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2013 VOF Week 2

Not so long ago, I graduated law school, I was definitely excited at the prospect of being a lawyer but had a change of heart. I realized I had lost every boy I grew up with to crime, most gunned down as suspected criminals. I decided to work on youth empowerment programs and poverty alleviation programs in my hood and since most get gunned down before being taken to court I was of little help to them as a lawyer any way.

It has been four years. I have benefited, designed, implemented countless programs targeting the poor and I have had a chance to travel the World. I guess I have a lot to be thankful for and But given my personal connection and relations with the people the programs are intended to benefit I feel very frustrated when their lives remain the same. I captured my frustration in a blog titled “No More Time Outs of Poverty”.

It read in part “like many other “slum dwellers” (I so hate this phrase), I have been a beneficiary and Implementer of many youth empowerment and poverty alleviation programs. Sadly, most of them have not had a real impact on our lives – and at times – they have left us worse off despite great promises. We do get chauffeured around, have good food, interact with different people, and dream a bit about an escape from the drudgery of slum life for a while. I am not saying this break is a wholly negative experience; it means a lot to many of us. But from hundreds of such projects, all we seem to seem to get is a time out from poverty, and not a real chance to break out of poverty.

Despite the many failed efforts by poverty alleviation projects I believe we can create a world beyond poverty – a world in which every human being lives a dignified life. Poverty assaults that dignity, and it beckons the good will of others to help, especially to break the poverty cycle. Question is how we reach out to those in need without compromising their dignity. Looking at the aforementioned program, I believe most fail because they reduce us to mere vessel of needs and not authors of our own destiny.

My initial focus was working with young men. But the more I work with young women, the more I get convinced that as young women we would play an instrumental role in breaking poverty cycle. The boys sadly get shot before their 21st birthday, what of the girls; we get babies before our 21st birthday. We are not only ill equipped to be mothers, but we are to raise the children in an unforgiving environment, an environment devoid of so much especially opportunities to realize the their dreams and we have little to offer, yet from birth the children identities are curved for then by others circumstance beyond their control. How then do we raise them to transcend the circumstance they are born into?


Sharontina's picture

Carried away!

I was just carried away with your writing dear. Good that you chose this path for empowering the youth. You brought the picture a sad staus of women and men carrying their fate. Lets not allow this. Raise your voice and raise it loud. Keep sharing.


Merlin Sharontina

paulinewanja's picture

I Will Keep Sharing,

Thank You for for listening .

Helwa's picture

Be the Light

While reading your story is a true reflection of what I encounter when am in the field carrying my duties since mine main focus are youth and women. Honestly speaking our girls and women especially from remote areas need our support in terms of capacity building on their rights. I remember last year I had a group of young boys and girls of which many girls didn't attend secondary education and to me that is an issue. I tried finding out and was shocked to learn boys were given priority to attend school while girls being told to stay home. I took the initiative to let them know their rights, value of education and finally their role as women in their community. I am glad at least 2 girls went back to school form 1 when they called me to at least visit them which I did and now mentoring them so as to act as an example to the rest.

Every girl and women have a right to equal distribution

Klaudia Mexico's picture

need has the face everywhere

Not long ago, I lived in Canada and I realized need has the same face everywhere. I wasn´t naive, I just didn't realize human suffering hurts the same everywhere. While, I was reading your piece I thought of the tons of challenges Mexican and Latin American women have yet to overcome, They´re embracing motherhood without being prepared and we must stop this cycle. I know we will.
All the best

Klaudia González

j3ssm3ss's picture


I really appreciated your total honesty in this piece Pauline, and I can understand your frustration at the lack of long-term impact these initiatives have, particularly as you are working within your own community and experience these things directly.

I also think its very encouraging that you are not letting this stop you, but that you are using these experiences in a positive way to change your approach. - It gives me a sense of why you are becoming more focused on supporting women, and so perhaps why you have become involved in the World Pulse community. How did you discover the community and what made you apply for the VoF scheme?

Be careful not to repeat yourself as I don't think you need to and it will save yourself some word count to talk about other things! Your words are powerful and speak for themselves without repetition.

Keep writing and good luck for the future!

paulinewanja's picture

Thank You for your feedback.

When I started out I was mainly working with young men, having lost almost every young boy I grew up with to crime I felt a connection to them.I wanted to work with young girls but was struggling with it decided to get some help online . I did a search and World Pulse come up .The part that got me interested was on working with grassroots women. Thanks to the World Pulse Community I don't feel all freaked out working with the girls, now more than ever I feel they hold the key to breaking the poverty cycle in slums.

Many thanks for your feedback.

j3ssm3ss's picture

Thank you too :)

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions Pauline - I'm glad World Pulse has been useful. Do you have any blog or online content to tell me more about the projects you are involved in? I'd be interested to find out more. Good luck with everything!

ccontreras's picture

I admire your journey!

