Kibera is Nairobi’s largest slum, and also the largest urban slum in the entire Africa. Official sources claims that 170’000 people are living here, but the actual number is probably closer to one or even two million people according to wikipedia.
The majority of the people in Kibera are living in extreme poverty, meaning they earn less than one US dollar a day. HIV and other diseaeses are common and the average life expectancy in the area is only 30 years, compared with 50 for Kenya in general. Amidst all this there is a school – Oloo children’s center – which houses 280 children of different ages on a surface that is not much bigger than the one floor of our house back home. Jessica, our trip arranger, has taken this school under her wing and today she showed us around in the slums and in the school.
We had planned that we would leave our hotel at 08:30, but when we looked out we saw some heavy rain going on. Therefore we decided to take it easy, and when we came out on the street 15 minutes later the rain had diminished to a quiet drizzle.
Jessica had planned that we would go with the local vans to Kibera. These 12-seater buses have room for at least 15 people and serves as some kind of public transport in Nairobi. Apparantly, there was a bus stop a short walk from our apartment, but before we reached it the rain had returned and Jessica had to stop a bus in the middle of the street who gladly picked us up against an extra rain fee. After a five minute bus ride on bumpy roads, the bus stopped at the edge of Kibera.
We were greeted by some sheds, selling goods – the butcher, the baker, shoeshiners and music vendors – they were all represented. I held on tight to the children and felt pretty insecure. Until today, the only white people I’ve seen down here were part of our group or were staying at the hotel, so you feel a bit odd when walking around on the streets.
And then we entered the slums.
Kibera consists of a huge number of shacks. These are built in a slope and since everybody throw thir trash on the ground you really want to live at the top as the rain takes all the crap with it downwards. The streets consist of trampled earth upon layers of garbish and there are many people in the movement. Our little group attracted many glances and many children looked wide-eyed at us.
Inside, there was a big commotion when we arrived. All the kids wanted to hug Jessica and we got to peek into all the classrooms. Closest to the door, the younger children in primary school were seated in their rooms. A little further in, the secondary studentw were seated, doing their maths. All of them were excited when we arrived and the teachers had a hard time to continue their lessons.
We stayed for just over an hour at the school. We got to meet the kids and those of our group who were a little more social sang with the kids and joined in to serve them food. My youngest son thought it was a bit scary with all the attention and I used him as an excuse to stay a bit in the background. Also in this school, there were animals, rabbits, hens and chickens sitting in cages or running around in the narrow little corridors between the classrooms or around the hole in the floor they called a toilet.
When we left school we followed the principal’s brother, Bernhard, down to their shed. It was a two-room apartment on 6×4 meters which he shared with 7 other people. They were very happy that they had two rooms. The common slum inhabitant has only one room of 4×4 meters to share with as many people. Bernhard earned as much in a month as our lunch cost today.
Again, it is incredibly exciting to see how people live and how different it is to our comfortable lives. On the way back, when we got out of the slums, we passed the same street as we arrived through. You know the one where I felt insecure when we got off the bus. This time the street felt safe and quiet, and we could even let the rest of the group get out of our sights for a while.
It’s all about perspective.