Mr Gachanga, 40, told Lifestyle that the group’s origins were out of a distasteful experience.
“It was after the 2007 General Election in Kenya and I got a job that took me to Dar es Salaam. After some time, I got to meet a fellow Kenyan who was also from Nairobi. When he learnt that I was from Dandora, he was shocked because by that time Dandora was synonymous with runaway crime. Behind my back, he went and told my boss that my background was suspect. Because of this I was sacked and had to come back home,” he said.
Living in Tanzania, Charles had noticed a unique quality of their hosts: Their level of cleanliness.
“It is funny that Kenyans think Tanzanians are backward and less educated. But I was shocked that their towns were very clean compared to what we had back at home. I was determined to emulate this,” he said.
HURDLES OF A CHANGE PROGRAMME
It proved easier said than done. First, because of many years of neglect, the drainage system in Dandora was totally lost. They had to ask older residents to show them where the drainage used to be. A team of volunteers got to work, digging up the trash-filled drainage and soon the system was restored.
Next came the difficult task of selling the idea to the residents. Mr Gachanga was determined and slowly the residents took up the idea. Many of the youths in the estate ditched crime and started volunteering in the project.
A $1,000 (Sh100,960) seed money from an outfit calling itself Awesome Fund got the group started. As the residents bought into the idea, they agreed to pay Sh100 per house, which would go towards paying the workers, with the rest going into savings.
“I am pleased with the turn of events and that many young people are now turning away from crime and prostitution to embrace our concept,” Mr Gachanga says.
SMALL WINS, BIG WINS
Last year, DTL won the Dubai International Best Practices Award, an initiative of UN-Habitat aimed at rewarding initiatives aimed at improving living environments. The win secured them a much-needed $25,000 (Sh2.5 million).
“I loved the way the Dubai city is well kept,” Mr Gachanga says.
The group has developed the model street which incorporates courts.
The ‘Model Street’ is designed to enhance liveability, interaction and safety with four welcoming gateways. One has a floating zebra crossing and seating ledges, attractive art patterns on faced, colourful painting, trees, cabro paving, and artistic waste receptacles.
The gateways are designed to welcome the public, creating local identity and show the change and pride of the people living within the block and working on the streets.
The Dandora Transformation League has been implementing the model street in collaboration with UN-Habitat and other organisations, with the aim of making it a benchmark to guide future interventions.
Mr Gachanga’s group took part in Changing Faces Innovation Competition, an initiative by various civil society organisations that seek to clean up Nairobi.
In her speech at the occasion, UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif said: “UN-Habitat is pleased to be associated with this initiative, which started with the Mustard Seed court in Dandora. From one court, it spread to the whole neighbourhood, and has now become a Nairobi-wide initiative. You have demonstrated the power of citizen-led urban regeneration, and how important it is to involve the community in rethinking the city, and reclaiming public spaces.”
She added: “The initiative is very innovative and has demonstrated the power of citizen organising to solve some of the most urgent challenges and needs facing many cities today, including the need for safe, inclusive and accessible public spaces, need for a clean environment, and livelihood opportunities.”
But not everyone is happy with the progress Mr Gachanga and his group have been making. Two years ago, he was arrested on trumped-up charges after he stopped a local tycoon who wanted to grab some parts of the project land.
Mr Gachanga’s Dandora Transformation League has had the pleasure of hosting high-profile visitors including Deputy President William Ruto and more recently, visiting Gambian-British Kora music star Sona Jobarteh.