The harsh poverty in Nairobi’s slums shocked me, but the more I talked with people in the slums, the more hope I was given. In Kibera, I visited two community efforts supported by the non-governmental organisation Slums Information Development and Resource Centers (SIDAREC). Both left me with a large smile despite the challenges I knew they still faced.
Zulu FC Community
This group of 28 men started off as a group of friends on a football team (a very good one apparently as they play in one of the lower professional leagues). There we’re a close group, and when some of the team started to get into trouble with drugs and crime, the group came together as a community to stop the slow downward slide. They cleared off an abandoned lot that had accumulated the trash of the adjacent market for years, dug two shallow wells, and opened up a car wash. Guys one the team chipped in 100 shillings for each day that they work at the car wash to pay for supplies and then take home all the money they make from washing cars that day. In the pictures on the right you see two of the guys washing down a coaster bus.
After the car wash became well established, they spread into another trash lot and turned it into a recycling centre (picture below with the goat). They charge people a nominal fee for trash bags and help clean up the neighbourhood. They then separate out the compostable waste and recyclables. They cash in on the fertiliser and bulk recyclables, but I think the most interesting bit is what they do with paper. In the picture above you see from left to right Frederick, Ndiso, and Rashid with their charcoal briquette maker. Mixing the paper with woodchips and charcoal powder they make little cooking bricks, which they sell.
The whole group of guys was exceptionally upbeat and made me believe that they were going to do whatever it took to make their community a better place. Also, they were notably diverse, a couple were descended from the original Nubian inhabitants of Kibera, while others came from a variety of Kenyan tribes. I hope if I ever am back in Nairobi that I have a chance to pay them another visit as they we’re certainly the highlight of this trip.
Monsimoni Community Centre
The other spot I visited was a community centre with a computer lab. Houses in Kibera can be as small as 10 feet by 10 feet, so a large open community centre is a valuable resource, especially for youth who might otherwise be getting themselves into trouble. The most remarkable bit was the computer lab – fitted out with 5 machines in a fairly unsecured building. The computers are plenty safe though as the centre is protected by the entire community, and particularly 22 young people who helped build the place and are now receiving valuable computer training for their efforts.
For 800 hours of service building the centre or working on other community projects, they young students receive a complete training course in basic computer usage including MS Office. The picture below is a couple of guys learning how to use Word. For every block of 800 hours they receive another training block, from advanced office to hardware repair. It’s a great win-win that uses minimal donor resources to mobilise the community and build a better future for those who are willing and able to do the most for building the area.
I was inspired by both projects. It was a level of community building and empowerment that I don’t see in my comfortable neighbourhood in London. To me it was a lesson that people may be materially impoverished, but true poverty is lacking hope – and the first step to fighting back against that is coming together and making something happen. It makes me want to get to know my own neighbours, something I’ve started doing since I came home.