Matatus: A Symbol of Kenya’s Urban Youth?

Matatus fill the streets, blaring music as they bounce and weave through traffic. Each matatu is louder than the next, complete with graffiti-style artwork, custom designs, flashy lights and on-board entertainment to pull the crowds. Convenient, cheap and sometimes chaotic, matatus are the choice mode of transport for most Kenyan youth.

Some people may argue that with a society that has done so little for young people to provide jobs, decent housing or mere role modeling, the matatu culture represents a form of defiance against this society. Despite the fact that this sector has been associated with crime and rowdiness, some elements – such as providing youth employment – exhibited by the industry’s key players have drawn support.

The youth have found income in the industry in a variety of ways, for example as drivers, touts, and through creativity by designing the artwork found on the matatus. The wave of creativity exhibited in these movable museums has helped take a lot of youth off the streets and nurtured their talents to countrywide stardom. These artistic expressions can sometimes be a cartoon character, politician, war hero, sports personality or even a movie star. Noisy exhaust pipes are also usually positioned to announce arrival and departure.

Did Kenyans invent the matatu? Certainly not. But perhaps if Kenya needed a 44th culture, it would probably be the matatu culture.

An Invisible Yet Devastating Killer

Kenyan writer Ted Malanda once quipped, “I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that depression is an illness… In fact, it is such a non-issue that African languages never bothered to create a word for it.”

These words capture the general attitude by Kenyans, held as much by officials as by ordinary people, towards an epidemic of mental illness in the country. Health experts have estimated that a fourth of the Kenya’s population suffers from a range of mental diseases, including schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, depression and severe anxiety.

Kenya has only about 80 psychiatrists and 30 clinical psychologists, fewer than its 500 psychiatric nurses, of which only 250 work in mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), yet the country spends only about 0.05% of its health budget on mental health. About 70% of mental health facilities in the country are located in the capital, Nairobi.

The widely held view in Kenya that mentally ill patients brought the disease upon themselves by using illicit drugs may be one reason the government does not prioritize mental health. Experts have also pointed to a tendency to view acute mental health diseases as supernatural afflictions that can be cured only through spiritual or traditional medicinal interventions. Families of the mentally ill often turn for a cure to these interventions, or to “prayer camps” – retreats where the sick person is often chained to trees and prayed for.

Over the past couple of years though, a significant number of Kenyans have gradually begun to understand the much-tabooed subject of mental health. Some celebrities have also become ambassadors of the topic and have taken to the media to share their personal journeys with problems like anxiety and depression. However, this still isn’t enough to stem the rising cases of suicide related deaths caused by mental health issues.

As a society it is imperative that we acknowledge the existence of mental health so that we may begin our journey towards remedying those in need. Despite age, fame, house, family, or surroundings; anyone can experience an imbalance of the mind leading to thoughts that don’t seem to make sense but are overpowering enough to force you to take your own life.

Perhaps the biggest problem as demonstrated by the many cases of suicide is that people with seemingly normal and healthy lives suffer deep within. We live in communities and it is up to us to be aware of those in our surroundings. A person with depression might not always cry out for help, it is the subtle change in behavior that hints towards mental troubles. By being more alert we can do our part in ensuring suicide rates fall as low as possible.

It is our job to help those who don’t even ask for help.

Providing Safe Spaces for Youth to Grow

Kenyans have hopes and dreams for the future; for its children, neighbouring countries, and the global community. These aspirations rest on the shoulders of the youngest generation. August 12, 2018 marks the 18th celebration of the U.N.’s annual International Youth Day with this year’s theme being ‘Safe Spaces for Youth’. This awareness day is a unique opportunity to reflect on youth’s challenges and to celebrate and support the world’s future leaders.

The features of settings where young people spend their time have been found to decisively impact on a young person’s development. The provision of a safe space is thus an essential component of effective community youth programs in health promotion that aim to enhance positive youth development. Peer programs such as the ones run by the Alfred Polo Foundation aim to create a safe, supportive and experiential learning environment for youth.

