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Elizabeth Nduta: Empowering Hygiene Heroes in underprivileged communities

Founder & Director at Gwiji

Cleaning is one of the oldest professions in the world. Clean environments are associated with greater productivity and well-being, and with the growing trend of working from home, it is more important than ever to keep our personal spaces clean. At Gwiji, we take care of our cleaners, so they can continue taking care of everyone else. It is our honor to be part of the Women in Cleaning Community

"I was born and raised in a Kaptembwa, the largest slum in Nakuru City, Kenya. Every day, I watched my parents struggle to provide for my seven siblings and me. We spent most of our days in a tiny room which was the living room, kitchen, and bedroom, all in one. Only the toilet existed away from our house as a shared facility which we were warned never to visit at night. In the cover of darkness, men hid behind bushes and attacked young women, beating and raping them."

"My life in the slum was little different from that of my neighbors. Despite the looming threats of violence, I remember having a happy childhood. Memories of playing in the mud, swimming in dirty waters and mouthing popular songs on the radio fill my mind whenever I reminisce my younger days. My parents worked all manner of odd jobs to ensure that we stayed in school, and from them, I learnt never to discriminate against any kind of work. Although we were poor, we felt no shame. I carried this quality with me into my adult life."

Which challenges are you facing? "At Gwiji, our work revolves around empowering low-income women from the slum working as casual cleaners. Often, these women are the breadwinners in their families, but the lack of formal education prevents them from competing in the formal job market. Casual cleaning for suburban estates is a safe haven for these women, which provides them with a legitimate source of income away from vices like prostitution. However, because they do not know where their services are needed, they can be found seated outside suburban estates, waiting in the hot African sun, to be picked for a cleaning job.

Whenever I see these women, I am reminded of the struggle that my parents underwent to get me to where I am today. I know it is desperation to provide for their children that forces them to endure the difficulties of their profession. Gwiji enables these women to receive cleaning orders directly into their phones, at the comfort of their homes. With the app, these women are able to perform two to three cleaning orders in a day, raising their incomes from less than $2 a day to an average of $8 a day."

What impact does Gwiji have on your personal development? "The idea for Gwiji came when I was in my final years at campus. I had studied Architecture for five years, and anticipating graduation, and a lucrative career ahead. This was a pivotal moment in my life where I would see all the years of my hard work pay off. However, one year before, I had taken on some volunteer work at AMURT Africa, a non-profit working to build sustainable communities in Kibera, the biggest slum in Africa. I worked under their Ajiri Dada program, which fought the spread of HIV among young women from the slum through finding them employment as househelps in suburban estates. Volunteering for Ajiri Dada was the highlight of my campus days. Although I greatly enjoyed Architecture, and had learnt quite a bit about building design, my heart was with the women who I had seen grow out of extreme poverty and take charge of their lives. I was at a crossroads and knew I had to make a decision. After campus, I worked at an architectural office, a construction site and even took on a corporate job. Ultimately, all roads let me back to Gwiji. It is difficult to explain. I have come to believe that some things are written in the stars, and our hearts will not be at piece until we submit ourselves to our destinies."

What is your goal with Gwiji?

"My goal is to empower 100,000 low-income women from the slums working as casual cleaners, and transform 20,000 of them into entrepreneurs. At Gwiji, we have a financial mentorship program called Gwiji Chama, where we teach our women to save their surplus income and start small business. Our goal with this program is to transform casual cleaners into entrepreneurs through financial training and mentorship. In future, we hope to be able to provide them with low-interest credit to accelerate their entrepreneurial journeys. I believe that by empowering one woman, you empower an entire village. It is through building a strong community of financially independent that we will be able to bring an end to the cycles of poverty in the slums of Africa."

If you could tell the world one thing, what would you say?

"From my life, I have observed that we are put in the situations we are in for a reason. I grew up in the slums, and although my parents were ultimately able to move us into a good neighborhood, I understand what it means to go to bed on an empty stomach. As a consequence of my upbringing, I am compelled to give a helping hand to those with nowhere to turn. I believe that the world would be a better place if we all made the best of our circumstances, rather than complaining about our misfortunes."

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