You can steel your senses as much as possible in anticipation of the vast expanse of poverty that envelopes you as you enter the Nairobi slum of Kibera, but it is really too much to comprehend.
A quick picture taken from our car as we were driven through Kibera.
Kibera is essentially a small city the size of Central Park. There are businesses, schools, homes, churches…everything you would find in bustling city.
Rene from Every Girl Counts and I went grocery shopping for two single mothers living in Kibera with our friends from Swahiba Youth Networks after a morning devotional at their office, located just inside Kibera. You can see remnants of an improved housing project from the late 1970s surrounding the office, modest apartments that are now delapidated but still leaps and bounds ahead of the 8×8 mud huts that the majority of Kibera’s nearly one million residents call home. We bought food staples such as rice, flour, and cooking oil and household items such as soap and laundry detergent (everyone hand launders their clothing in Kibera in small tubs as well as in much of Nairobi. Even the laundry at our hotel is done by hand and linens are line dried.)
The two families we visited with have daughters in Swahiba Youth Networks’ pilot Mentorship and Empowerment Program, a year-long program which helps provide training for girls who have graduated from Swahiba’s high school program for Kibera teenage girls. The 60 girls in this new program attend classes that provide skills to help them pursue their dream of a university education which will, hopefully, be the catalyst for living a successful life beyond Kibera.
Just outside the first home we visited; there are probably at least half dozen houses that you can see just in this photo alone.
We walked with members of the Swahiba Youth Networks staff to make our visits and deliver the groceries and supplies. Meandering through the dirt streets of Kibera you see it all, and you smell it all – food cooking, small open fires burning, women washing their clothes in plastic tubs, human waste. The busy business district has all the typical businesses you will find in any city, from hair salons to cyber cafes and from bars to chemists (pharmacies.) You’ll find everything for sale in the street market, from freshly cut sugar cane to charcoal to chickens.
A fruit stand in the Kibera slum of Nairobi.
Our first stop was to visit a widow who has seven children, four of whom live with her in her mud hut and three of whom are now married. Her daughter is a recent graduate of Swahiba’s high school program. She wants to attend university and be able to return to Kibera and work with girls living in the slum.
A special needs little boy living in the slum of Kibera.
Her youngest son is a small boy with special needs and she hopes that eventually she will also be able to afford to provide the education he needs. One thing is evident from this mother – she wants the best for her children, cleaning homes and laundering clothes to provide support for them. It is a struggle, though. She and her children once lived outside Kibera, but after her husband died she could no longer afford to live in the city. Most of our conversation during our brief visit was in Swahili and although I could not understand much of what this beautiful mother said, before we left for the next home visit I hugged her and I told her “You are a good mama.”
Standing outside the home of this teenage girl from Kibera. She is part of a new mentorship program facilitated by Swahiba Youth Networks that follows girls beyond high school, ensuring they learn job skills and are able to earn enough money to take the national exam to possibly attend university on a scholarship.
Our second home visit in Kibera was with three sisters, one of whom is in the mentorship program. Their father is a bus driver and their mother lives in their home village with her other siblings hundreds of miles away. We talked to them about keeping faith and not getting discouraged. We left their home providing them with not only a few basic living needs, but with hope.
Rene Cook, founder of Every Girl Counts, along with three sisters who call Kibera their home.
Many of the girls living in Kibera will never leave its boundaries their entire lives. They need to know it is possible to leave Kibera. They need to know they do not need to leave hope behind.
Tomorrow I’ll be writing more about the rest of our busy first full day of ministry here in Nairobi. We had a great afternoon visit with young boys at a juvenile detention center.
Usiku Mwema (good night) from Kenya!