Under the Tree
Episode 3

Women of the World, Take Over

Initially, Obunga is a refuge where women can escape rural squalor or abusive households. As the densely populated slum grows more crowded, however, single mothers find themselves threatened by new dimensions of poverty, with few prospects for further relocation.

Begin the Journey
Commuters walk the tracks from Obunga to downtown Kisumu

Welcome to Kisumu

On the northeastern banks of Lake Victoria lies the third largest city in Kenya: Kisumu. Derived from the Luo word for trade, the name fits the bustling city well. Markets buzz, packed matatus (shared taxi vans) rumble in all directions, ships slide to and fro on the horizon, and a mix of students, professionals, and the unemployed hustle along the streets and sidewalks.

While the city is home to great prosperity, it is also built on great disparity. Its unemployment rate is 30% and rising. Paired with urban density, this lack of opportunity leads to improvised housing wherever space can be found. Wedged under the Bypass Highway and bisected by municipal train tracks lies Obunga, the largest of Kisumu's four major slums. During the day, smoke and kites rise above the busy market where residents sell scraps from the nearby fish processing plants. Pikipiki (motorcycle) drivers line the main thoroughfares, waiting for customers. The sound of boiling over, sizzling liquid echoes off of aluminum roofs as people prepare homebrew to sell or drink in an attempt to escape the burden of the slums.

Fueling this informal economy are families, many of them led by single mothers with two or more children. The risks they take are many, but in the absence of feasible alternatives they are necessary for survival.

David and Erick’s neighboring homes outside of Obunga

To Grow in Obunga

David Omondi and Erick Otieno lived in Obunga at different times, but they came from countryside villages for the same reason: to find work in order to send money back home to their families.

Both were given the rare chance to leave Obunga to pursue higher education. After they met at university, they became quick friends and made a pact to one day return to Obunga and give back to the community they had managed to escape.

After graduation, it was time to make good on their promise. Taking stock of the opportunities they had been given, they realized that advanced education was what they could give back to Obunga. They decided to build a school together.

Akili girls playing before school

The Akili Preparatory School

The school, called Akili (Swahili for intelligence), was founded in 2012 on the principle that educated girls make empowered women, who present the greatest opportunity for change in Obunga.

Girls, starting with the most vulnerable, are given uniforms, shoes, backpacks, food, and a high-quality education. The school’s aim is to remove burden from their families, quell poverty at home, and provide a path to higher education.

The all-female staff at Akili is made up of other residents of Obunga. The teachers play an important part in each girl’s experience, acting as role models who can empathize with the specific threats the girls face outside of school.

Akili’s fertile land in Obambo overlooks Lake Victoria

The Horizon

Akili is still a young school. The first class of students reaches a new grade level each year, and the school must grow to accommodate them. Recently Akili opened its second branch, a beautiful lakeside boarding school in a rural town called Obambo.

The opportunities at Obambo are much greater than just expanded classrooms. The land sits atop a natural aquifer and nutrient-rich soil, which David and Erick plan to use for future projects:

  1. Expanding the sustainable farm program. Currently, Akili grows a variety of vegetables and poultry, but the goal is to eventually meet 50% of the school’s food needs through a mix of sales and consumption.
  2. Building a biogas digester. This will provide 90% of Akili’s energy requirements through clean, sustainable energy.
  3. Drilling a well for the farm. Clean drinking water will benefit both the students and the residents of Obambo.

Invest in the Girls of Obunga

Episode 3 — Conclusion
Obunga grows more rapidly every day, and so does the need for quality education. Mama Hope invites you to invest in the future of young women and the next generation of change in Kisumu, Kenya. Learn more about our projects
Credits for Episode 3



  • Hannah Clyne
  • Alison Osborne
  • Daniel Levin Becker

Special Thanks

Thank you David, Erick, Sheila, Evelyn, Alyssa, and Megan. I look forward to cooking chipsi mayai for you all again one day soon. Jim O’Rourke’s “Prelude 110 to 110 or 220/Women of the World,” inspired by Ivor Cutler and Linda Hirst’s “Women of the World,” was the song that was constantly on repeat while I worked on this episode.

As always, to Mama Hope and all of the donors who made this project possible—Thanks.

© 2016 Ryan LeCluyse & Mama Hope
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