Kenyans Quelling Sanitation Quandary

From former bankers to tourism marketers, Sanergy’s local staff comes from different backgrounds with one mission in mind – to end Kenya’s sanitation crisis. We take pride in the fact that over 80% of Sanergy staff were born and raised in Kenya.

Last week, we heard from three expat employees about what brought them to work for Sanergy. Today, we present the perspectives of four of Sanergy’s Kenyan employees, sharing their own motivations and stories.

DENNIS OCHIENG, Operations and Impact Manager
Peter Dennis Ochieng

I was the head of programs at Marie Stopes International, South Sudan program when I first heard about Sanergy. I was a bit skeptical at first given that it was a start up with no recorded impact or guarantee of continuity. And leaving a high profile job to jump ship to a company that builds toilets isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But then I read about Sanergy’s mission and the novelty of their model. And I knew that this was my opportunity to contribute.

I grew up in an informal settlement and was familiar with just how serious the sanitation predicament in slums had grown. I used to be very uncomfortable having guests over because I knew there wouldn’t be anywhere for them to relieve themselves. I remember one time I had a friend visit me and he asked to use the toilet. It was raining and the nearest pit latrine we regularly used was quite a distance away. So I requested access to our neighbor’s toilet, but when I went to check it out, my stomach turned. It was full to the brim and had maggots crawling all over the place. My friend left early that day.

There is incredible satisfaction knowing that I’m making a difference every single day in my job. These are my people; my fellow Kenyans. No one should have to use a “flying toilet” or remove their clothes so they don’t stink just so they can relieve themselves. With Sanergy, there’s none of the extravagant per diems, government bureaucracy in the form of phone calls, emails or high profile visits which comes with the notion of change. We get our hands dirty, and everyone owns the process. I love it.

Mary Gikonyo

Six months at Sanergy and people still think I’m nuts when I tell them I moved from the banking sector. When I first heard about Sanergy, I was at the peak of my career, drowning in the rigid structure of the corporate world, and what I really wanted was exposure to something entirely different.

I came to Sanergy when there was barely any structure in place, and coming from an environment with dogmatic organization and written policies that are followed to the letter, I didn’t think I’d last very long. However, I don’t regret the move. If anything, it’s the best thing I ever did for myself. I’m getting to write the policies, I’m watching the company grow, and I just love the fact that I have the freedom to determine my job. It’s an experience I’d never have gained otherwise. I also wasn’t really in touch with the real world at the bank. In such a sheltered environment, you don’t realize the extent of people’s problems. I’d actually never been to a slum before Mukuru, and I was humbled… greatly humbled. There’s a lot to be done, but for Sanergy, the sky is the limit.

I walk around the Mukuru slum and I’m referred to as ‘Mwalimu’ (teacher) because we hold Fresh Life trainings here. Seeing how happy the locals are and knowing that they hold me in such esteem makes me realize that my job goes beyond sanitation.

Almost every Kenyan has an experience of their own with poor sanitation. It could range from a lack of proper toilet facilities to drinking water directly from a lake because no other alternative exists. I grew up in the rural area of Mbita, and my experience reflected the latter. I believe that’s where my love for community development stemmed from. Prior to Sanergy, I worked with Innovations for Poverty Action in Oyugis as a field officer.

I want my life’s work to lift my people’s living standards, and Sanergy helps me achieve that. Our primary goal is to make change happen. I’ve been here for 6 months now, and the impact I’ve witnessed thus far is massive. There’s been a chain effect since we started erecting Fresh Life Toilets. Not only is the community cleaner but there are now job opportunities and a lot more security given that people don’t have to walk long distances in the dark just to find toilets. I’m also growing as an individual. I’m expected to be a responsible team player, I’ve learnt to manage my time and think of innovative ways to police myself because no one breathes down my neck around here. It’s a great place to work.

JOSEPH GITHINJI, Marketing & Branding Manager
My second interview with the founders was to take place in the Mukuru slum, and I was strongly advised to wear gum boots (galoshes). In my head, I wondered why. I’d been to slums before and my shoes had worked just fine. After my tour around Mukuru slum and seeing how bad things were… my eyes were opened.

Before Sanergy, I was in the tourism industry and I believe that working there helped me uncover my purpose. Ironically, most of the tourist attraction sites in the country are located in some of the most marginalized areas in Kenya that absolutely reek of poverty. It was there that I met the – quickly fading – Illchamus people of Baringo. We worked with them on projects to help them achieve economic emancipation. I eventually moved into a development organization and library marketing before stumbling upon Sanergy. By this time I was passionate about community development and I’d also trained in marketing. Sanergy offered me the perfect opportunity that fit in closely with my goal.

It’s amazing for me to wake up every single day and see what I do translate directly into community development. I’ve seen the number of our toilets grow from 24 to 100 since I started and seeing the kind of excitement the locals here have; it’s overwhelming. Having access to a toilet that’s clean and hygienic is a critical service that’s often taken for granted. But when people get it, it’s a big deal! That not only speaks of the need that exists but also the potential Sanergy has to grow. I really can’t wait to see how all this unfolds, and especially once we start replicating this model in other areas.

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