Adolescent girls in Mathare slums

Unleashing the Girl Effect

In recent years, Nairobi has become the innovation hub in Africa, with new social and technological innovations abound. But Kenya is also one of the most unequal countries in sub-saharan Africa, with 46% of people living in poverty (UNICEF).

Mathare is one of Nairobi’s most notorious slums, and is often portrayed negatively in the media. It is home to hundreds of thousands of people, among them thousands of girls, who have even fewer educational opportunities, and little access to health care.

Empowering adolescent girls in urban slums can effect change for the whole country and the continent. This is the Girl Effect.

“I don’t like living there. The place is dirty. You can’t sleep because of the bad smell”. These are the words of a young Mathare girl who was interviewed in a 2012 news feature on the slums. In 2018, Mathare continues to host thousands who come to the city to seek employment,  and a resulting large number of children without access to education.

At the same time, providing children – and especially girls, who often drop out of school early – with opportunities to learn practical skills can effect great change in their lives. Through teaching creative skills, and giving access to technology to young women, Lensational wanted to develop their confidence, change the way they see and think about the world around them,  and also, indirectly, to challenge the often monolithic media portrayals of their neighbourhood with a more nuanced, insider view of the community.

Our partner

In January 2016, our programmes reached Mathare in a partnership with the Mathare foundation, a non-profit organisation providing creative training to children in the slums. Based in the slums, the Foundation focuses on developing talents through photography, performing arts, and football, to create career opportunities and mentorship for the kids living in the area.

Our participatory photography sessions targeted female beneficiaries specifically, aiming to provide them with a new skill, to equip them with confidence, but also to raise awareness and discussion about gender issues. Lydia Kibandi, who is now Lensational’s Head of Global Programmes, led the programme.

Photographer in portrait : Felistar Oyolo

14 year-old Felistar Oyolo is one of the girls who attended the programme. Felistar lives in Mathare and dreams to be a dancer and a photographer when she grows up. She believes dancing and photography will give her the ability to communicate with different people effectively, overcoming language barriers.


Although some of the programme participants were perhaps not old enough to understand issues surrounding womanhood, their creative energy remained apparent in the stories, and their pictures. Their photographs paint an intimate picture of Mathare, from its busy streets, to its energetic street footballers, and its hard-working mothers.

The girls’ photographs are available for sale on our photography platform, providing them with extra revenue, and a platform to share their stories.

Disocover Lydia’s accounts of her experience teaching photography in this blog on our Medium publication.

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