Aid in the form of cash payments helps young Kenyans break the cycle of poverty

By Thomas Nybo

NAIROBI, Kenya, 24 December 2012 – Caroline Adhiambo Mula’s father had died years earlier, and money had always been a problem. The family struggled month to month.

When Caroline was 17 years old, her mother died, and she was suddenly left in charge of feeding and caring for her five younger siblings in their Kawangware slum.

UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on a UNICEF-supported cash transfer programme that's helping young Kenyans break the cycle of poverty.

Making ends meet is a struggle

According to Government Case Officer Naomi Mbugua, half of the children in Kawangware never attend school. Many children help their families earn money.

A walk through Kawangware reveals many children at work, including a young girl of 5 or 6 toiling diligently with a large knife, peeling potatoes that her mother will cut and turn into french fries that she can sell in the slum.

“Life in the urban area is very expensive,” says Caroline. “I must work very hard to pay my rent and buy food.”

Cash transfer programme offers hope

Caroline has been helped by a UNICEF-supported cash transfer programme. Run by the Government of Kenya, the programme allows her to pay for food, medical care and school fees. The amount she receives each month is modest – about US$20 – but that sum covers her family’s rent. Many of the beneficiaries of the programme were suddenly thrust into poverty when AIDS claimed a parent.

“The programme is very important, especially for the orphans and the most vulnerable cases,” says Ms. Mbugua, who manages Caroline’s case. “Here in Dagoretti, we are supporting 657 households.”

Ms. Mbugua says the modest cash payments cushion young women like Caroline from extreme poverty and help them break the cycle of poverty by enabling them to focus on getting an education.

A small business owner emerges

Once the cash transfer programme had allowed her to cover the basics, Caroline was able to open a beauty salon, where she uses the skills her mother taught her.

For Caroline, the programme has provided a new outlook on life. No longer concerned about mere survival, she’s focusing on growing her business.

“My dream is to expand the salon,” she tells a visitor. “I would buy full-size hairdryers and even hire other employees to assist me.”

At the end of a long day at the salon, Caroline returns to her home in the slum. It’s a tiny shack with metal walls and a dirt floor.

The cash transfer programme has given her peace of mind and helped Caroline prepare for a bright future – for her and her siblings, and one day her own children.