Inspired by a visit to Nairobi

July 10, 2024

A team from REI made a field visit to Nairobi, Kenya from 24 to 28 June 2024. During the visit we met 13 beneficiaries and visited the training institute where beneficiaries learn about business and receive skills training.

Refugees in the city continue to live an uncertain existence, worrying about documentation as well as how to provide for themselves and their families. However, as on previous visits, we were impressed by people’s determination to make the best of their circumstances. 

We met beneficiaries from earlier funding programs as well as recent graduates. Some people had been affected by a loss of business during the Covid pandemic. However, they have picked up and are rebuilding their business. Some have remodeled, some have had to start again but they all keep positive because the skills they acquired are still with them.

Food, hairdressing and tailoring are the most popular areas of work and, even in these areas, we saw a diversity of skills. From a butcher’s shop to a vegetable stall to a barber shop to designing rental gowns, each one is different.

We were all impressed by the beneficiaries’ report on the training they received. There was no doubt that the training is thorough and has helped with setting up and running their business.

Everyone we met appreciates the improved security that comes from a degree of self-reliance.

Anastasia is from Rwanda and operates a vegetable shop. We asked her what she learnt from the training: “When running the first shop I had not learned to concentrate on the business. Sometimes I would be late opening because of talking to friends and not concentrating on the business. Through the training I learnt to be more responsible and manage well.”

Patricia is a single mother from Congo who used to work as a home help before she took the business training. She has her own tailoring business and lives behind the shop. She said she learnt through the training that “you can start a business without having money.”; that instead of waiting to gather a sum of money, determination will carry you through.

We had met Monique in 2018 while she was undergoing the training. She has had to remodel her tailoring business several times and is now working from her home. She said: “Through knowing the skills and the knowledge I gained, I can look at YouTube and see what people are doing. I can understand and learn and do it myself here.”

Jane Best was pleased to meet Bizimana for the third time. She had seen his progress from 2016 to 2018, but unfortunately the Covid pandemic affected his business and set back his progress. He told us: “people who used to come and buy were refused entry to my neighbourhood in Nairobi. So I had to re-strategize, trying to come up again with new ideas, like using this (different) flour. So that people can come again and try to buy some new unique design, new ideas.” He is determined to get back on his feet: “I’m trying to cope because the challenges are many, but we are used to them.”

Monique’s comment about using YouTube made it apparent that in today’s world, digital access is an important tool for refugees to keep up with the rest of the world, especially in expanding their businesses.