However, the concept of a safe space can mean different things for youth:

  • For young people lacking social skills, a safe space is somewhere they can learn and practice new skills and receive constructive feedback.
  • For young people who may be subject to bullying, abuse, harassment or negative and unsupportive peer and adult influences, a safe space equates to a type of refuge where they can be assured of physical and psychological safety.
  • For young people who are fearful of accessing mainstream support services, e.g. a school counselor, a safe space is somewhere they can access information and support without fear of being judged or having to face the consequences of disclosure. This fear may be based on their own or others’ negative experiences or inaccurate perceptions and beliefs of what they may encounter.

Safe Spaces include community dialogues, local meetings, workshops, and any forum for expanding viewpoints and encouraging vocalization. These settings both stimulate civic engagement and provide feedback to authorities. For Kenya, some of these opportunities have arisen from recent reforms attempting to resolve the same issues youth identified. One such initiative is devolution, increasing regional and local authority, affording more chances for community and youth engagement.

These kinds of improvements, along with methods such as participatory development – the identification and implementation of projects that directly address community identified needs – enable youth to be empowered. Youth benefit from remaining involved, active, and vocal in their communities, and in turn, governance systems can better support youth.

The celebration and promulgation of Safe Spaces for youth in Kenya and beyond is crucial in supporting what the world needs to ensure flourishing future generations.

CNN Hero 2018 Nomination

The Alfred Polo Foundation was founded by Mr. Alfred Polo in 2011; who also serves as the foundation’s executive director. The main reason he founded this was to focus on human rights, children and youth rehabilitation, youth mentoring, youth economic empowerment, environment preservation and poverty eradication in Kenya. To that end, Alfred Polo Foundation has carried out activities in schools, universities and youth community based organisations to promote and nurture leadership skills among young people. Other activities include; preservation of the environment through tree planting, wildlife endangerment and protection training for communities in wildlife habitats, streets cleaning activities, sports and competitions that promote human rights and peace, reduce violence and remove boredom and idleness among the youth.

Mr. Alfred Polo has also been very keen on enhancing career guidance and counselling amongst the youth as a way of helping them re-discover their talents early and identify which suitable careers to pursue. This is done through partnership with other organisations and stakeholders, which include involvement of other outstanding personalities, celebrities and volunteers of diverse cultural backgrounds.

It is in light of this that we ask you to support us by nominating our founder, Mr. Alfred Polo, as a 2018 CNN Hero. Not only is he a hero and mentor, he is also wonderful individual who commits himself effortlessly – his heart, his soul, and his time to our youth.

The link for nominating is

Enter the nominee details as follows:
First name: Alfred
Last name: Polo
City: Nairobi
Country: Kenya
Email address: apolo[at]alfredpolo[dot]com

For accomplishments and impact, you will find all out work on this link

Do not hesitate to contact us for any clarifications.

Launch of Water Tank at Mirogi Boys Secondary School

Youth empowerment can be done in many ways; and one of the ways that the Alfred Polo Foundation decided to do this was by improving the water situation at Mirogi Boys Secondary School.

During our previous visit to the school, read about this visit here, we made a number of pledges to the school and one of the pledges was to donate KSh. 50,000 to the school’s ICT program. After thorough consultations with the school, it was decided that the money be used to purchase a water tank. This is because water was a more crucial priority.

The launch date was set for 30th June and the APF team set out to grace the event. Also present at the event was the school’s board, principal and teaching staff. The students had organised a number of entertainment activities including: dances, skits, singing among others. The entertainment side of the event showed just how talented and all-rounded the students are; in addition to focusing on academics they also are able to take part in extra-curricular activities.

Following the entertainment, speeches were given by the APF team and the school board members. Focus was giving on discipline, academics and the students were encouraged to pursue their talents such as music, drama etc. With this, the event proceeded to the dormitory area where the water tank and taps have been set up and launched to much pomp and glory.

View photos from this event here


Statistics show that children who read, succeed. Reading and being read to at an early age not only increases success in the classroom, but in life. It develops critical thinking skills and creative imagination. Education and reading are highly valued in Kenya, and nearly every school in the country has a library. These libraries need a reliable supply of up-to-date, relevant books to continue to attract regular and new readers.

