Peris the Entrepreneur: A voice for accountability in Kibra

Peris sewing a dress for a customer.

Peris sewing a dress for a customer.

In my area, I can now see garbage collection has improved, a borehole was constructed, some roads were repaired and currently an early childhood development (ECD) centre is about to be built.

By Caroline Mochoge

It is business as usual for 50-year-old Peris Achieng at her tailoring shop, doing what she knows best. She is not only known for her tailoring skills, but also for her advocacy where she works as a social auditor. Peris has worked as a tailor for 20 years now, and lived in Kibra for the last 13years.

Her journey as a social auditor began in 2003, when Kibra Community Development Agenda (KODA) trained her on social accountability. After the training, she joined efforts with other women in Kibra and decided to follow up on the current development projects such as a road construction that later on would affect her tailoring business.

“We went all the way to city hall to check on the county budget allocations for some of the on going development projects, neither did we get a chance to have a look at the documents nor know what procedures to follow."

It was frustrating for Peris to follow-up on the projects since, no one seemed interested and she received a lot of threats from engineers and potential investors.

“I recall around 2014, government contractors destroyed my tailoring business shop, claiming more space is required for road construction. This angered me because, no one consulted me and it was a financial loss for me. Then,I could not afford to rent space therefore, I started running my tailoring business from the veranda of my house” she says.

In 2015, Peris enrolled for the Wezesha Jamii Project where she acquired knowledge on her rights and ways of improving her source of income.

“I acquired a range of skills and knowledge including; business skills which has expanded my customer base, networks in business, although, advocacy and public participation meant everything to me because of my previous experience with contractors. In 2016, the trained group of Wezesha Jamii women champions volunteered to be part of the team that would participate in the public discussions. We realised that most of the projects that had been allocated budgets had not started and the financial year was coming to an end, this was one of the most heart-breaking moments” she said.

Through her social media skills, Peris created a WhatsApp group for women who would participate in the public forums. She also used the platform, to identify issues that would be presented during these forums.

She faced a lot of challenges especially, when trying to mobilise her community members for public participation sessions. Peris says, “The short notice on public participation meetings is frustrating, hence mobilising people to attend the meetings is always difficult which leads to meetings with low attendance. People in my community have low literacy levels so, they do not understand the importance of public participation they are struggling to make ends meet.

“Sometimes, financial constraints deter me from leaving my business to attend the public participation forums. I therefore go to work so that I make a few coins.” She adds

Peris determination to discuss issues affecting the community with the ward administration went through, after a series of cancelled meetings.

“At the end of 2017, together with other women we tabled issues on water scarcity, poor quality education for our children, infrastructure and health to the Member of County Assembly. We followed up and pushed for changes, within the community.”

In my area, I can now see garbage collection has improved, a borehole was constructed, some roads were repaired and currently an early childhood development (ECD) centre is about to be built. Despite the setbacks, I can now see public participation is bearing fruits, it makes me feel good to be part of Wezesha Jamii programme”. She adds

With financial support from the European Union, through the just concluded Wezesha Jamii Programme, Peris continues to advocate for better access to quality services in her community.

Peris hopes that; the government can prioritise job opportunities for the youth in Kibra to reduce the current high crime rates, that more young women gaining confidence to speak up during public participation forums without fear of intimidation from the men and she also hopes to see the county administrators using more channels to share information on the importance of public participation so that people can be part of the discussions.

“If it was not for Wezesha Jamii, I would not have realised the power of our voice as women in Kibra. My next step is pushing for a Kibra health centre, so that mothers do not die from preventable causes and that housing in Kibra would improve being one of the big four agenda in Kenya.” She concludes.