Last month I traveled to Kaputiei, the first African Microfinance ECO Town just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. It was created by Jamii Bora, one of the most innovative and exciting microfinance programs in the world. It was the vision of their founder, a strong, and spirited urban planner, environmental leader and microfinance revolutionary, Ingrid Munro. www.JamiiBora.org (Means Good Families in Swahili)
This is a program that began in the slums of Mathare Valley and Kibera some of the worlds most dense and biggest bastions of poverty. As I walked through the Mathare Valley and met women and children who lived and worked there something Ingrid said really spoke to me, "You cannot move out of poverty while you are living in hell!"
And hell is what I saw there. Dirty water, raw sewage and trash streaming and meandering through the streets. By the time I made it down the hill to the bottom of the slums I saw that same water draining into the Nairobi River. Imagine, raw sewage moving down stream right into a river that could potentially help to feed water to a thirsty city.
By the days end I was only too ready to leave and return to my hotel to remove all of the dirt from my body.
The next day we traveled to Kaputiei. Kaputiei is just 36km outside of Nairobi, situated on a hill surrounded by flowing plains of yellow Acacia trees. While we were there we saw wild animals and breathed fresh air. Coming upon the town the first thing you see are roof tops of red. Miles and miles of red roofs.
When we arrived we were ushered straight to the onsite factory where we were greeted by a group of men and women who were singing and happy to see us. Many of them were from the local Maasai, one of the most famous tribes in Africa. It was ironic to me that these people were actually driven from their homeland, originally they hail from Nairobi, to make way for British Colonialists who settled there and now these very same people were actually building the bricks, tiles and infrastructure needed to complete a new town of their own.
It was impressive to learn that all of the building materials they use come from no more than 60km away. The woman who runs the factory was first trained by the Africa Housing Fund, in the 1980s when Ingrid ran the fund. She now teaches others how to make bricks out of sand, agregate, and cement and tiles out of the same. It was impressive to see them make these and then place them in the sun to cure.
After visiting the factory we went into the town and visited the home of Yunis, a middle aged woman who owns a small shop at Kaputiei. Yunis came from Mathare Valley and was among the poorest of the poor when she started. She now lives in a beautiful 2 bedroom home with a kitchen, with a sink with running water that is cleaner than the water people drink in their homes in Nairobi. She also has a real bathroom for the first time in her life. The bathroom is complete with a sink, toilet (also with running water) and a shower. She was so proud of her bathroom she actually started to clean it in front of us.
Every room in her home has a solar light, so she and her children no longer need to worry about how they will see at night to do homework. Kaputiei also has its own primary school.
After visiting Yunis we traveled to the water recycling wetlands at Kaputiei. The town was planned by a local Professor, Elijah Biamah from Nairobi University. He is the head of the Environment and Engineering Departments there. The water recycling plant takes waste water from the town and cleans it through a series of filtering processes and ecological cleaning and then pipes clean, greywater back into the town to be used to flush toilets and irrigate gardens. Water and access to water is a great problem for many women in the developing world. It is also a big problem in Africa. Africa is the second driest continent in the world. All 677 of its lakes and rivers are polluted beyond use. Kaputiei draws its clean water from massive borewells that get water from deep underground. Because they recycle their water there is no concern that the aquifers will be drained.
The town will eventually be home to some 10,000 people living in about 2,000 homes. They also have plans to build an industrial park that will be powered by other alternative forms of energy. One of the first big businesses to be built will be a milk cooling plant for Maasai women. Since Independence in 1963 the Maasai women have been dreaming about someone to come in to build them a milk cooling plant so they would not have to get up in the middle of the night to carry their milk to market. If they don't travel by night the milk will spoil in the bright sun by the time they deliver it. Now each Maasai woman will take out an $80 microloan from Jamii Bora and pool the money together into a collective to build their own plant.
Kaputiei town is the future of the microfinance movement. If this town can be replicated in other areas of Kenya, Africa and the world, it will help to solve the problems that exist for poor people everywhere. It is also one of the most effective solutions I have ever seen that bridges the gap between economic and enviromental sustainability. What Ingrid Munro has created is a new, sustainable model for international development.