Our first day volunteering with the Foundation and the sun is shining. James takes us to the Johari offices – 6 floors up with a broken lift! We meet all the crew and settle down to discuss the Children Support Project (CSP) run in Kibera with Jennie, Mary (Ngeri) and Stella. They seemed really impressed with what the children have created back home in terms of the scrap book material and letters, and are delighted with the children’s books donated by Julie Hegarty (a local Children’s author in Edinburgh).
In the afternoon we all head off to Ayany primary school in Kibera; a sea of tin roofs filling a mile or so of steamy hillside on the south of the city. We arrive at the primary school to a near hero’s welcome, within seconds we are surrounded by hundreds of children, shouting, “How are you?” and wanting to shake our hands. This takes a while and then we head off the “afterschool room” for food handout.
There are 2000 children in this primary school ranging from 6years to about 20. Primary education only became free in 2003, hence there are a lot of late starters.
All of these children by any standards must be classed as vulnerable and “in need”, however the CSP programme has only places for 100. These children are selected because of various factors; almost all are orphans or partial orphans with little or no other means of support.
In addition to providing school uniforms, shoes and stationary. The beginning of each month sees these children receive a monthly food package consisting of; rice, toothpaste, soap, flour, paraffin, tealeaves sugar oil and shoe polish. Twice a week they are given additional supplies (Wed and Fridays). Today each child is to receive one bag of lentils, 2 bunches of kale, 3 tomatoes, 3 onions, I bag porridge and one loaf of bread. (the onions and tomatoes are alternated with 2 oranges).
The children arrive and are so grateful for the food; some of them’s hunger is apparent as they immediately demolish their loaves of bread in front of us. This is often because their carer or siblings will take the food from them and they have learned to make the most of what they have for self-preservation.
In-between the younger children leaving and the older ones arriving we again get the chance to chat with the kids. Arsenal FC seems to be second only to God in Kibera with Man U a close third!
We meet Emma, she is 14 years old but is the size of a small British 7 year old. She is HIV positive (by birth), and heartbreakingly tells us why she wears her HIV ribbon with pride, and the work she does out in the community education people on how HIV is contracted and how her life is still full of hope. Tears are in our eyes as she ends her story.
Once food distribution was over we head into the heart of Kibera with the CSP team and a young boy called Jackson (who was featured in the foundation DVD) to visit his crippled mother and some of the other childrens’ homes thatwe had just met.
How to describe Kibera? Bill Bryson once wrote- “ Whatever is the most awful place you have ever experienced, Kibera is worse”.
Kibera is the biggest slum in Nairobi and probably Africa, nobody knows how many people live there, probably around a million, perhaps many more. At least 50,000 of the kids living here are AIDS orphans, again it could be a lot more. Nobody knows. Nothing about Kibera is certain or official, including its existence, it just is.
Kibera is a random seemingly endless warren of rank narrow passageways between rows of frail, dirt floored hovels made of tin and mud, twigs and holes. Down the centre of lane runs a shallow trench with a trickle of water and things you don’t want to see or step in (the “mud” here is not mud as we know it at home). Flying toilets are common place and the whole area smells of rot. Families of 5 or six people live in single rooms about ten foot by ten foot; the lucky ones have mattresses; the others use dirty clothes to sleep on.
The people we visited lived with very little food, no running water or sanitation, the constant presence of rats and assorted bugs….. however the surprising thing was the attitude of everyone ….. so positive and forward thinking, so full of hope and gratitude. Desperate for an education and to better themselves. Very Humbling.
We spend quite a few days of our trip in Kibera with these children, running scrap book programmes, writing letters to children back in Scotland, making jewellery from paper, reading stories and drawing.
The very young ones were enraptured by Julie’s book “Michelle” which she had kindly donated as many copies as we could carry, and having their own copy of the book was such a novelty it made their day!
We worked with older groups writing leaflets on Africa and we got some amazing stuff on the Kenyan culture, food, sport, Kibera, fashion and wildlife – what an astonishing bunch and a great start to the Scrap book project.
The older children concentrated on replying to the letter we had brought over from Scotland and they set about describing their life in Kenya and their hopes and dreams for the future.
A profound and moving time was complete with a number of photos taken thanking their supporters “ Asante” then Aeolus, Edinburgh, etc from the kids. We departed with tears in our eyes, handshakes, tickles, cuddles, words of kindness and promises of future visits.
We will be back!