University of Notre Dame | November 6, 2017
In Dandora, Kenya, a sprawling neighborhood in Nairobi, housing for 250,000 people is built around the city’s largest dumpsite. Life near a large trash heap exposes the population to problems ranging from illness to unemployment to extreme poverty.
Many of the town’s residents spend their days wading in the trash, looking for bits of aluminum and plastic that they can exchange for a few dollars to support their family. Others, typically women, run roadside stands selling goods like fruit or medications. For many families, the profits from these microenterprises are the only way to put food on the table or to send children to school.
Notre Dame and its Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity have been invested in Dandora for several years. Research projects in the local Holy Cross parish have taken root. In speaking with the local population about their needs, the Ford Program asked a trio of Notre Dame economists — Wyatt Brooks, Kevin Donovan and Terry Johnson — to come to Dandora to explore problems surrounding unemployment.
The professors in the College of Arts and Letters began their trip with the thought that helping people find jobs might boost family income, but after spending time with residents, they realized their predictions were off, admits Donovan.