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Creating Safe Spaces in Mathare, Nairobi


Creating Safe Spaces in Mathare, Nairobi

Read about Peninah Nthenya - one among many interesting Kenyan delegates who will be at the Forum on Productive Youth Development through Sport in Africa, from June 16-18, 2009.

Peninah Nthenya grew up in the slums of Nairobi before initiating Safe Spaces Mathare, where girls and women have the opportunity to meet and participate in sports and artistic activities in a safe environment.  She is one among several Kenyan delegates who will join the Forum on Productive Youth Development through Sport in Africa from June 16-18.

Growing up in Mathare
Peninah is now 32 years old. Until age 24, she grew up in Mathare, in the slums of Nairobi. She lived with her parents and younger sister in one room, without electricity and sanitation, and the family struggled daily for work and to have enough money to pay for the day’s food.

She watched as her mother became a “parking mother”, sitting on a corner with other women all day, hoping that someone would hire them that day to clean or cook. If on somedays she wasn’t hired, the family didn’t eat that night. She and her sister also had to do casual work, cleaning clothes and utensils for neighbours for 5 Kenyan Shillings to also help put food on the table.

The first girl to ever graduate from Mathare
Peninah was lucky enough to have someone in the community who paid her secondary school fees, allowing her to complete her education. But the secondary school was 16 kilometers from where she lived.

Every day for four years, Peninah would wake up at 5am and walk to school, and back again each afternoon. During the first year she didn't even tell the head teacher how far she had walked, even though she was sometimes reprimanded for being late.

When Peninah finished secondary school, she wanted to go on to university. She learned there were scholarships for girls playing basketball, an unusual sport for girls in the slums. Determined to go, Peninah taught herself basketball in just one month, and got the scholarship, to study law.

She beat all odds through perseverance, sacrifice and hard work to be the first girl to ever graduate from Mathare slums, and she is now well known in the community for her achievements.

Safe Spaces Mathare
Some people would walk away from the slums, after living through the violence, rape, drug abuse, and the incredible challenges of daily life. Not Peninah. She worked for a law firm for a few years and then returned to Mathare to start an organisation providing assistance to the parking mothers. But the organisation tragically lost its small, one-room office and all its equipment in the fires during the post-election violence of December 2007.

Two months later, frustrated by the challenges she had encountered, Peninah met a young Canadian woman who was working on a sports programme for young girls in Mathare and was inspired to start Safe Spaces Mathare. Safe Spaces Mathare literally creates safe spaces for girls to meet and talk in a girls only environment, play basketball, do yoga, drama, and participate in vocational training e.g. in auto mechanics. Safe Spaces is quickly creating a good name in the community with girls and their parents. In a recent open day, 160 girls participated and Safe Spaces is looking for additional funding to expand the programme.

“Tough times never last but tough people do”
Peninah says with a smile:
Tough times never last but tough people do and I’m back again in the slum empowering my fellow girls. I long to have the power to tell people about the plights of a slum girl without fear some day and for my opinion to be heard and to be considered with respect. I long to advocate for and help my fellow slum girls access justice, many of whom have been misused and exploited by disrespectful men.”

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]


Article type



Chris Middleton


Monday, June 8, 2009 - 23:00

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