Winnie Otieno, 29

Social Entrepreneur

At a young age, Winnie has learned the art of building something philanthropic and socially beneficial. Not only is she changing the lives of young women from her small saloon in Nairobi’s Mathare, but she has also enabled women in the slums to live with dignity.

“Growing up in Mathare, I was a scout in primary school and we used to do cleanups in markets and other filthy places. At the time, ‘flying toilets’ (a name used to describe a plastic bag with human waste) were a menace in Mathare and I was greatly bothered by this. And seeing that we were living in a place filled with garbage and waste, I resolved that when I grow up, I will be the change that Mathare needs.”

Years later, after Winnie cleared high school, the situation in Mathare had not changed one bit. There was only one toilet, shared by hundreds of residents. For women, it was not conducive especially during their monthly periods. It was never private enough. There was also another challenge. Most of the girls and women were too poor to afford sanitary pads.

“Since I had no means to effect the change that I wanted on my own, I started writing proposals to NGOs and other organisations to come to our rescue. All my proposals were unsuccessful. Then I came across the work being done by Amref, and I knew they could help change Mathare. I sought help from friends who had experience writing successful proposal. Luckily, Amref gave us a listening ear, and I was put in charge of a project to build an ablution block in Jangwani, Mathare.”

"Children growing up in the slums have access to education. For them now, it is books rather than crime."

The ablution block has toilets, bathrooms, and clean water. Through Winnie’s advocacy, Amref also built a library next to the ablution block.

“Children growing up in the slums have access to education. For them now, it is books rather than crime.”

The doors of advocacy work opened wide and soon she started a feeding programme for the elderly and those living with HIV/Aids in Mathare, thanks to sponsors such as East African Breweries Limited.

Her final gift to Mathare is that of education and mentorship. Winnie, through the training and sponsorship of AstraZeneca, runs a young health programme that educates residents on the prevention of non-communicable diseases in the slums, a growing concern as more low-income earners are diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure.

Additionally, she educates the community on water, sanitation, and hygiene, and runs a weekly mentorship programme for young girls and mentors, and trains them in hairdressing in her salon.

From Monday to Thursday, she dedicates her time to serving the Mathare community. On Fridays, her mornings are spent reading and researching what she will speak on at her weekly Friday mentorship sessions. Saturdays and Sundays she works in her salon where she trains girls in beauty and hairdressing at no charge and links them up with work in other salons.

“Children now have a space to play and read in Jangwani, and women don’t have to dread their monthly periods as they are assured of getting sanitary pads and clean water at Jangwani’s ablution block. The elderly, those living with disabilities, and even those living with HIV/Aids are leading better lives in Mathare.”

Collins Kariuki