Mathare Number 10 is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Mathare Valley in Nairobi, Kenya. Most of Mathare, one of the oldest and largest slums in Nairobi, lacks basic infrastructure like access to clean water, electricity, medical clinics, public schools, and garbage/recycling collection. The Mathare Number 10 Youth Group (MANYGRO) is one of many youth groups (in Kenya, youth refers to young adults aged 18 to 35) that has used this lack of infrastructure as an economic opportunity. These side jobs, or ways of making a bit of extra cash, are referred to as hustles by Nairobi youth. Once a week, the self-described “hustlers” of MANYGRO charge a nominal fee to collect garbage for over 300 households in the Mathare Number 10 neighborhood. They start their day in the dark, at around 4 am, collecting household waste on a handheld cart called a mkokoteni. They rent a collection truck, sharing the price with a number of other youth groups, and in the afternoon, haul all of the collected waste to the Dandora landfill in eastern Nairobi.
Taka ni pato (trash is cash) is a phrase used by youth in the informal waste economy of Nairobi and speaks to a pillar of hustle mentality in slum neighborhoods: we make opportunity and build entrepreneurship for ourselves in the areas where the city has failed to provide for us.
Special thanks to Dr. Tatiana Thieme for her guidance, wisdom and expertise on the waste and hustle economy in Mathare.