Janny Kathomi is a Social worker, addiction therapist, certified professional mediator and the founder of Slum Girls Initiative.
Janny also runs a YouTube channel called Janny on a Journey Talk Show.
How has been your journey in social work?
Social work is a demanding and at the same time a very rewarding career. If you choose it, you should be committed to be the voice of the voiceless and be ready to step on people’s toes for the sake of the oppressed. It is not an easy career and I look at it as being more passion-driven than a career.
It has not been easy but God has been gracious to me throughout this journey. I have over 10 years of hands-on experience working with various organisations. I have worked in charitable children’s institutions, hospitals, adoption societies and in schools.
Tell us more about the Slum Girls Initiative. What inspired you to start it?
In 2014, I started working for a local NGO in Korogocho as a school social worker. Before then, I only used to see traumatising stories on TV about period poverty and all through I thought these were fake news. In this particular year, I came face to face with period poverty, realising that many girls were missing school during their menses. I knew I needed to do something, so I took it upon myself to provide sanitary pads to the girls and to teach them about menstrual hygiene management.
I would sacrifice a portion of my little salary and buy a few packets of sanitary pads, which I could offer girls. I did this for two years. In 2016, a friend advised me to reach out to well-wishers since she saw the passion I had for the girl child. In June that same year, I reached out to one of my friends, Jerusha Wanjiru, who sent me Sh4,000 the following morning.
To say I was elated would be an understatement. I then bought two cartons of sanitary pads and distributed them to girls. Seeing how the girls were happy motivated me to continue fundraising. That evening I reached out to another friend, Alice Mukui, who sent me 200 packets of sanitary pads and connected me to Margaret Atieno, who donated 250 pieces of reusable sanitary pads. I had more than enough so I extended my hand to other girls in New Starlight School in Korogocho and Church Road Educational Centre. In June that same year, I knew I wanted to pursue the journey of restoring dignity and confidence to the girls within the informal settlement and beyond. I registered I am a Girl Foundation but we changed the project to a community-based organisation and rebranded it to Slum Girls Initiative in 2021. So far, we work with girls in seven schools — six in Korogocho and one in Dandora.
What does the programme involve?
Menstrual Hygiene Management is a critical component in adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health. This programme seeks to empower girls with the right information pertaining their sexual and reproductive health. It supports adolescent girls in six schools within Korogocho Slum with quality, adequate sanitary pads. So far, the programme has supported over 10,000 girls since 2016. We also reach out to girls in marginalised rural areas. The other programmes are:
Feeding programme, which supports ECDE children in one of our partner schools in Korogocho with a well-balanced mid-day meal. We understand that adequate nutrition in the first years of a child’s life provides the essential building blocks for brain development, healthy growth and strong immune system. Over 150 children have benefited since July 2021.
Child sponsorship, which supports needy children in terms of school fees payment. We have five children in our sponsorship programme.
Mentorship, which allows children to take ownership of their own personal and educational development through equipping them with various life skills. So far over 2,000 boys and girls have benefited from it.
IGA programme that seeks to empower women with start-up income generating activities. So far, five women have been empowered.
Lastly, the Machine on Wheels programme started in September in partnership with Tomatina Trust. We seek to restore dignity and confidence to school children by mending their torn uniforms. This way the self-esteem of the child is elevated and he or she is able to sit comfortably in class. So far, over 600 school children have benefited from this service.
What do you hope to achieve with your audience on YouTube?
My YouTube channel is called Janny on a Journey Talk Show. I believe I am on a journey through life to touch and transform lives in a positive way. Having been a social worker for many years, I realised I have acquired a lot of knowledge and I can create informative videos to address many social issues that people fear addressing openly. I seek to empower people with information about problems they are facing and the solutions that are there. I also seek to celebrate people who are doing amazing things in the community.
Who inspires you?
A number of strong women, starting with my mother. She is a definition of what a strong woman means. I am also inspired by Winfred Nyiva Mwendwa, the first Kenyan woman to serve in the Cabinet, and I hope to meet her someday. The late Wangari Maathai is another woman who inspired me greatly as well as the late Orie Rogo Manduli. I hope to one day meet Martha Karua. She has consistently fought fearlessly for the protection of women’s rights
What challenges do you face in your line of work?
To be a social worker, you must be very principled and tough enough not to be compromised. You must understand that you are the voice of the voiceless and sometimes you put your life in line for the sake of the less fortunate in the community. It is mentally, emotionally and physically draining, but it’s fulfilling at the end of the day.
What does your typical day look like?
All my days are full of activities starting from counselling sessions, administrative duties, identification of cases in need of support, home visits, mentorship sessions, making referrals to various organisations and responding to crisis situations.
What advice would you give to a young girl/woman looking to get into your line of work?
That social work is not a career. Rather, it’s a calling, passion and ministry. It’s not easy putting other people’s needs before your own. Some days you will wake up feeling like quitting but I gather courage and energy and face the day like a warrior when I remember that there is a child depending on me.