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About Us

Finding Inspiration in Every Turn

We believe that every youth has great potential, but often they lack access to opportunity and the support necessary to succeed. That's why Ujima was founded. Meaning, "achieved with the help of others" in Swahili, Ujima offers a pathway for young Kenyans, and particular head of household orphans, to build successful careers that willl allow them to support themselves and their families. Read more about our founding below.

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Our Story

In 2003, while Marc Van de Giessen and Machiel Pouw were volunteers at Pandi Pieri, a nonprofit organization in Kisumu, Kenya, they found that orphans who were caring for younger siblings, often did not have the income or job opportunities needed to care for themselves and their families. Marc and Machiel wanted to help, so they set out to better understand the problem and to identify a sector where orphaned youth might be positioned for employment if they had the skills, support, and mentors to succeed.

 

Their research showed that many solvable barriers existed between youth job seekers and potential employers. This included challenges associated with communication, trust, an understanding of job expectations, and capacity to perform duties. They decided to start an organization with a focus on the tourism and hospitality sector as there was growing demand in the industry and it offered youth experience in a range of roles. In 2004, Ujima was  officially registered as a non-governmental organization in Kenya. 

In 2005, following rigorous fundraising, Ujima’s first training program launched in Nakuru with 18 students. Through early learning and experience, Marc and Machiel quickly realized that to scale their reach and the success of their students, they needed a place where youth could have on the job experience outside of the classroom. In April 2006, they opened a unique tourist lodge called Maili Saba Camp with the vision that it would be a haven for tourists, would generate revenue for the nonprofit organization, and would offer a place where their students could test and hone their new skills. In 2007, Maili Saba Camp was able to financially sustain the Nakuru program, and in the span of three years, Ujima’s training expanded to Kisumu, Homa Bay, and Mombasa.

 

Today, Ujima hosts as many as 400 students a year.

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