Isabel Sadya Reforms Slum in Kenya


Isabel Sadya used to think of herself as a quiet person. But now, she’s changing the world.

Sadya was recently nominated by the U.S. Embassy in Kenya to participate in an international leadership program in NGO management. In April, she traveled to six states in the United States to meet with top leaders of organizations around the country, as well as leaders nominated from 24 other countries.

“I never dreamt I would be doing what I’m doing now,” Sadya told Opportunity Lives. She had a master’s degree in psychology and a relatively bright future ahead. But as she worked at an internship after her postgraduate degree, she began to realize in 2005 that many children suffered abuse in Kenya. Most of these cases go unreported, and little is done to help the traumatized children recover.

At first, she volunteered in the town of Naivasha, where she offered “pro bono counseling” to abused children at the police station or district hospital. After receiving 60 calls in the first few months, she realized she needed to start an abuse prevention program. The program helped children from five schools map danger spots in their community and speak out when abused. The program started making a real impact on reducing abuse, and soon she formed the Africa Health & Community Program (AHCP).

AHCP was founded with the goal of facilitating and promoting a self-reliant community through exemplary leadership on sustainable development in health and human development. Sadya currently serves as the secretary to the Board of Directors.

Things took a turn for the worse in early 2008, when brutal post-election violence rocked Kenya. AHCP closed down and reopened again in 2010 when Sadya was drawn to Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa.

Technically part of Nairobi, Kibera is home to almost a million people, most of whom make less than $1.00/day. “In the slum of Kibera, there is a vicious cycle of poverty,” said Sadya. People live in very dehumanizing and degrading conditions, with few social amenities, quality schools, or healthcare.

The informal schools in Kibera have few learning materials. They are often overcrowded and lack qualified teachers. Many students from Kibera perform poorly in the Kenya national examination and are therefore “sieved” out of the education process.

As a result, Sadya started the Center of Hope school to give orphans and vulnerable children a chance for quality education. She has 38 children enrolled currently and hopes to get to 50 before the year ends.

For just $30 a month (or a dollar a day), the center provides not only tuition but medical care, a balanced diet, learning materials, and a school uniform for the children (the uniform helps the kids look neat and traceable when they get lost in the slum). “If we give these kids an enabling environment and quality education, they will make it in life just like any other kid in the world,” said Sadya.

Sadya also began an entrepreneurship program to help older teenagers and unemployed youths find ways to start a business. “Our main focus is to assist the youths in discovering that they have so much potential in them,” she said. The 1.5-month long entrepreneurship program teaches the fundamentals of business, marketing, IT, research, and human resource management and requires all students to submit a business plan at the end of the program.

Graduates from the entrepreneurship program have started printing, daycare, tailoring, stationery, and salon businesses. Some learn to give haircuts or sell kerosene or jewelry. Sadya said the facility is big enough to host 100 students per month for the entrepreneurship program, but without more funding, the program cannot handle that many.

The entrepreneurship program is a crucial tool in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and fostering peace in the community. Because the youths are productively engaged, they don’t have to depend on politicians to give handouts. Rather than giving money directly to the people in the slums, Sadya said, “you’d rather teach them how to fish and become productive for themselves and their community.”

AHCP also began several programs for women’s empowerment with funds from the Africa Women’s Development Fund. These programs fight back against the rampant gender-based violence on women in the urban slums and the rural part of Kenya. Involving men in these programs has fostered great success with everyone contributing to the welfare of their families. “We teach women how to engage in business, contribute to household economy, and take responsibility for their own lives,” said Sadya. This allows women to have the freedom to escape bad situations.

Isabel Sadya continues to face extreme adversity. But she perseveres, fighting for those in Kenya that need her most. “I was destined to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. And make a difference she has.

Published on Opportunity Lives