I really admire your decision to turn down practicing law and instead help the youth in your community, I think that you are doing so much already for those young boys and girls find their dignity within themselves. I really think that what you are doing for the young people of your community will inspire others to follow your example! :-)
Cynthia from Florida, USA

"I embrace emerging experience. I am a butterfly. Not a butterfly collector." - Stafford

loretta's picture


I was encouraged to respond to your story, I never got to read it.

Your story is similar (not altogether similar but both touches on youth and poverty) to some post I had read and meant to respond to it, it was about child labour and business venture.

I was brought up in a very poor family, we had electricity in our houses then, but in my home it was cut off, due to lack of money to pay, for years. We were living a life of hand to mouth. My mother would sit through the night making head scarfs to sell, she was working in a zip factory, and the had love and peace medals that they attached to zipper slides. She bought those and we sold them for 5c a piece to attach to cords or chains and make necklaces, they were a trend back then. One day a friend of mine gave me 5c and I thought, what would I do with this, I went and bought my mother 1/2 a pint of milk. When she got home, gave it to her, she thanked me but I could see the pain in her heart, that I had to spend it on her, I was very young then, not even 10yrs old. My point; 1. Parents have to play a very significant role in protecting teir children, even if they are not educated themselves, but should not expose children to the real causes of poverty, it's a burden children will never outgrow, they will tie it round their necks and make it a passport to crime and maybe prostitution or early marriages to older men. Boys are encouraged at an early age that they are the men of the house(if it happens that the father has left the family) or encouraged by the fathers themselves. What are they equiped with, to take out to the big bad world, to be able to survive and provide for the family? Tey then resort to fast money. Life of crime, guns and fast cars. Once the bug bites, they cannot let go, it's not easy to prise them away. They have listened to their mentors and drank it in and long for their mentor's life style.

2. Girls see their friends wearing beautiful clothes, spare money in their pockets and long for that. If not that, the parents see a way of making money for themselves to alleviate poverty, by marrying off their girls to get something or for some, to lessen the mouths to feed.

This could take lots of time; my advice to you is, start small, for every five girls and boys you take into the programme, start by talking to them and let them open up to you, later involve the parents. It won't be easy, but make them all to see the benefit of their children being properly educated, child free and not involved in crime. Make them aware of the long term benefits brought about by proper education. If possible, create a programme for poverty alleviation for a specific time and a programme to train the parents in skills, if not available. Help them to be able to understand that they need to be self sustainable, set realistic goals, as you said, your target group is from a shanty town and so are you.

Look at your situation, if you have made it, it is because of the support you got from home. It wasn't easy, but your parents thought of long term benefits. From the 10 chances are that you could lose 3-4, but slowly you will win. Wean them off slowly while working on the next group, the trick is be thorough with the first group, so as to be able to "use" them as a draw act/card.

It's not an overnight success, but it's somewhere where you can start and win.

When talking to girls about early pregnancies and marriages. Point out the downside of being a child and raising a child, remind them that once they have children, what can stop the husband looking for another younger wife? And chances are that, this other wife might be educated, smart and their own person. They could end up being maids of their husband's second wives.

I hope I have shed some light to your problem.


A successful woman is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks others throw at her. Author Unkown.

paulinewanja's picture

Thank You!

Thank you for the taking time to read by journal post, for sharing your story and for you kind words of encouragement.
Young girls are key to breaking the poverty cycle and it is very important to support at them ,get them to aspire for better and greater things and support those aspirations.

loretta's picture


And that is only possible if they are encouraged, supported and motivated.

You're welcome, anytime.


A successful woman is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks others throw at her. Author Unkown.

Hi Pauline,

Thank you very much for being here, for writing of the so very intense reallity, the poverty and suffering, grief and loss that people in the community face on a daily basis. It is SO terribly frustrating to want and try to be an agent of change but feel thwarted by the systemic inequalities that are in place. It must feel like a drop in a very very large bucket.
But... all said, you can only do what YOU can do. One person at a time, one idea at a time. Sometimes we plant seeds and we don't get to know or see if (or when) they sprout and come to life. Sometimes we have to sow the seeds, water them and just hope for the best. It is not always (and often not) in our control. We can, each of us, only do the best we can. And you are doing just that. Thank you for your work and your efforts. And know that you ARE making change, even if you cannot see it in front of your eyes.

All the very best to you. Keep up the good work!


Laura R.

Many thanks for your kind words . The one month at this platform has been so rewarding. It felt like someone actually listens and gave me a reason to go on.


weaverheart's picture


That's why we are here, to support each other. So that each of us is not isolated and is heard. That is the gift of this space. Please DO continue your work! You can be the change. You ARE the change! Each step begins with ourselves, but as well, we inspire one another so we can carry on in making this place better for every living being.

All the best,

Laura R.

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