From empathy to action
Everlyne Mbaluka brings hope to Mukuru slum residents
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The Mukuru slum in Nairobi is home to over half a million people. Many of the slum dwellers live in extreme poverty, in makeshift shacks with poor community sanitation and a dangerous network of wires and cables bringing electricity into people’s homes. This is not a safe place for women. The slum has some of the highest rates of violence against women in Kenya. Many women and young girls are victims of rape. And child labour is common, with children forced to work to help support their families.
Career prospects for young Mukuru dwellers are low. “Only 44% of children go to school and many of the girls who drop out opt for early marriage,” says Everlyne Mbaluka, Procurement Specialist, Supply Chain, known by many as Eve.
She knows all about deprivation first hand. “I come from a remote community and a poor family background,” Eve explains. “We were always depending on relief food to put a meal on the table. I went to school hungry countless times. Other kids laughed at me when I went to school in a torn uniform. It was tough growing up, so I feel like I’m connected to the experiences that people in the slums are going through.”
Now working in Unilever’s Supply Chain function in Procurement, Eve has turned her empathy into action. She has revitalised her team’s community investment programme and led a visit of Supply Chain colleagues to Mukuru. “On our first visit, most of us shed tears when we heard some of the horrific things that the children in the slums go through,” she says.
In collaboration with the non-profit, faith-based organisation, the Ruben Centre, Eve mobilised the Supply Chain management team to sponsor some of Mukuru’s children through high school by contributing to their school fees. These educational opportunities mean the youngsters are less likely to drop out of school early to a bleak way of life, often involving theft and drug dealing. With education, they are given hope for a brighter future.
Under Eve’s leadership, the project has grown and now involves not just Supply Chain but the entire Unilever Kenya team. As Covid-19 struck, employees raised funds and contributed personally to feed vulnerable residents in Mukuru. The food relief programme targeted women living in the slum in the belief that this was the best way to ensure that whole families were being fed.
Eve is also a board member of Her Hustle, a foundation that supports women in their careers, and is a mentor to young women. With her growing experience of community investment and empowering women, she was also asked to spearhead a group tackling gender violence at a local event attended by representatives of the influential Graça Machel Trust and other NGOs.
The power to effect positive change lies within us all, she believes. “If we could all just identify a community that is needy and help them, then we could make the world a better place,” she says.