It is for this reason that Moran (E.A) Publishers Ltd have partnered with us by providing a donation of books in order to raise educational standards in the schools where the books will be donated to. Moran Publishers offer the most effective, well researched and appropriate educational resources throughout Primary, Secondary and Tertiary learning institutions in the country.

The Alfred Polo Foundation is extremely grateful to Moran Publishers for this gesture and we look forward to partnering with them more on our future projects.

Alfred Polo Foundation Visits Homa Bay Schools

On 9th March, 2018 we made a trip to Homa Bay county for a series of events. Among our entourage were two of our guest speakers: Carine Umutoniwase, Executive Director at Footprints For Change, and Ken Ogolla, a career administrator from the University of Nairobi.

First on our stop was Manga Primary School where we had scheduled to speak to the pupils in classes 6, 7 and 8. We were received by the school’s principal and after introductions to the teaching staff and student body we commenced the day’s activities.

Being young minds, our team had to be especially descriptive to ensure the message was well received and understood by all the pupils. After the talks, an interesting Q&A (Question & Answer) session was done and the team was quite impressed with how mature and smart the pupils were. Pledges made at Manga Primary School were:

  1. Support the staff trip financially (Accomplished)
  2. Notebooks and pens for the teachers (Accomplished)
  3. Football kit (Accomplished)
  4. Computer and printer for the school (Accomplished)
  5. Kiswahili story books (Accomplished)
  6. Full secondary school uniform for those that will get 400 marks and above in the 2018 KCPE examinations (Pending)

Shortly thereafter, we proceeded to Manga Secondary School which is right adjacent to the primary school. Here a more lengthy discussion was held that focused on peace, discipline matters and careers. The students were reminded that secondary school was just a short phase in their lifespan but that it would greatly determine how their futures would turn out. At the end of the discussion the students promised to adhere to school rules and regulations to avoid cases of indiscipline; they also promised to focus on excelling in their academic work in readiness for their KCSE examinations.

The following day, 10th March 2018, the APF team embarked on two more visits. The first being Mirogi Boys Secondary school. This was an especially important visit being that 3 of the foundation’s team members (Alfred Polo, Maurice Okello, and Sunday Ochieng) studied here.

The themes focused on peace, discipline and career. Madam Carine took over the peace and discipline discussions as she presented major points on a slideshow. Her discussion was meant to encourage the students at Mirogi not to engage in acts that might deter the peace in their school, home region or even the country itself. Acts such as incitement by politicians generally affect the youth as they’re more vulnerable; the 1994 Rwanda genocide was used as a point of reference for this.

Mr Ken Ogolla then took over for the career discussions. The students were reminded that their secondary school education and subsequent KCSE results would be crucial in determining what career paths they will end up on. Students were also asked to identify their strong areas and weak areas in order to be able to make the right choice when choosing a career path.

The session ended after an interactive Q&A session with the APF team and the two guest speakers. Students promised to improve on discipline; the APF team also made pledges to the school. One being that they would be donating KSh. 50,000 to improve ICT facilities in the school (this money was eventually used to buy a water tank for the school as it was of higher priority), secondly was a pledge made to one of the students who would get a full school uniform. The school’s headboy was gifted with new mattress, as were most students who were awarded pens and notebooks.

The final leg of the Homa Bay visit was in St. Elizabeth Koyoo Mixed Secondary School. Here the team had a hearty lunch with the school principal and staff before the forum with the students started. Theme points for this forum focused on discipline and careers. The APF team was delighted to be informed that discipline levels at the school had improved tremendously ever since our last visit to the school. The pledges made here were:

  1. Tablet to be given to be purchased and gifted to the principal (Accomplished)
  2. School uniforms for some of the students (Accomplished)
  3. Monitor students who previously had cases of indiscipline and reward them for upholding discipline (Continous)
  4. Award and celebrate with the school if at least 8 students manage to get into university after the 2018 KCSE examinations (Pending)

This final session concluded this rewarding visit to Homa Bay by the Alfred Polo Foundation. The team looks forward to having more additional forums in other counties.

