Jonathan Homer

Jonathan Homer (Undugu Society): Jonathan is a native of Idaho and a graduate of Utah State University where he studied history and international economics. While at Utah State University, Jonathan volunteered for an international service organization that focused on humanitarian work in Mexico and South America. Jonathan also took a two-year break from his undergraduate studies to perform service in the islands of Micronesia, which introduced him to the importance of humanitarian work and international law. After his undergraduate studies, Jonathan interned at the US Department of State's Bureau of African Affairs and worked for US Senator Mike Crapo. At the time of his fellowship, Jonathan was a student at George Washington University Law School with an interest in international human rights law. After his fellowship, Jonathan wrote: "This summer allowed me to get in touch with a major part of humanity: the disempowered and weak. There is something personally empowering that comes from witnessing such suffering. I am very grateful to have had this experience."

Exploitation that’s Dirt Cheap

08 Jul

How much does a pile of dirt cost? It’s a big pile. I don’t know its exact size. But, I bet it would fill a medium-sized dump truck. It took a full day of hard work for one man to gather the pile. He gathered it by scraping mud off of the bottom of Lake Victoria on the border of Western Kenya. He hauled the mud to shore in a small paddleboat where he unloaded the mud one shovel at a time. Then, he worked the mud with a shovel for hours in the coming days so that the sunshine could change it from mud to sand. How much has that man earned for creating that large pile of sand?

As a former economics major, that’s a question that interests me. I would consider the scarcity of the sand, the demand of the sand, the closest available substitute for the sand, the transportation costs required to get the sand from the lake to where it is needed, the alternative forms of employment that this man could engage in, and many other market factors that would determine how much that man should be paid for gathering the sand. I haven’t taken the time to actually research the sand market in Kenya to determine how much he should be paid for that sand. But, if I did, I would imagine that the labor of the man who painstakingly created that pile of sand is worth more than 700 Kenyan Shillings (a bit more than $10), which is what he is currently getting paid.

If he sales a sand pile every few days, 700 Kenyan Shillings per pile isn’t too bad of an income compared to what millions of Kenyans living below the poverty line bring home (or don’t bring home) everyday. But, then consider this: that same pile of sand will be bought by a truck driver who will haul it to the city and sale it for 27,000 Kenyan Shillings (about $430). It doesn’t take any detailed research or dedicated analysis of the transportation industry in Kenya to know that the man who broke his back hauling that sand should be receiving more than 700 Kenyan Shillings for his labor. So, I figure the price for exploitation in the Kenyan sand market is only 700 Kenyan Shillings. That makes exploitation a very appealing business to get into.

I met one of the men who spends his days creating sand piles for such meager wages. He is a part of a community that Undugu has selected to work with because it is among the poorest region in all of Kenya. The children living in this area have the greatest risk of becoming street children. They are engaged in child labor, don’t attend school, often suffer abuse and neglect, and face the hunger pains and sicknesses that accompany poverty. It happens more often than not that this child will leave home and walk to the nearest city to finish out his childhood sleeping on the streets and filling his stomach through begging.

Undugu’s approach to helping the family of this child is to prevent that child from becoming a street child. Undugu does this through several programs. All of the programs can be nicely organized under a bold heading of EMPOWERMENT.

Empowerment is a popular word at Undugu. It is at the heart of Undugu’s new Lobbying and Advocacy program. Empowering community members to understand abilities; to address social issues that effect them; to receive incomes that are fair and well-earned; to demand the services that they have been promised by the government; and to assert their rights.

All of this empowerment is usually expressed through well-planned programs. But, when we met the sand harvester who was earning 700 Kenyan Shillings for his hard labor, I watched Undugu’s staff kick out some passionate and spontaneous empowerment. Immediately, staff members began explaining to this man how he could demand higher payment. They spouted off some basic business and economics lessons. They were answering the economic questions that I earlier considered and all of those answers were convincing this man that he should be demanding more money than he was getting for his pile of sand. As the man quietly listened to what they were telling him, he was being empowered. With the basic information that Undugu was telling him, he will be empowered to demand twice, triple, or quadruple what he is getting paid for his sand right now. And when the buyer tries to tell him that he can’t afford it or that he can just go elsewhere for cheap sand, the sand harvester will be able to call his bluff because he will have been empowered by the information that Undugu gave him.

Posted By Jonathan Homer

Posted Jul 8th, 2007

Enter your Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *