Pumwani social hall gets new lease of life

MAKEOVER: The front view of the Pumwani Social Hall. Below, a boxer practises at the hall, in Majengo
MAKEOVER: The front view of the Pumwani Social Hall. Below, a boxer practises at the hall, in Majengo

Community Centres in Kenya have a long and strong history, and are often the result of residents taking action to address a local need or problem.

Pumwani social hall was built by colonialists in 1924.

It is located inside Nairobi's Majengo slum. It was originally built as a prison but later changed to a facility where heroes of the world war one could go and rest, hence the name Pumwani derived from “pumua” (breathe, relax). Pumwani was known as an area for recreation and leisure.

“For me, this is where cultural events can play an important role. Creativity and culture can be a vibrant sector of the local economy, and it’s also how we connect as a species,” says Peter Oyugi Alanga who is in charge of the social development programs in Kamukunji sub-county.

“Social development is about more in transforming from a state of want to a state of plenty,” he said.

Some of Kenya's better known sports heroes and heroines were nurtured at the social hall. “It is the home of boxers such as Conjestina Achieng, Rayton Okwiri, Robert Wangila and the F.B.I dance group. All of them are champions in their own right and have had a special relationship with this hall as their training grounds. They have gone on to do the country proud by achieving various feats,” says Kennedy Simuyu, a member of the boxing team from the hall.

They all started practising at the Pumwani Social Hall as they pursued their dreams.

The hall was declared a national monument by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in 2010.

“Too often, capabilities of the youth are not extended by the curriculum, leading to boredom, dissatisfaction and aggression,” says Simiyu. “This is where I have found peace and love as while here, you get to interact with the best of the best. Discipline is also key while here,” he adds.

The F.B.I dance crew treasure the hall. “We call this place home as this is where it all began for us,” says Ezra Njagi, one of the dancers.

The group represented Kenya in various dance competitions including last years World hip hop championships where they reached the semis. “This was our first competition of the sort but we had earlier on been to France where we came out on top,” says Emmanuel Tumaini, the youngest member of the group.

“We pay some membership fee to train here in the facility, which is affordable to us and all other groups here,” says Tumaini. The membership fee helps run the facility, for instance cleaning and minor repairs.

With boxers punching bags hanged on the roof and the Karate fans kicking as they practise, the hall wore out as they watched helplessly. “This we can say is partly due to the past negligence by the city council,” says Peter Ng'ang'a, who uses the gym in the facility. “Most of the youth in Majengo can now sharpen their talents in the facility,” he says.

Zaid Ali is among 45 young men who came together to form the Pumwani Social Hall Self-Help Group. This group takes care of the social hall and it's surroundings, including managing public equipment like the public toilet. “As the youth of Majengo, we value this hall to death. Instead of sitting under a shed and chewing miraa for the whole day, we happen to keep ourselves busy by washing cars that people park around the social hall and also look after them,” said Zaid. This, he said, enables the youth to make some money shun behavior like robbery. Some of his friends died in police shootings or mob justice.

The now rehabilitated hall plays a significant role in hosting sporting events such as boxing, church services, women self-help group meetings, medical camps, political meetings as well as community gatherings.

A shiny plaque is displayed at the hall's entrance. The once leaking walls are now donned with fresh paint and there are new chairs.

Facilities such as the washrooms, which were once unbearable, are now operational much to the delight of many.

Safaricom Foundation rehabilitated the hall. The foundation chairman Joseph Ogutu said that the move to rehabilitate the social hall was driven by the desire to preserve national heritage following the hall's declaration as a national monument as well to continue catering to the needs of athletes. This was in collaboration with the county government of Nairobi who manage the facility.

"Safaricom Foundation has long recognised the importance of arts and culture as a key to development. It is for this reason that we have rehabilitated the Pumwani center to preserve and promote our national heritage," said Ogutu.