In Summary

  • During a recent visit to the estate, DN2 saw whole families come out to plant and water the trees, which the children proudly refer to as their own.
  • In the project, children “adopt” a tree, enhancing their knowledge of individual trees over time, leading to greater understanding and appreciation of their environment.
  • Apart from tree planting, the residents have, through the harambee spirit, spread murram on a hitherto impassible 300-metre stretch of road, making them the objects of envy of their  neighbours, who have to contend with the  sticky, black cotton soil when it rains.

The annual tree planting and monthly estate-wide cleaning by the residents of Zawadi Estate in Syokimau, Machakos County, has created such a sensation in the area that people in the neighbouring  area are now visiting for “benchmarking” sessions.

Borrowing heavily from the Rwandan concept of umuganda (pulling together), the residents’ annual tree planting promises to turn the otherwise semi-arid area into an eye-catching patch of greenery in a few years to come.

But unlike the Rwandan monthly cleaning spearheaded by the country’s top leaders, Zawadi Estate’s tree planting is championed by young kids and their parents through a plant-and-adopt-a-tree” plan.

During a recent visit to the estate, DN2 saw whole families come out to plant and water the trees, which the children proudly refer to as their own.

So why did they decide to involve the young ones in the tree-planting project?

“We want to build a cohesive society in Zawadi where everyone is involved, and that includes our kids. It is such a joy to see our kids mingling freely during the tree planting and watering sessions. This is the best way to inculcate leadership and mentorship values in them to enable them to  take over the estate’s leadership  in future,” saysMr Shaban Ali, the estate’s treasurer and a member of the tree planting committee. 

The idea is not just about planting a sapling, but nurturing it to life and being responsible for its growth,” he adds.

In the project, children “adopt” a tree, enhancing their knowledge of individual trees over time, leading to greater understanding and appreciation of their environment.

Eight-year-old Davinah Motogwa, a pupil at Goodrich School who has adopted eight saplings, says her first responsibility after school is watering them.

“I ensured that my dad bought me a watering can which I use every evening. Also, from time to time I collect manure from our chicken coop and spread  it around the trees. That’s why mine are healthier than Ray Mogire’s,” she says, pointing  at six-year-old Ray, a Standard One pupil at Riara Primary School, who has “adopted” three trees.

So, what inspired the neighbours from different parts of the country to initiate the annual event?

Mr Joshua Oliech, an engineer who is the estate’s vice-chairman, says it was the realisation that unity is strength.

NEIGHBOURS' KEEPER

“Indeed we have made great strides since we came together as neighbours. The greatest reason for our coming together was to improve the access road to our estate which, initially, was in a horrible state, with vehicles getting stuck during the rainy season. This provided a conducive environment upon which to forge that unity of purpose,” he says.

“In addition, we introduced monthly cleaning sessions, during which all the men come out with their slashers and pangas to cut the grass and weeds while the women collect the them. It is an activity that has truly enhanced our bond as neighbours,” he adds with a tinge of pride.

Given that  many parts of the country are reeling under the effects of negative ethnicity, how have the estate’s residents, who come from different ethnic communities, been able to live harmoniously without the usual suspicion that pervades many social groups because of our toxic national politics?

Mr Samuel Omondi, a construction consultant who is in charge of the monthly cleaning, puts the source of the brotherhood thus: “In Zawadi Estate, we are not divided by tribe, colour or religion. We proudly refer to ourselves as Wanazawadi. Every person is given an opportunity to propose how they want issues tackled but at the end of the day, all matters are discussed and agreed upon through consensus. I wish our national leaders would borrow a leaf from this small but tightly knit community on how to live and let live,” he says.

The neighbours have organised themselves into four groups, which are  in charge of the environment (including tree planting), the monthly cleaning sessions, security and street lighting respectively.

When they first moved in a few  years ago, cases of break-ins and muggings were so common in the sprawling estate that a few people left for safer neighbourhoods.

However, one of the residents, Mr Richard Motogwa, a security consultant, brought his expertise to bear. He liaised with the security officers in the area including the current OCS of Mlolongo Police Station, which oversees  security in the larger Syokimau, and brought calm to an area that had been overrun by marauding gangs of armed youth. Today, Zawadi Estate is one of the safest places in the otherwise crime-infested Mlolongo area of Machakos County.

The residents has taken full advantage of the benefits of modern technology. They have a WhatsApp group that includes every household,which makes coordinating their activities easier.

For instance, when a drunk motorist recently drove into the estate by mistake,  he aroused the suspicion of one  the residents and within minutes, he was surrounded by a group of residents, who quickly called Administration Police officers from the nearby camp. The rapid response team dismissed the harmless, but clearly drunk driver, after a tongue-lashing.

“This demonstrates that the government’s “Nyumba Kumi” initiative can greatly enhance security if embraced by all. In Zawadi, I can park my car on the street, go on a trip and come back without any fear that it might be vandalised or stolen,” says Edward Makori, an accountant popularly known as “pastor”.

Mr Makori adds that he wishes that both government and Opposition leaders would occasionally  declare ceasefires and marshal their supporters to keep their neighbourhoods clean.

“After ensuring that the cleaning is ingrained in the psyche of all the citizens as a national responsibility, Parliament can come up with laws laying down penalties for those who litter by dropping cigarette cigarette butts on the street or throwing rubbish out of a car window,” he adds.

Another resident, Mr Jared Osiago, says Zawadi Estate has taught thim and his children the benefits of volunteering.

“Coming out every now and again to pick up litter in the estate during the monthly cleaning sessions gives me a sense of accomplishment. I feel it has given me a sense of pride and identity. Seeing so many of my neighbours, some in high positions in society, collecting garbage and planting trees gives me satisfaction,” he says with a smug smile.

Meanwhile, Chairman Nyagaka says that great friendships have been formed as a result of this brotherliness.

“I can proudly say that it is only in Zawadi Estate where, in an emergency, I can walk into a neighbour’s compound, take the key of the extra car in the parking lot and use it without having to seek the owner’s permission. In other places, you can be charged with trespassing,” he says.

HARAMBEE SPIRIT

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