Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kibera A special Place, Empowered People

A Special Place, Empowered People
by Dr. Dawn Mason

The Institute for Cultural Reconnection


Kibera, Africa’s
Largest Slum

The residents of
are all financially poor, relative to Kenya and world economy.
However poor is a word you do not hear in Kenyan conversation. Poor
is word used for a person without family and all Kenyans have a
family. The reports I researched invariably speak of the residents
in ways that could leave the average person without hope for the
children, their families or their future. Most who know of Kibera,
know of it through the many photographs that are easily found in
online web albums or attached to articles. This essay details a
different view of Kibera. Admittedly, as described in an October
2002, BCC article, Life
in Kibera
, by East African Correspondent, Andrew
Harding, Kibera smells; “Wood fires, fried fish, excrement,
rubbish - the rich stench of 800,000 people living in a ditch.”
The history of Kibera is the history of displaced people who despite
the lack of government investments, and a physical environment that
would render the majority of the world’s population hopeless.
It is not a large area about one square mile with tin roofed, mud
floor homes no larger than 12 feet by 12 feet. Ngong Road a major
thoroughfare brings you quickly from an adjacent affluent
neighborhood to the Kibera within a mere 10 minutes. Though in close
proximity, I am told that a majority, guessed to be about 85% of
Nairobi residents have never entered Kibera. It is a busy place,
with several markets, Makini Market being the largest. The markets
are tight clusters of boards and benches and small shops, with
interesting names, many handwritten. Everything the residents need
to survive can be purchased right within Kibera. The children attend
one of many schools, large and small. Toi, Moi and Kibera Primary
Schools are the largest most prominent campuses. The economy is
based on the extremely low incomes of the residents.

Community Service Group
in Kibera website, speaks of
Kibera as residents experience it, “ Kibera “ However,
despite the demanding lifestyles we face in Kibera, we have created
our own community – that is sound and functioning. Businesses
of all sorts and driven entrepreneurs are found in all areas. Indeed,
we are not unlike much of Sub-Saharan Africa, which receives 75% of
its services through the ‘informal sector.’ In Kenya, we
call this part of our economy the ‘Jua Kali’ sector (Or
‘Fierce Sun’ sector).”

Kibera Through A
Different Lens

to Dr. Julia Amayo, there are no experts on life in Kibera other than
those who live there and work there. People who live outside of
Kibera, or come once or twice thinking they will have a Kibera
experience miss what makes Kibera a place of hope over dispair. When
writing the notes for this essay, I wrote that Kibera was violent.
She told tells me to remove that, “Kibera is not violent,
though like in any community there might be those who violate.”
Tell her that much of what I read is that Kibera is a violent
place. She challenges me to see Kibera without a learned bias, or
prejudice. Then reminds me that this is why we are writing about our
experiences as we “reconnect to each other as African American
and Kenyan women doing our work. Our writings need to be different
than those published by the people who see through a different lens.
I spent four days in Kibera and I saw no violence among the people,
to the contrary, I saw and met some of the most kind, friendly,
industrious people I have ever met. I was humbled by how safe and
welcome I felt among them.

So with a swab of
Watkins Menthol salve under my nose, to mask the smells that are
unfamiliar and unpleasant for me, a stranger to Kibera, I traveled
throughout Kibera with Dr.Julia Amayo as my guide and mentor. With
Dr. Amayo I am able to view Kibera and the people in ways that
Harding, either missed or chose not to report. Who she is and how she
views humanity is key to my orientation to life in Kenya. She tells
me that she did not pick Kibera, God gave it to her. She used to be
one of the Nairobi residents who never went into Kibera. She is a
caregiver to two grandsons. She has buried two daughters and
granddaughter victims of the two primary takers of life in Kenya,
AIDS and road accidents. They attend private schools, through hard
work and smarts, she is a woman of independent means . She lives in
Upper Hills Estate a 10 minute drive along Ngong Road, past Royal
Nairobi Golf Club to Kibera and her SACODEN
offices. Dr. Amayo established this NGO after being taken to Kibera
by a friend and meeting an orphaned girl, Damaris, who had been
abandoned by her family. She knew she could and needed to make a
difference for her and the many children by her.

