Have you heard about Kibera? They say it’s the biggest slum in Nairobi, one of a few in fact.. The home of estimated between 150,000 to 1,000,000! men, women, and children, just 5 km away from the city center and, as it happens by chance, half km away from where I live in Nairobi.
I visited Kibera for an interview in a nutrition center, supported by Save the Children Kenya.
From where the driver left us in the midst of a small busy square in the slum, we headed on foot to the center. We walked on what seemed to be a main street, stepping on bare ground, soil, mud and garbage. Ditches along both sides of the street. Tin barracks for houses, blankets serving as doors, metal grids for windows. Women selling tiny fried fish. Women frying chips on the street, I could feel the hissing of the hot frying oil. Women carrying long wooden boards on their heads. Men on boda bodas (motorcycles). Barefoot children. Mzungu! Mzungu! (White person). A huge skinny dog pushing its way through a tin fence. Layers and layers of tin buildings on the hilly horizon. Going outside the main street and we entered a maze of tinned corridors between the buildings, with cut holes to pass through, clothes hanging in one internal yards above a pile of garbage, kids playing under a water-leaking roof… Photos? I was allowed to take few only, as a mzungu, it was not advisable…
And yet as a visitor I did not feel threatened, maybe only slightly uncomfortable. I was not shocked by the poverty, I was prepared for poverty. It felt busy and chaotic at first, but then in this chaos I could see the routine of a whole city within the city: there were schools and clinics and shops; I could see children coming home after classes, tradesmen selling on the streets, women cleaning, buying food…
In the nutrition center we met Augustine, 65, a lovely, loving grandfather of 11. Augustine told us the story of his family and of one of his smallest granddaughters, Audrie, 16m old, who was a patient at the center, and who visibly adored her grandfather.
Audrie’s mother was a teenager when she got pregnant. She had to quit school, she was socially isolated, got so depressed she tried to commit a suiside, wanted to get rid of the baby, stopped feeding her… Augustine took Audrie in a very poor state, she was malnourished and weak, only a few months old… He helped his daughter get back to school, education is so important he says! He took Audrie to the center where she is now recovering and is a regular visitor.. And under the care of the center and her grandparents Audrie is now recovering, and has turned into a little cute, beautiful girl!
Augustine is happy there is someone to help. He is grateful. His concerns? He stays with Audrie most of the time, but then this leaves the burden to bring food to the family to his wife, who is now 70. He is grateful, so grateful to the center, now that Audrie stays there during the day he can work and bring food as well… He is worried about tomorrow. What happens when he dies? What tomorrow will bring? He is smiling, a wide, genuine smile! and I am smiling back, and yet at least one of us is crying deep inside.
Today we have a good story to tell. Today, under the great care of the nutrition center and with the support of Save the children and other donors Audrie and her peers are healthy, happy, safe. What tomorrow will bring?
That’s why Save the Children’s work does not stop here. Save the Children goes a long way in reaching children who are marginalised either because of who they are or where they live … focusing on child survival, child poverty, child protection, education and child participation. Save the Children do whatever it takes , and there is still room to do more in reaching every last child….
The PULSE Volunteer Partnership is GSK’s skills-based volunteering initiative. Through PULSE, motivated employees are matched to a non-profit organisation for 3 or 6 months full-time, contributing their skills to solve healthcare challenges at home and abroad. When PULSE Volunteers return to GSK, they act as catalysts to change the company for the better.