Day 6 – Kibera

Today we sampled the Health curriculum by making a visit to the slums, or informal settlements, of Kibera. Kibera is a Manhattan sized chunk of land dominated by tin, stone and mud huts. It is home to over 700,000 people, 250,000 of which are children. There is a complete lack of infrastructure in this area and robberies, rapes and muggings are prevalent at night. We had a short lecture at the Carolina For Kibera center which is run by UNC and student volunteers. The staff briefed us on the work they do informing people about safe sex, diseases, violence, and other social problems. CFK is working very hard to improve life in Kibera. We were then split into groups of four and given a tour of the slums with one of the local woman. Ana was our guide. She was 25 years old and had a daughter named Melissa who was 6 months old. Our walk into Kibera was eye opening, an absolute culture shock. I have never seen anything like it before, nor do I believe will I ever see anything worse. There was trash everywhere, the air smelled like sewage. The movie The Constant Gardener has a few scenes in this area, so I knew what I was getting into, but I never imagined it would be this bad. The entire horizon was covered rusted tin shacks snaked with small alleys of packed red earth. The alleys are filled with trash, foul smelling streams slip down the sides of streets, cats, dogs and chickens wander aimlessly searching for food, children splash in puddles of sewage- its unbelievable. We followed Ana through the narrow alleyways to our first stop which was the health center. On a busy day the health center can see up to 200 people. The health center was four small rooms in an alley that was maybe 5 feet wide and 20 feet long. The nurses were too busy to talk, so we simply watched them work. Next we followed Ana deeper into Kibera to the house of a young woman and her daughter. The house was ten by ten, it had a sheet for a door, a ratty carpet covered the dirt floor and the room contained a single couch. The young woman had a daughter who was two months old with a cast on her leg. She told us that one day she was cleaning and a chair tipped back and broke the child’s leg. The child could hardly move as she lay on a small pillow, her cast was covered in dirt and feces, it was very sad. The woman did not have any milk so she only had water to give to the baby. As part of our visit we delivered baskets of food, so we left a basket with her and continued our journey through Kibera. The children in the streets were very friendly, we were greeted by all of them with “How are you?” to which we respond “Fine, how are you?” and then they respond “How are you?” It was one big circle and very cute. At one time we’d have up to a half dozen children following us, yelling “Wazungu!” which means ‘white people.’ They all wanted to shake our hands and say hello; they were absolutely adorable. We followed Ana to her house which was also 10 by 10 feet and similarly furnished. Ana made sure we all had seats and then she told us about her life and what it is like in Kibera. She had been living in Kibera for two years. The rent for her house and most others is 1000 shillings plus 500 for electricity, which is usually one light bulb. 1500 shillings is equal to about 20 USD. The landlords come once a month to collect it and they are not lenient on late payments. We met Ana’s sister, Vivian, who was very shy. She told us a little about her school and her favorite subject, which was History. We left Ana with a basket of food and she told us we were welcome back anytime. On our walk back we met dozens more children who continued to greet us and follow us back to the CFK center. We didn’t have any problems with the adults, most of them simply waved to us. A few other groups had people ask them for money, which is natural. The trip to Kibera was an eye opening experience. It forced me to realize that I had no idea what poverty really was. I don’t think I’d be able to handle working in Kibera. It takes a very strong person to devote themselves to those conditions and in my mind all those who do are heroes. The rest of the night at the compound was like every other, but I found myself enjoying each bit of food and every drop of running water just a little bit more than before.

More tomorrow.

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