View pictures from the visits here:

  1. Manga Primary School –
  2. Manga Secondary School –
  3. Mirogi Boys Secondary School –
  4. St. Elizabeth Koyoo Mixed Secondary School –

Youth Contribution Towards Poverty Eradication

Despite being the largest economy in East Africa, a large percentage of Kenya’s population lives in absolute poverty, earning a meager KSh.100 a day. People around the country are involved in multiple occupations, ranging from formal jobs to the informal jobs. While there is certainly no lack of skilled labor in the country, there is a lack of literacy among the nation’s poor resulting from the financial inability to acquire a proper education. This creates a vicious cycle, where generation upon generation of underprivileged individuals is unable to obtain the education they require to become successful in today’s ever changing society.

The youth have tremendous power to change this situation. Initiatives like forming self-help groups and spreading awareness in rural areas, educating the illiterate in one’s own localities, creating charitable programmes for poverty etc, can be the measures which we can take against poverty.

Reducing poverty and achieving sustained development must be done in conjunction with a healthy environment. It is recognized that environmental sustainability is part of global economic and social well-being. Unfortunately, exploitation of natural resources such as forests, land, water, and fisheries often by the powerful few have caused alarming changes in our natural world in recent decades, often harming the most vulnerable people in who depend on natural resources for their livelihood

Poverty eradication and environmental protection should be mutually supportive. The youth should indulge in campaigns that focus on the necessity of keeping the environment clean in the localities where they reside. In particular, comprehensive health programmes in preventive medicine, including immunization and control of communicable diseases should be implemented. There should also be strong support and faster implementation of campaigns to tackle the social causes of diseases – like the ‘roll back malaria’ initiative, and programs to fight HIV/AIDS.

Quality basic education, as well as secondary and higher education, vocational training, and skill acquisition throughout life are indispensable tools to eradicate poverty. Education and awareness of citizen’s rights are two major gateways for eradication of poverty. The youth should also take advantage of government/NGO programmes that support youth entrepreneurship and other poverty eradication programmes.

Ryce East Africa Team Building Exercise

On 18th March 2017, the Alfred Polo Foundation organised and coordinated a team-building exercise for Ryce East Africa employees at the Serena Beach Hotel in Mombasa. The full day event was a creative combination and balance of both soft team building skills and processes spiced with a selection of great outdoor games and exercises that enabled the staff of Ryce East Africa Ltd to relax, play, have fun, let go, reflect, learn and most important ‘rehearse for peak performance’ at the workplace.

The entire experience was organized as a three-part process involving an indoor session at the start of the day where participants went through a process of ice breaking and getting to know each other. Next, they participated in an exercise to discover the different Team Roles that individuals play. The session ended with a debrief and introduction into the concept of Team Roles according to the works of Dr. Belbin.

The participants were then led to participate in a series of games and exercises, organized in two outdoor sessions. The first set of outdoor activities explored team formation, cohesion, cooperation and team energy burst. There was a great deal of laughter, energetic participation in cooperative games and simply, silly fun making! The last set of outdoor activities focused on pushing the team to respond to higher levels of team challenges. This not only served to boost team spirit but also sharpened the team’s skills on cooperation, communication and problem solving.

The following key themes were explored during the exercise:

  • Building Team Cohesion through bonding. Participants were led through exercises that gave them an opportunity to appreciate each other as individuals and then as a cohesive unit coming together to undertake a task. Cooperation and understanding one’s role in the team in terms of what they are able to effectively contribute were emphasized.
  • Leadership at the workplace. It emerged that leadership is dynamic and different leaders may emerge depending on the situation at hand. It was important for order and continuity, that an overall team leader be established. The leader must have the interest of the people at heart and the job to be done in mind so that a balance between team dynamics and performance can be struck to facilitate peak performance. The role of the Team Leader in motivating team members and ensuring that they do not lose sight of the target was underscored. Team leader changes must be done procedurally and team members must learn to accept such changes and support the new team leader to lead the team to peak performance.
  • Communication skills were identified as being an integral part of the team work. Without clear communication, task performance would be greatly hindered. It was emphasized that effective communication must utilize both verbal and non-verbal modes. Body language was highlighted as a key component in creating meaning in any communication scenario.
  • Multi-tasking was also underscored as a pillar in most effective teams. However, multi-tasking must not be used to deny other team members an opportunity to participate in leadership. Delegation should be part and parcel of a well functioning and effective team.
  • Team leaders were also challenged to inculcate the culture of celebrating when the team performed well. Most organizations call for emergency meetings and give warning letters to staff but rarely call for emergency meetings to recognize good performance. It was pointed out that it is a good culture to begin recognizing good performance and give staff motivation – be it a letter of recommendation or recognizing it by calling an emergency meeting.

