Sunday, April 11, 2010


Kibera is a neighborhood and division of Nairobi, Kenya. It is the largest of Nairobi's slums, and the second largest urban slum in Africa, with a population estimated at 1.5-2 million inhabitants; most of whom lack electricity and running water. To give some perspective, it is a little smaller than Central Park in New York City. Kibera accounts for less than 1% of Nairobi's total area, but holds more than a quarter of its population. If you want to see Kibera, it is featured in Fernando Meirelles's film The Constant Gardener, which is based on the book of the same name by John le Carré.

Thanks to the open sewage system and the frequent use of "flying toilets"; it is contaminated with garbage, and human waste. The lack of sanitation combined with poor nutrition accounts for many illnesses and diseases. It is estimated that one-fifth of the 2.2 million Kenyans living with HIV live in Kibera.

We met at the Jamii Boro bank branch and then went to the top of a six story building to see it from a distance. We were all standing near the laundry lines listening to a history lesson. After that we toured the market that Jamii Boro helped to rebuild after the violence during the last election. One of our guides, John was the leader of the gang that destroyed the market. He is now a promoter for Jamii Boro and has been recruiting gang members to turn around their lives like he did. There are other promoters who were prostitutes, alcoholics, criminals, and beggars. The philosophy of the organization is you have to “walk in their shoes” and speak the same language in order to help.

We met a number of their clients in the market and one from the Muslim village (a total of 15) invited us to see her home. Eleven people lived in a 10x10 shack…words cannot describe it and since it was in the Muslim community, they would not allow photos.

We traveled to another village to a restaurant owned by one of the clients and had goat, tomatoes, spinach and maize for lunch. It was all finger food and not the best meal of my visit. I wish I was a beer drinker because the ice cold Tuskers looked great. I settled for a bitter lemon and it hit the spot after six hours in the sun. We were asked if we wanted to attend a football match after lunch but we decided to come back to the hotel.

As I took my shower and began to feel like a “human being” again, I could not help but think about the fact that none of the people I saw today would have that luxury. The words of the one speaker who said sanitation means dignity, really hit home. This experience will help me make some decisions when I return. Tomorrow, we head to Northern Kenya to meet the clients in the coffee producing areas.

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