Vyama in Kenya

An Afrocentric strengths-based approach to community development

Authored by: Gidraph G. Wairire , John Muiruri

The Handbook of Social Work and Social Development in Africa

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472468512
eBook ISBN: 9781315557359
Adobe ISBN: 9781317029380


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Kenya is an East African country bordering Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sudan. It has a population of 40.7 million with 42.2% younger than 15 years and 2.7% older than 64 years (Countrymeters, 2015). Hence, the bulk of the population – just over 55% – is economically active. Kiswahili is the national language, while English is the official language. Escalating poverty, urbanisation, and globalisation have altered the social fabric of many families and communities in Kenya. This, in turn, has weakened the family’s role in providing social and emotional support to its members. The state, on the other hand, has devolved responsibility onto individuals, families, and communities to respond to local needs and repressive adversities by generating innovative strategies to ensure their sustainable livelihoods (Gray, 2010). One such initiative comprises vyama (singular chama) – the Kiswahili word for group association (King’ei & Ndalu, 1988). Vyama are small, informal groups that draw on the collective resources and capacities of their members to address individual needs. This chapter discusses vyama from a strengths-based, collective Afrocentric perspective, seeing them as indigenous groups that draw on the capacity, resolve, and resilience of individuals trying to deal with issues they would not be able to address alone (Gugerty, 2005). It examines their impact and relevance as alternative local-level structures that provide a tangible informal means of social protection for their members, demonstrating this through several case examples. Thereafter, issues relating to their sustainability and social work practice are discussed.

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