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."

Mary of Kibera

14 Jun

I have now been with The Undugu Society for three days. I spent yesterday and today visiting many of Undugu’s projects in the informal settlements of Nairobi. They are the slums of Nairobi and are inhabited by the poorest of the poor.

The first informal settlement I visited was Kibera, the largest slum in Africa and possibly the largest slum in the world. Bernard, my new colleague at Undugu and the director of Undugu’s Kibera project, said that 700,000 people live in Kibera. More liberal estimates (like Wikipedia) say there are 1 million people living in Kibera. Either way, that is a lot of people to put on 650 acres. A LOT OF PEOPLE! The people make up the poorest of the poor. When people talk about extreme poverty, they talk about Kibera.

I met several people in Kibera, but one of them left a particularly lasting impact on me. Her name was Mary and she is a single mother who is a part of a self-help micro loan group that was started by Undugu. I met Mary when I observed her group’s weekly meeting at Undugu’s Kibera Community Center.

When I entered the meeting, Mary was sitting with her colleagues taking turns reviewing the neatly kept ledger and making the appropriate marks. They also took turns counting the cash on the table that was made up of small bills and coins. I glanced at their ledger for the week and found that the largest loan payment was 750 Shillings (about $10.30) and the smallest loan payment was 250 Shillings (about $4.10). The numbers may have been small, but their impact was much larger. To know that, one would just have to talk to Mary and see her excitement for what they were doing.

Mary owns a small business where she sells charcoal to her neighbors living in Kibera. Without the self-help micro loan group, her business wouldn’t be possible. Mary proudly explained the process of the self-help group for me; their weekly meetings, the amount of payments, their voluntary donations to their group savings account, and the trust they have for each other.

The group was passionate about what they were doing (especially Mary). As Mary explained to me the details of her business regarding costs, prices, profits, and payments to the group account, I was reminded of a lesson that I learned several years ago while working in a similar slum in the Marshall Islands. That lesson is that living in poverty does not mean living without dignity. Mary explained to me her business structure as if she were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She is her own boss. She earns enough money to sustain a livelihood for herself and her children. Most importantly, Mary had dignity in what she was doing. Undugu is to be credited for making this possible for Mary.

Mary is just one of several people I have met in two days who have benefited from Undugu’s services. But, her story sums up much of what Undugu is doing. They are empowering community members and giving them the tools that they need to have dignity in their lives.

Posted By Jonathan Homer

Posted Jun 14th, 2007


  • Brittany Duke

    June 15, 2007


    This is a great blog Jonathan. You are truly an inspiration.

  • Dan

    June 15, 2007


    Thanks, Jon, for sharing this blog with us. I was touched by your description of Mary. It was a much needed reminder that life for people across the globe can be very different, but we all share a common humanity. I will look forward to reading more about your experiences this summer.


  • Jeremy Ayers

    June 15, 2007


    Jonathan, you are missed here! But what a powerful image of dignity — counted out in small bills and marked down in a ledger. I’m struck by the spiritual gravity of dignity and the gift of seeing it in the places we least often look. What a gift you have to give and a gift you’ll have to share when you return. Many blessings on your sojourn!


  • Sam

    June 15, 2007


    Thanks for sharing this blog. I look forward to reading about your time with the Undugu Society, and think it is really great how you are spending your summer.

  • Marci Homer

    June 17, 2007


    Enjoyed your comments and your insight into the dignity of people no matter their situation. Keep in touch. We love hearing from you.

  • Natalie McIntyre

    July 1, 2007


    Thanks for sharing Mary’s story. I’m a huge fan of microcredit projects. It’s amazing how radically they can positively impact individuals in the most impoverished of places. I would love to hear more about the progress of Mary’s business. It’s very unique to hear how microcredit is supporting the economic development of individuals first-hand.

  • Jesse Kariuki

    April 24, 2008


    I work in Kibera as a Social Worker and can identify with most of your observations. Mary represents many who are struggling to earn a decent living so as to provide for their families.I coordinate a women’s group in Kibera who make ornaments from beads. Most of these women share the same story as Mary.

  • Frankie

    March 10, 2017


    A wonderful job. Super helpful intaomrfion.

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