Fulfilling dreams in Kenya’s urban slum: Ian’s path from being homeless to starting a tech job with WFP
By Gulia Rakhimova
Ian, 28, is from Kibera, one of Africa’s largest informal urban settlements. Currently employed as an IT Assistant with the World Food Programme (WFP) in Kenya, he remembers what it was like to go hungry. Ian talks of his journey in this third story in the series about graduates of EMPACT — WFP’s innovation project connecting students at risk of hunger to the global digital economy. Read the stories of Layth from Iraq and Baraah from Syria.
Ian goes to the Kibera Community Library early in the morning. He walks through closely packed buildings made of mud and local materials, watching the sprawling urban slum wake up. The library is two hours away, but Ian doesn’t mind a tiring walk. He now coaches EMPACT students there, having been one himself two years ago.
“It’s a way to give back to the programme and empower my community.”
Before joining EMPACT, Ian took various jobs to make ends meet. He didn’t earn a steady income, having worked as a billing clerk at a hospital and a freelancer handling casual projects. He occasionally stayed at a friend’s shared flat to get away from the streets, unable to afford even food.
“There were days we would go to bed on an empty stomach. Once my friend was expelled by his landlord for missing rent payments. We were both struggling to get by.”
Ian dreamt of launching a tech start-up that would deliver digital solutions to serve the Kibera community. But as an unfunded, self-taught software developer, he didn’t succeed.
He would go to the Kibera Community Library and use learning resources in the hope of progressing in his tech career. One day a call for applications for the WFP’s EMPACT programme caught his eye at the library. It offered free training in coding, among other courses targeted at youth facing hunger.
“I was hesitant to apply because taking classes meant I wouldn’t be able to use this time to look for a job. And being homeless added to the stress. My options were to give up or make the best of what I had to work with.”
In February 2020, Ian started his 6-month training programme with EMPACT.
He took full advantage of it. “Every minute I spent there was an opportunity. I sought mentors, asked questions and took as many skills classes as possible.”
Ian completed several mico-work tasks and learned to apply for employment on online job marketplaces like Fiverr. One of the jobs that he landed this way was working for a legal practice that was shifting to remote work during COVID-19, where he organized a 3-month employee Zoom training.
“It was a big help for me to learn how to market and use my IT skills in the world of work.”
Ian also sought jobs locally. He was introduced to an estate management firm looking to build a community management system. “I developed a desktop app, using C# programming language and coding skills from Pluralsight that I gained through EMPACT. It kept track of receipts and other data while automating tasks, all in one place. They were pleased with the outcomes.”
It was a turning moment for Ian. His abilities were valued, and he could make a living doing what he loved. “When you earn income after a long time of being jobless and homeless, it feels terrific.”
When Ian completed the EMPACT programme, he applied and was hired for an IT Assistant position with the World Food Programme’s Regional Bureau for Eastern Africa located in Nairobi. He also devotes his time to coaching incoming EMPACT students in Kibera.
“When you earn income after a long time of being jobless and homeless, it feels terrific.”
“Having been in the same place helps me to empathize with students and share my first-hand experience. This hopefully inspires them to keep learning and thrive in the programme, as it’s a truly life-changing opportunity.”
Those memories have led Ian to develop an online platform he called “KaziWazi,” which means “open jobs” in Swahili. “Now I have all the knowledge, skills, and credentials I needed to build something of my own.”
KaziWazi aims to link Kenyan youth to freelance work opportunities. “Other applications exist, but they don’t take into consideration Kibera’s reality. Existing internet job markets are incredibly competitive since you compete with individuals from all around the world. Imagine getting a request from an employer in another time zone, losing internet connectivity and not delivering the task on time. So I’m looking to address these issues.”
Through this new platform, Ian hopes to help his peers from Kibera break the cycle of poverty and find meaningful jobs.
“Every graph has zero-based coordinates. I was at zero, but I knew it was just the start. I value every chance I get. In hindsight, these challenging experiences have made me more aware of the problems affecting my community, and I hope to contribute to solving them.”
EMPACT supports displaced and food-insecure young people to unlock their true potential and kickstart careers in the technology sectors in Colombia, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, and Zimbabwe. Through partnerships with the private sector, EMPACT provides short, focused practical training in digital, soft and language skills and connects the students with online, remote and local IT jobs. Globally, more than 13,000 refugees and food-insecure youth gained access to online work opportunities and built viable livelihoods through EMPACT.
Read more about WFP’s EMPACT innovation project.
The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.
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