A collection of photographs taken by teenagers given cameras and assigned to document their lives in the crowded Nairobi slum of Mathari will go on display at the third session of UN-HABITAT’s World Urban Forum in Vancouver in June as part of a novel, internationally sponsored project to reflect the concerns of young people and inspire their peers.
The “Image-in” programme depicts the world of 10 boys and girls aged 13 to 15 asked to focus on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at alleviating poverty and showing how they apply to their lives among the poor and the very poor. Quickly, and with considerable energy, they soon devised a way of presenting their pictures with caption stories in a body of work that will also be published as a book.
All of the young photographers are members of the Mathare Youth Sports Association. Run by young people, for young people, the association formed in 1987 at the initiative of Bob Munro, a Canadian former UN official, became the first of its kind to organize football leagues in the slums. It was also the first to set up teams for girls, and the first to send a girls’ team to the Norway Cup. In 2003, it was one of 165 candidates short-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize – a proposal by the former Norwegian Member of Parliament, Lise Gjorn, as a tribute to African youth resisting the temptation to resort to crime as a way out of their poverty. Today, the association is the largest youth sports organization in Africa with 1,128 boys’ teams across the continent, and 269 teams for girls that altogether involve some 14,000 players.
During a visit to the association’s Mathare headquarters this week, UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, said: “My coming here shows UN-HABITAT’s commitment to addressing some of the problems young people of this area are facing.”
In the football leagues, participants must undertake community service for which points are awarded to the teams for every successful project. Points are gained both for winning a game and also for cleaning the environment and doing art projects. Many players have been trained as HIV/AIDS counsellors, spreading the prevention message in a high risk area of Kenya. The professional players of Mathare United must complete at least 60 hours community service a month, for which they are paid, sponsored by local companies.
The community work includes the association’s “Clean-Up Project”, help for street children arrested as vagrants, or joining in the art activities, such as the “Shootback” photographic programme. The “Shootback” programme started in 1997 and coordinated by Lana Wong, is today run by James Njuguna’s, “Image-in” project.
With long-term funding from Norway, cameras and technical support from FUJI Kenya, the project organized by the Mathari Youth Sports Association and supported by UN-HABITAT, has grown into a major communications exercise that will see the exhibition travel from cities in Kenya, to Vancouver and on to Oslo, Norway.