Today we had our last day of classes at Nairobi U med school. We had three guest lectures back to back to back. The first lecturer was a man who works with USAID. He pretty much just told us what they do in Kenya and we asked a ton of questions. It seems like they are making a pretty big difference in a lot of aspects life for Kenyans. The second was an awfully boring and poorly prepared lecture about micro-finance in Kenya Lia and Jen knew more about it than the lecturers and it was kind of embarrassing for them. The third was an informative talk about land and resource allocation by the government. I’ll definitely be able to work some of that presentation into my paper about the problems with governance here. He also made me think a lot about whether democracy is good or bad in Kenya. In a lot of situations, certain groups get marginalized and neglected because they are not the majority in the country and therefore do not win elections. The key problem with this is the culture of tribalism in the country but it made me think a lot. It is an interesting topic and I’d like to maybe research it in the fall and right a report on when democracy is good and when it is bad with different country examples.
Anyways, after class we drove to Mogra Star which is an organization that works just outside of the Mathare slum in Nairobi. They take in orphans from the slum and give them a place to sleep and feed them 365 days/ year. The kids also go to the school that Mogra Star has in the slum. We visited the school and walked through part of the slum after seeing the orphanage.
The school was four or five stories tall, old, leaky, and crammed with 900 kids.The hallways were about 3 feet wide so I can’t imagine how they manage getting from one class to another when class ends. We went in to each class from first grade to high school. Every time we were treated as celebrities. It was awkward and goofy. Some of the kids would just rub my arm so that they could touch me and as we left each classroom they would reach out the door to touch us again.
We pretty much just went into each class, said our names, and then left. It felt a little strange, we had no purpose in being there it was as if we were a show for them and they were a museum display for us. We just looked at each other, said very little and then walked away.
When we went to the slum I felt some of the same feelings. We waked through without much a purpose but to look around. It was dirty for sure, there was feces on the ground, trash everywhere, and kids running through the trash with bare feet and runny noses. Poverty was the museum exhibit and we were all allowed to look but not touch. It was very similar to Kibera in that there were shops and businesses all around. There definitely were not as many NGOs however. A volunteer at the orphanage pointed how much Kibera enjoys its celebrity status as the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. There is a 30:1 people to NGO ratio in Kibera which is unfathomable for a place that is still famous for the poverty that people live in. The truth is, is that many people in Kibera enjoy living there and want to raise their children there. Many of them work and make income, have TVs and pay rent as high as 3000 shillings a month. The people of Mathare seemed like they were not getting quite as much outside help as the people of Kibera and their standard of living appeared to be a little lower.
One thing that I am noticing is that you hear so much about these slums before coming to Africa, Kibera is painted as such a miserable place where in fact it seems to me that the rural people like the Maasai are struggling more than the slum dwellers. All they have is their land and their animals, some don’t even wear clothes. They are so isolated from society that they get neglected by the government and aid organizations where as Kibera, filthy as it is, has a network of organizations that help to provide health care, security, food, and many other necessities of life for the people that live there.
Basically every house in Kibera has a TV, most people get vaccinations, and other medical services, they can afford to pay high rent in comparison to other slums (3000ksh in Kibera vs. 400ksh in Mathare) and when you drive towards Kibera in the early evening the sidewalks are full with people in suits and business clothes walking from their day jobs back to their homes in Kibera. It is interesting that this is the place that people all over the world think of as the worst of the worst in terms of poverty, yet this is how they live. Definitely something to think about. Instead of living in the slum to enjoy the perks that come with the fame of Kibera, how can these people start to move out of the slums and into cleaner environments? It does not seem to be a goal of many people who live there, and in a sense you can’t blame them because of the attention they get on a daily basis from the thousands of aid organizations that work in the world famous slum.