Meeting Mathare Roots – an Earth Charter Youth Group in Nairobi, Kenya

An Earth Charter youth activist, e-GLO 1 graduate, Irina Pleva from Latvia lived in Nairobi, Kenya for 6 months. During that time she visited an Earth Charter Youth Group Mathare Roots in Mathare slum and shares her experience here with us.

Thank you Irina for taking the initiative in setting up the meeting and spending a day with a fellow Earth Charter Youth Group! Special thanks for the inspiring video! This is a great example to all of us – when we get a chance to travel, why not to connect with the local Earth Charter Initiative activists?

Jaana Laitinen
Earth Charter International Youth Facilitator


From already the first days being in a country one can experience inevitable spirit of its diversity, observed and found in everything and everywhere… from the biodiversity of ecosystems inhabiting areas with the baobabs, coconut trees or cacti, to variety of urban communities, informal settlements, indigenous tribes, and their respective lifestyles.
Furthermore this diversity is followed by an impressive assortment of non governmental and social organizations, functioning as aid to country’s improvement. I learned that only in one Nairobi slum there are hundreds organizations working for the slum’s causes! In one of these – named the Mathare slum, I also found an Earth Charter affiliate organization with whom I got in contact thanks to Jaana, our Earth Charter youth coordinator.
I arrived to Kenya as a young environmentalist who came to support for 6 months the work of the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi. At the same time representing the Earth Charter youth group, I couldn’t miss a chance to meet and to visit one of the Earth Charter Youth Group based in Nairobi – Mathare Roots group
To visit them at a first place was a challenge. I was new in Nairobi and fairly unfamiliar with the area, furthermore I have never seen or been in the slums ever before! I was confused what to expect, I was unsure how to behave there particularly being “mzungu” (a white person), but I felt really ambitious to meet a group of young enthusiasts devoted to better and improve their community. To connect with them was my eagerness. 
I very soon received a welcoming feedback from the Mathare Roots group leader Elijah. I started to plan my visit, while very soon by a positive chance met a Finnish girl, Tiina, who as turned out already some years is closely involved in Mathare Roots youth work. With her grateful heart she facilitated a tree planting event for the Mathare slum with participation of Mathare Roots youth, and undoubtedly I was enthusiastic to support her initiative. 
At a day of event we together were heading to Mathare slums, changing one matatu (public transport in Kenya) to another, crossing crowded Nairobi downtown and the central business district into direction towards the “other reality”, home of more then 500 000 inhabitants of Nairobi…
A bunch of very smiling, accurate and friendly kids surrounded us after we arrived to the destination. There we were also accompanied by few German girls joining the initiative, and George – Elijah’s friend and co-founder of the organization.
George is a very enthusiastic young guy grown up together with Elijah in Mathare slum, and both eagerly decided one day to improve their home, and to connect with the world around them for the support. That’s how Mathare Roots joined the force of the Earth Charter. I got a chance to visit their “office”, which turned out to be a very tiny small room in an old abandoned house, which is now livable with few chairs, the colorful graffiti on the wall spelling the organization’s name, pinned cardboard with the alphabet letters, few decorations and a computer – their digital window and a grasp to the outside world. Through the little window – view to the densely crowded street massed with people, animals, noise. Nevertheless this place is appreciated by all the community, and kids may find here joy, peace and educational support.  
We decided to plant the trees near the community school. To get there we passed a busy part of the slum, climbing up the garbage hill, and crossing one of their “rivers”, a tiny stream of water contaminated with all possible toxins from the ground. Above that all we carefully carried with us the little trees along with a drop of hope they may bring something good for the community.
Each of us had its own little tree, between which were also few mangos. The kids were happy about each little sprout and with a care were bringing clean water from the school’s tank to water them. They were also cheerful to play with the camera while I taught them to film and make pictures. There is no happier moment for those kids as to hold one in their hands.

With a joy and enthusiasm they were running around with a camera, recording the moments of our tree planting event. I collected and edited the captured moments into one video, to showcase their efforts for both the filming and planting the trees. I think they did a great job:

At the end of the day we all together with George decided to bring the kids beyond the usual borders of their “home” and to rest having some fun in one of Nairobi’s parks. For the kids it had been a great day, and the same way we all enjoyed it.
To meet Mathare Roots youth, and George had been an experience which encouraged to think how diverse is the Earth Charter and all of us who shape it, and how important is to connect and to learn about each other. With our assorted abilities, realities, experiences there is always something we can do for each other. 
George’s and Elijah’s enthusiasm and devotion to initiate and develop the Mathare Roots organization showcases that each of us may become an essential element of drive to influence lives of the others and better our communities.
If you wish to get in touch with Mathare Roots youth group or to support by any means their activities, kindly liaise with Elijah (his contacts in the video credits). Yet if it happens for you to be in Nairobi, I very much encourage you to visit them.

   Irina Pleva, Latvia