Being in Kibera with
Dr. Julia Amayo was a privilege and gave me a different view of
Kibera and the children and caregivers who live there. Feed the
Children infomercials display images of Kenyan children with fly
filled eyes, and women idle and helpless. These images help them
raise millions of dollars. I was privileged to be in the homes,
schools, shops throughout much of Kibera, on several occasions over a
period of three weeks. During the many visits I saw children with
faces full of hope and women working together to create self
sufficiency for their families. I saw children who are in need of
medical care, and women who are struggling, but I did not see any who
were sitting idly waiting for anyone to arrive to save them. Dr.
Amayo makes me understand that all Kenyans do not have AIDS, that the
help from international humanitarian aid, some are living with AIDS
not dying. A poster prominently placed announces that the majority
of Kenyans are not dying from AIDS even though most Kenyans are
impacted by HIV/AIDS in some way.


Kibera is noisy, I
think of it as organized chaos. Jua
( hot sun) It is the industrial areas where
welders, electricians, carpenters, and crafts people work outside in
organized work and training. Without the introduction, I might think
Tom Onyongo, the man who sits outside a small shop, might be just an
man sitting on a bench all day watching others work. Mr. Onyongo is
the Chairman of the Makini Market, the go to person, nothing gets
past his observation. On one day Dr. Amayo drives her car carefully
and expertly through the narrow pathways (it is difficult to
associate them with streets) the respect she has in Kibera is shown
by how people move to the side and greets here as she passes. She
returns all greetings in kind. It is a meeting of USAID/CARE funding
recipients. The topic is the new Monioring and Evaluation (M and E)
reporting system. Dr. Amayo is a clear leader among her peers who
are all associated with NGOs responding to the travesties associated
with HIV/AIDS pandemic. On another day, I met the women who are part
of SACODEN’s GSL and IGA organizing project. All are
caregivers, most are living with HIV/AIDS and each are contributing
50 KSH a week. They all dressed up for this business meeting, those
with outstanding loans are paying them back with a small interest.
Eunice Okoth and Mzee are relatives of Dr. Amayo, this commitment to
Kibera is a family affair. The women run their own meetings, and
both support and hold each other accountable for the funds they share
for startups and expansion of micro businesses.

Kiberans are finding
and applying solutions that have positive outcomes. An example is
home testing and counseling. The lower cost and better outcomes than
other more costly approaches has made the solutions applied in Kibera
a replicable method for combating HIV/AIDS. In a Standard Newspaper
report, we are told that while only 40% of the general population of
Kenya knows if they are HIV affected, 85% of Kibera adults know their
status. Dr. Amayo has written extensively about HIV/AIDS impacts and
solutions including what occur for the girl child.

Investing in SACODEN
is an investment into the lives of 200 Kibera children, a small
number if you consider that Kibera is home to an estimated 400,000
children. There are no census takers in Kibera, so no one really
knows exactly how many there really are. During our time there, we
were able to review impeccable reports and documentation of the
outcomes of every dollar donated to their various projects. Through
SACODEN the children and caregivers in Kibera receive school
uniforms, shoes, sanitary napkins, meals, sweaters and blankets all
the things that make it possible for them to attend the free public
schools. The caregivers receive free training in business
management, micro loans, and child care. I possess no romantic ideas
about Kibera and the people there. They lack most things that we in
the United States take for granted and what human development
researches say are necessary for all humans, such as space, clean
water, toilets, medical care and healthy environment. Likewise we
learn that people adapt to their environment, create civil societies
within these environments. Kibera and its residents have existed
until recently without notice by much of the world until recently.
Some work their way out, most do not. The solutions will come from
looking deeper into the abilities, the contributions and the
resiliency of those who live and work in Kibera. Those who are
privileged to form relationships within Kibera should seek to find
mutually beneficial outcomes. I am a better person for seeing life
as it is in Kibera through their lens not my own.

1 Kibera A
Special Place, Empowered People

No comments: