We catch up with James Kirika, a local award winning volunteer from Weather Mtaani, and also a DARAJA partner. Living in what is considered to be Africa’s biggest informal settlement (Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya) James brings positive change to his community through weather and climate information.
Find out how you can support his efforts below.
Hi James, before we get on to your Award win, let us know about where you live and your community.
I live in Nairobi in Kenya, in an informal settlement called Kibera. The name of my village in Kibera is Laini Saba. Laini Saba is where I was born and raised and I still live here today.
Just to give you an idea of its size, there are estimated to be up to 60% of the Nairobi population living in informal settlements. Also, Kibera is considered to be the biggest informal settlement in Africa and one of the biggest in the world.
Laini Saba is the second biggest community in Kibera, and the closest to Nairobi city.
Back to the award, huge congratulations on your win! Please tell us more
Thank you, it’s the KETA 2022 – Climate Champion of the Year. KETA is the Kibera Eight Town Awards. KETA has been around for a while. It’s a local organisation that recognises people in Kibera in terms of their talent or abilities in the community. For example, local peace ambassadors, local sporting teams…and so on. This Climate Champion category was only introduced for the first time this year. Someone had nominated me, and I then sent through a video of the climate change work I was doing in the community, featured in The Story of DARAJA & James short film.
People in the community voted and … it was really nice to hear that I had won.
[DARAJA was initially developed under the UK FCDO and Met Office’s WISER Programme.]
What does winning the award mean to you?
It means a lot. It’s the second award I’ve got on behalf of my work with Weather Mtaani. The first one [a Shuttleworth Foundation Grant*] was for the community group I’m part of; Weather Mtaani. This award didn’t have any money attached to it, but it means so much personally as it shows how people, my community and I, are doing a good job in advising on adverse weather conditions.
It shows I’m doing it for my people. Mine and my community efforts are not taken for granted.
The award win also gives a platform for meeting new people and they get to know what we do as Weather Mtaani.
Tell us more about Weather Mtaani in Nairobi, and its connection with DARAJA.
Weather Mtaani is a group of 24 voluntary community leaders that live in Kibera and I’m one of those leaders. We translate the weather to our community to take action before any adverse weather happens. For example, in the rainy season we organise clean ups to unclog the drains, and remind our neighbours to carry umbrellas. As this is a flood prone area we message on avoiding the moving water and not to let children play near the river because of flash floods.
My role at Weather Mtaani is to get all seasonal, weekly and daily weather information from our Met Agency, Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) and translate them into messages that Kiberians can understand, in a language that is not technical, and is not long. It’s so my community can take action and they can also share that information with friends, families, local businesses and even schools.
If there are weather warnings from KMD we can take action before the weather comes to us. Especially as lives have been lost as my community lives and works around the river, and floods can affect us directly.
We have now been in operation for 4 years. Weather Mtaani started in 2018**, and the leaders came together, through the DARAJA project working through a local community organisation called Kounkuey Design Initiative, Kenya (KDI) . KDI helped us to identify the community leaders who lived around the river.
During the DARAJA project we had joint community clean-ups, but now each area in Kibera is represented by their own clean ups. There are four areas in total: Makina, Sokomoko, Andolo and Laini Saba, where I live and represent Weather Mtaani.
We basically network the weather information throughout the community. Any messages to our community are sent through SMS as not everyone has a smartphone. We also use WhatsApp and Facebook.
James, Weather Mtaani and KDI in Kibera
What is happening to the weather and climate in Nairobi at the moment?
At this time of year in Nairobi we have what we normally call “OND” which is October, November and December rainy season. But it’s only started raining now, in December. We are having droughts and hot temperatures especially in Kibera.
The design of our houses in Kibera are formed from iron sheets. When the weather is extreme, whether it’s hot or cold, we’re affected greatly.
As well as this delayed rainy season, the weather here is not predictable the way it used to be. It’s still hot – even at this time of year.
Finding out what the Weather forecast will be, is therefore very important to us.
What will change as a result of the award win?
It’s already started! People are interested in knowing about these regular weather forecasts. Our contact database has increased and we’re starting to reach more people. Our Facebook views have increased (James is one of the administrators on their Facebook channel).
It’s one of Weather Mtaani’s aims to widen our contacts, as since covid, people have left Kibera and new people have moved in. There’s also demolition work in Kibera which again means new people coming into our area.
The award win is like marketing to us, to attract new community contacts for Weather Mtaani.
Any advice for other community groups, trying to do what Weather Mtaani are doing in East Africa or beyond?
Well, as you know Weather Mtaani is a community group and is made up of individuals working in a voluntary role. The reason why it works is that we all live here and want to see a positive change in our community, and will act to make it happen.
It doesn’t matter what the adverse weather will be, we will all be affected, the impact will be there. This region is affected by more fires and flash floods for example that puts you together because you have something to talk about. And more importantly we have different solutions. We learn these solutions from each other. It is not just grievances, it is solutions.
A Weather Mtaani organised community clean-up
For any groups that want to make a difference, make the messages more interactive and lively to their community. When we interacted with KMD they considered the messages at a wider population level of understanding, but it didn’t work in our community; we made it into zones, real and accurate for our people.
For the community clean-ups, offer refreshments and tools to get people to join in – we actually need to look at working with local city businesses to support us in these efforts.
Don’t forget about local funding grants. We applied for funding from Safaricom Foundation (Safaricom is the largest telecommunications organisation in East Africa) to improve digital literacy and access of our messages to the community. We submitted a proposal and Weather Mtaani were awarded with 12 desktop computers.
Also, The Shuttleworth Grant* helped us come together physically and enabled us to meet more regularly. We meet in person every Saturday for one hour to discuss what weather messages we should be communicating the following week for example. Weather Mtaani leaders give around three hours of their time, per week.
So, my main tip is don’t ignore the weather – even if it looks boring – it can change your life.
If you would like to support James and Weather Mtaani, please get in touch directly:
To find out about our DARAJA Service and Partnership please click here
*The Shuttleworth Foundation is a small social investor that provides funding to dynamic leaders who are at the forefront of social change. They look for social innovators who are helping to change the world for the better and could benefit from a social investment model with a difference.
**DARAJA was implemented in Nairobi through KMD, KDI, the Weather Mtaani leaders and a broad alliance of municipal, media and community development partners with support from the WISER Programme and Climate-KIC.