Lucy Kawiya escorted Zipporah, Vicky, and myself to their rescue home inside Kibera slum. Along the way we passed the offices of Carolina for Kibera (http://goto.gg/kibera-slum-develoment/), another GlobalGiving partner that works in Kibera. Within two more blocks you can find Hot Sun foundation (http://goto.gg/kenya-slum-filmmaking/) and a few other NGOs.
I looked up at the iron roofs atop the makeshift housing on this dirt street. Some of these shacks had TV antennas, and one even had a satellite dish.
“You see that?” I said, pointing them out to Lucy.
“It kinda complicates the typical impression outsiders have of slums.”
“That’s why we tell people, ‘Just come here and walk around. See for yourself where we work.’”
The Kibera slum is actually many villages connected by dirt paths, clusters of shacks that could blow over in a storm. but within these 13 communities of tens of thousands you’ll find some wealth, a lot of cell phones, and many attitudes. Many NGOs have visited to collect feedback, and the people don’t speak with one voice. In fact, we were the fourth group to visit a nearby girls’ centre in the last 3 months. Such a complex environment calls for some new approaches, and a way to share more of these stories.
That afternoon, we saw a dozen children in the rescue center. One boy (about age 12) was drawing a face. He was obviously a talented artist.
“I just wish we could help him pursue arts more,” Lucy said.
“What about posting your question to the Map Kibera site?” We were helping promote one recent effort to share community information locally, using cell phones and the website http://kibera.ushahidi.com. People can ask a question, make an announcement, or just offer a general comment and it will be posted. Some who sign up for text-message updates can follow villages or topics that interest them. We'll also be posting the stories we collect in kibera.
Lucy handed her phone to Miriam, the head teacher at their nursery school. “You do this. I’m not one with technology yet.”
Miriam wrote: [something like] We have an artist at St. Vincents. Does anyone know about an art program where he can get more training in Kibera? [My computer got hit with viruses so I can't read the exact message off the site right now.] She signing up for SMS-updates, so that if anyone replies, she'll get it on her phone.
The St. Vincent’s Nursery school was a colorful little house on the edge of Soweto village (Kibera) that serves 87 kids ages 3 to 7. Mini tables and chairs in blue, green, red, and bright yellow filled the three classrooms.
I was happy to see color, as I explained color’s importance to Lucy.
“I’ve read that children learn better in a colorful environment. And yet so many schools are just gray cinderblocks. Mandela wrote in his biography about his prison. He said it wasn’t the walls but the absence of color that made him feel the most imprisoned. Gray walls, gray food, gray uniforms, and gray skies. Always the absence of color. Thankfully, this nursery school was vibrant, although empty for the Easter break.”
We met under the round shady bantaba in the back and shared stories as part of our training. Throughout the afternoon, several other people dropped by, including Havier and Cathryn – who Australian volunteers who are starting a sort of Montessouri school in the area with the guidance of St. Vincent’s.
Cathryn shared one story. I didn't transcribe it exactly, but from my memory, she said that a few years ago she was walking though a slum in Nairobi and she came to a rickety bridge over a rushing river.
She turned to her husband. “Is this safe to cross?”
“Probably not,” he said.
It wasn’t what she wanted to hear, she said. After crossing, she noticed a run down shack on the edge of the water built on a hill. It looked like it could collapse at any moment. He peeked through a hole in the wall and was shocked to see it was an informal school. Dozens of kids were inside learning. She opened the door into this dark place and the sunlight blinded them.
“I couldn’t just leave it as is. We helped them move to a better place.”
Recently, she passed by that same place where the shack-school used to stand. Heavy rains had come, and the building had collapsed and washed into the river.
“I hate to think what would have happened to the children if we hadn’t given a little money to move the school,” she concluded.
She titled her story, “It doesn’t take much money to make a big difference.”
I was inspired by St. Vincent’s staff, these volunteers, and the several community members that we met along the way. Earlier this week, when I asked Lucy to explain to other NGO staffers at a meeting how they got on GlobalGiving in last November’s Open Challenge, she says “it was a miracle. We were in desperate need of funding and we used GlobalGiving as an opportunity to reach out to all our past supporters.” On behalf of Lucy, Miriam, and others, I’ll thank you for the “miracle” that you made possible by giving a little something to St. Vincent’s in Kibera.