By the end of the day, Ryce East Africa staff had moved a step closer towards creating a great performing team. It was clear that the staff felt valued by the company and in turn they learnt to value each other’s contribution to the performance at the workplace.

View photos from the event here:

Empowerement Through the Open Self Help Group

Over the Jamhuri weekend, the Alfred Polo Foundation got the honour of hosting the Open Self Help Group from Kangemi at a meeting which was held at the Highlands Platinum Restaurant. Key topics that emerged at this meeting included, but not limited to: financial management, investments and auditing techniques.

With financial inclusion emerging as a major policy objective in the Kenya, self help groups (SHGs) are playing a pivotal role to extend financial services to large sections of the population. SHGs not only empower communities but they also help alleviate poverty. They do this by allowing people to save and contribute money on a regular basis, the members can then take low-interest/interest free loans which they can use to undertake self-employment activities or to venture into businesses without depending on money-lenders who demand exorbitant interest rates.

The Alfred Polo Foundation felt that due to the crucial role these groups play in mobilizing funds, proper monitoring and auditing of accounts on regular basis will help these organizations to work in transparent manner nurturing their relationship of trust and interdependency amongst themselves. Which is why we organised the meeting with the Open Self Help Group to give them skills on how best to run their group and manage their funds and assets.

The meeting started shortly after 2pm, chaired by our director Mr Alfred Polo,  whereby all parties present introduced themselves and the various roles they play. The group’s management team briefed the Alfred Polo Foundation on how they conduct the group’s activities, such as who is in charge of collecting funds, how these funds are utilized, and how they keep records. Key issues that emerged from this conversation were:

  • Gender parity – In the group’s management team, there was only 1 female representative. All others were male.
  • Lack of efficient audits – The group regularly conducts its own internal audits. However, lack of an external auditor who was not affiliated to the group exposed the group to risk of fraud.
  • Collection of hard currency – The group collects its funds in form of hard currency which is then carried and deposited in a bank account. This is dangerous given the risk of robbery.
  • The group had not initiated any income generating activities.
  • Most of the funds would be used to attend to social needs. For example: bailing someone out of a police cell, funerals, weddings, hospital bills among others.

After the above points were brought out by the group’s secretary, it was now up to the Alfred Polo Foundation to advise and empower the group on good financial management techniques. We had brought in a financial expert by the name of Sunday Ochieng, who possessed a wealth of knowledge on financial matters.

The following is what he advised the group to do:

  • The group was advised to include more women in its management roles in order to boost transparency and confidence in the group.
  • The group was advised to properly account for every shilling spent, and to engage the services of an external and unbiased auditor which would help cap any funds leakage.
  • They were asked to invest in mobile money platforms and paybill numbers which would enhance collection of funds in a fast way and help in accountability. This method is also very safe and there is no need for individual(s) to walk around with large sums of money.
  • The group was discouraged from using all their money saved to use on social needs. They were instead asked to focus on economic needs, and to utilise affordable insurance covers to take care of social needs.
  • The group was asked to initiate income generating activities such as agriculture and other businesses, which would help the group generate more funds for themselves.

After the above discussion, certificates of participation were awarded to the group’s members courtesy of the Alfred Polo Foundation. Snacks and drinks were also served to all participants. The meeting was adjourned shortly after 4pm.

View photos from this event here:

A video on the event will be uploaded soon.