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05.10.2017 | Guest Commentary

Journey to a Heroine of Hope

Justina Mwangangi enables thousands of people to live a better life. Now the Welthungerhilfe project manager was honoured with the editors’ prize "Everyday Heroes". Jörg Pilawa went to visit her.

Justina, project mnager of 'Skill up!' in Nairobi, enables people to change something in their lifes. © Natalia Jidovanu
Jörg Pilawa Guest Author

Justina Mwangangi, Welthungerhilfe project manager of the 'Skill up!' project in Kenya, was honoured this year with the editors’ prize 'Everyday Heroes' by Auf einen Blick (Bauer Media). TV presenter Jörg Pilawa went to visit her, where she is enabling thousands of people to have a better life.

Sometimes heroes live just next door. Sometimes a little further away. But you can find them everywhere, all around the world. Since I been supporting the ‘Everyday Heroes’ campaign from the TV magazine Auf einen Blick, I have met many incredible people. People who have helped others, who have excelled themselves, who haven't kept going in adversity. 6500 kilometres and nine hours by plane from here, I met a very special woman. In Nairobi, Kenya, at the edge of one of the largest slums in the world.

Working for the poorest of the poor

Justina Mwangangi (37), her eyes twinkling, her handshake firm. She is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. It is 8 o'clock in the morning. She has already had breakfast with her five-year-old daughter and has done the school run, the one-hour journey now behind her. Ahead of her is a day with 150 young people who are receiving an education on the edge of the gigantic Kibera slum in Nairobi, home to 700,000 people. ‘Skill up!’ is the name of the Welthungerhilfe programme - encouraging young people to ’get qualified!’. The promotion of training is financed by the Hamburg publisher Gudrun Bauer (Bauer Media Group, which also publishes 'Auf einen Blick').

And it was she who excitedly told me about Justina and who made me so curious that I had to meet her. Justina is the project manager of ‘Skill up!’ in Nairobi. Between 2015 and 2020, 1300 young people will receive training as hairdressers, cooks, vehicle mechanics, IT specialists, tailors or electricians. In addition, there will be career guidance for 5000 young people in the schools of the slums, and advanced training for 36 trainers.

At the end of the project, 600 small enterprises will profit from well-trained young people - and naturally the young people will also benefit themselves. Training as a foundation of life, help for self-help, which makes the risky escape routes to Europe less interesting. A project supported not only by money, but by a lot of heart.

Training as a route out of poverty

“I am fundamentally an optimist,” says Justina, who studied economics and sociology, and who comes from a poor background herself. “I believe that every person can write the story of their own life.” The training is the key to this story. Set around a sandy football pitch and a primary school, the individual classes are taking place; cooking, tailoring, mechanics and learning.

60 percent of the students are women, many of them with children who are also taken care of. “Justina,” says Dennis (24), trainer of the vehicle mechanics, “is the engine of the training project.” “Justina” says Esther (28), the hairdressing trainer, “is the heart of everything.” And both of them are right.

Directly behind the centre stands a sea of corrugated huts, the Kibera slum, a city within the city, with narrow, muddy paths. Electricity is available occasionally, toilets are somewhere, one for every 20 huts. This is where Zyprose (25) lives, whom Justina introduces to me. She is currently working on a car engine; she began her training as a vehicle mechanic in January.The next day I visit Zyprose at home. She lives with her sister, uncle, aunt, cousins and their children in two dark, damp rooms, each one a tiny 15 square metres in size. They sleep and cook in one, and in the other they sit together in the evenings. The father of her two children (9 and 5) has long since vanished, as is so often the case in Kibera. If she takes the bus into town and sees the wealth of the large city, she becomes furious: “Because there is almost no way out for us here.” Except through education.

Eight people sharing 30m² - everyday life in the slum

Her household book is a book of worries: Rent, electricity, water, food, school fees - it totals around 250 euros. Her uncle earns 60 euros a month in a mill, the cousins work here and there, sometimes it's alright, but never really good. “I want to leave here,” she says. “I want to change my life. This is why I am doing the training, I want to provide for myself and my family.”

It is this that drives Justina. To give people the opportunity to change something in their lives. To write the story of their own life. Her clarity, her warmth, her optimism is what starts this story for so many. Yes, for me, Justina is an everyday hero - we need more Justinas in this world to solve the true problems. The world has become too small to look away!

The article appeared in the TV magazine Auf einen Blick (Bauer Media Group).

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