former bushland in the heart of the community, brick-built in a horseshoe-shape three storeys tall. The exam hall, a large space at the centre of the school, is also the area headquarters of the United Methodist Church, where a congregation of about 80 people worship each week.
JEREMY WOODHAM/STEPHEN WELLSBetty Kezungu, who is 18, a student at Shilce Community School
Work first began on the site in 2009. Since then, 350 students have graduated, of whom 15 went on to study at university. When we arrive, builders are still completing the top floor. The school is largely open to the elements. There is electricity, but no running water.
The school, which has nine teachers and 134 students, charges 23,000 Kenyan shillings a year (£175), but few pay this amount. “Most students graduate without having paid the full fees: sometimes half,” Mr Oduke says. “Being able to help another person is not an option: it is a must.”
Betty Kezungu is 18, and is just about to start her exams. She comes from a single-parent family of five: her mother could not afford regular fees; she pays just a small amount per month. “I came here as little girl; so this school has enabled me to grow.
“This school has a good environment: it has electricity, so we can study even when it is dark. The teachers are good, we have all the resource we require.”
She is smiling broadly as she tells us that she would like to study criminology when she graduates, and eventually become a lawyer. She believes in justice. “I like to investigate how and why people do wrong, and help to get justice.
JEREMY WOODHAM/STEPHEN WELLSSaif Uddin, who is 18, a student at Shilce Community School
“People can get injustices because the poor have their way and the rich have their way; there is corruption, and mistreatment of the poor.”
Saif Uddin, also 18, wants to study engineering. He moved to the school a year ago because of discipline issues. At his previous school, the students would go on strike every two weeks, because they did not want to be at school.
“That was really affecting my performance,” he says. “Here, I am in school every day. The discipline is much better, the environment is better, and I like it. Mostly, it is [because of] the teachers, who are very supportive; at the previous school, the teachers just let you do what you want. Here, they will correct you.”
The main behavioural issues in Shilce relate to drugs — mainly marijuana, sometimes cocaine, Mr Oduke says. “In this area, we have a real problem with drugs. Sometimes you think: Shall I expel this student? But you have to think about the environment: I have to be good to them, to counsel them, to make them know the dangers.
“This year, I have had six who have really been a problem. And, if they stop [taking drugs], they are at risk of being admitted [to hospital]; so you need to balance, and talk to the parents, to help them out of this.”
Another issue is teenage pregnancy. “This year, one girl took exams while pregnant: two last year. One gave birth during exam season. We have lost one girl to marriage this year. These are the challenges we face.”
TEENAGE pregnancy, forced (including child) marriages, poverty, abuse, prostitution, and a lack of education are among the serious issues for women in Africa, the head of operations and women’s training co-ordinator for CMS Africa, Lucy Ochieng, tells us.
“Many women on the continent are marginalised. Much of this marginalisation takes place in rural areas. The same thread cuts across.”
This happens from the moment a child is born, she says: in some communities, the celebrations are more jubilant for the birth of a boy than a girl. If money is tight, school fees will go to the boys before the girls, who will stay home and wait to be married off.
“She grows up with that feeling of insecurity, not being well-valued,” Ms Ochieng says. “She gets married; she is treated in her marital home as an outsider, an outcast. Should her husband die, some women get chased away.”
Ms Ochieng co-ordinates the women’s training programme across six countries. Sessions start with the question: Who am I?
“You get all sorts of answers,” she says. “The focus is to make them realise that you are a special creation: God made you in his image the way he has made the rest of mankind. Don’t worry about what has happened to you, or how the world has treated and seen you. You just need to know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
JEREMY WOODHAM/STEPHEN WELLSThe head of operations and women’s training co-ordinator for CMS Africa, Lucy Ochieng
The training, which includes Bible studies, also addresses family relations, health, nutrition, self-esteem, and financial planning, as well as issues of culture.
She recently met a group of women whose husbands had died of HIV. “The vernacular term for a widow in that community, loosely translated, means that you are tied to the grave,” she says. “It is only when you are inherited by another man — a husband, a brother, a cousin — that you are untied.”
CMS AFRICA connects trainers, projects, and partners across the continent. Many of the core issues among women, young people, and children are connected by culture, its cross-cultural mission manager, Karobia Njogu, says.
“When Christians engage in service, obeying God, people respond, and that is powerful. That tells you that love really does cross cultures. Our training is across countries and language groups: but it is the African world-view that connects people.
“When you have Africans leading mission in Africa, they bring their beliefs, theology, world-view, and values from their community and cultures that enrich the mission experience. Africa-led missions bring a different model than missionaries coming from the West: a faithfulness to orthodoxy.
“Faith is experiential; people are moved, animated by, and committed to faith. I sense it is much more reasoned and intellectual in the West. There is a place for both, but people are seeking God in the everyday. There is a contentment, and maybe a complacency in the West, which has emptied churches. That is not the same here: it is not better, but there is something to be said for the search for God.”
Andrew BaughenThe Kibera slums in 2011
The world Christian population is one body, he says, and, when some parts are deprived or sick, these parts need healing by others. It is time for Africans to take this enriched experience of mission to the West, and to the world. “Africans must believe that they can go forth and reach out.”
Hattie Williams was travelling with CMS UK.