April 30, 2010 § 1 Comment
Hello family and friends!
I am sitting at my sunny little desk, feeling healthy and strong again, after a life-changing visit to Kibera and a week of getting my train back on the track. I kicked the salmonella, got back to my barnyard work out routine, caught up with all my work, and washed the mud from what seemed like everything I own.
Kibera is the largest slum in Africa, recently trumping Soweto. It’s a little smaller than Central Park with estimates ranging between 600,000 and 1.5 million residents. It accounts for less than 1% of Nairobi’s total area, but holds more than a quarter of it’s population, at an estimated 1250 people per acre. The area alone has ten neighborhoods. It was initially land rewarded by the British government to Nubian soldiers returning from World War I. To date the Kenyan government does not recognize Kibera as an official settlement, so it receives no government services, schools, clinics, running water, or public sewage. The few facilities in place are privately owned or donated. In 2009 the Kenyan government decided to build “long-term” housing projects, similar to those in Brooklyn, on the skirts of the slum to transition people out, but most can’t afford the rent … at $10 per month. Further more, if the government continues building at the rate is now, it will take roughly 1,200 years (over a millennium) to complete enough housing for the residents of Kibera.
I decided to join Hannah on a number of orphanage visits in the slum for the day, knowing it would be something I would never forget. Flying Kites is in the process of developing a pilot group of orphanages under a program called the Oasis Project, each of which will receive our assistance in improving childcare, fundraising, developing a website, and navigating the complicated registration process. I was excited to see what our Oasis Program looks like on the ground, but I will admit to going primarily for the reason of seeing this tragic and strangely interesting place for myself.
I have absolutely no reference point to compare it to. It’s situated along an operating railroad and drops into a steep valley. Within’ moments of entering the slum, you find yourself walking on a sea of trash, fighting a horribly pungent smell of burning waste and sewage. The streets are about as wide as the length of a car and are lined with homes, barber shops, butchers, charcoal salesman, and produce stands, all about the size of a small tool shed. It is a massive maze of poverty. Children play barefoot in a stream of gray, milky sewage runoff and there is not one tree to be seen for miles. The people though, like in Njabini, are still extraordinarily vibrant, exploding into a smile with just a simple wave.
Many people here start orphanages as a money making scheme. They sleep kids three to a bed, feed them rotten fruit, and siphon the funds for themselves, so the first major battle of Oasis is finding ethical partners. We visited a few such places, which lend some really hard questions, and then you find incredible people struggling to an immeasurable degree, and you’re only left with more. We visited one home run by an incredible man and his wife, who have taken in 42 boys (sleeping two to a bed, many on the ground) and 32 girls (also sleep two to a bed), and run a school for 200+ students, 120 of which share one little dark classroom about the size of a large living room. Two teachers teach two different classes simultaneously and the only gasp of light comes from a hole in the corner of the ceiling. These kids share three toilets (each just a hole in the ground), they eat the same bland mix of cornmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner of every day, and most don’t even know their own birthday, as there is no record of their origin at all.
Being in Kibera as part of an effort to assist orphanages doing valiant work was the saving grace of this experience. Because of this, we met some truly extraordinary people, doing the most selfless of things in a place where self-preservation is king. I know I say this in about every post I write, but such a place leaves you feeling an extreme sense of gratitude. It also left me wondering why it is we are born with such advantage, while others are born into such hardship. After returning home safely, brushing my teeth with the kids in their new pajamas, and tucking them in bed for the night, I realize only more and more what a wonderful organization I am a part of.
Peter and Tamia sadly leave tomorrow, but Aunty Sarah arrived today, so it’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of another! In other news, I got my first haircut in Africa. I was the first Mzungu the barber had ever cut, and given the military buzz I ended up with, our communication gap only confirms the previous stat! It included a number of spectators perched at the window, a clean shave, a warm towel, some kind of home-made after-shave, and a few pictures with the owner – all for a whopping price tag of 75 cents. I gave him 13 dollars, which is still half of what I would pay in Seattle, and his reaction was worth every penny.
I will try and upload some pictures tomorrow, but in the meantime Dave Betts posted a few from of our rafting trip on his blog, so check them out! (http://www.davefbetts.blogspot.com)
I love you all and wish you a wonderful weekend! Thanks again for checking in. We are all very very blessed, and should be dancing much more often than we are now! I haven’t said it yet and I won’t bother you too much about it, but if you have any interest in supporting Flying Kites or sponsoring a child or a matron or a particular project, check out our website or email me… in fact – email me! It doesn’t take much to make a huge difference, and I’d be happy to update you often on whatever area you chose to get involved with.
Now get to dancing!