A few days ago I came to Kenya to kick off GlobalGiving’s latest experiment in community feedback – the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project. Everyone has a story about a community effort they witnessed. Too often these stories of social change and attempts to lift up the community don’t travel far. So we’re training groups of people to go out and ask, “do you want to join the storytelling project?”
Our first stop: The Hot Sun Film School in Kibera – Nairobi’s largest slum. I prepped seven of their students on how invite people on the street to tell stories.
We’re asking, “Can you tell me about a community effort you have seen? What happened? And what would you say to a friend to either encourage or discourage him from trying the same thing?” A “community effort” is anything that a person or organization tries to do to improve his community. Sorry, there isn’t a better name for it in english yet.
As practice, several of the youths shared stories:
Victor: I knew this guy who was in Kibera and did not have enough food to eat. And there was just no place for crops here. One day he got the idea to collect soil elsewhere in large plastic bags and take them here, so he could plant kale. Then he ate some and sold rest.
Gabriela: Okay. So you have these kids who clean up the streets, picking trash. But those in Kibera, they often do it in the neighborhoods where people have more money…. One day they gathered all the trash in a neighboring slum and collected some money. But at the end of the day they returned home to Kibera and there was still trash everywhere. I wished for once they would clean up our own streets.
Although these stories are brief, the follow-up questions helped us reveal more to life in Kibera:
Victor’s story (kale planters) would seem to only benefit one or few people, but he opined that it benefitted the community on a social level, because this unemployed man served as a role model. “I think others liked it, because normally they complain about the youths that sit around doing nothing, and here you have one with an idea and helping himself,” he explained.
Gabiella’s story (trash removal for cash) could have been about health and the environment, but unpacking the elements revealed that this was really about economic empowerment. Unemployment exceeds 50% in Kibera, and so poverty motivated these youths to travel across the city to clean up a richer, cleaner neighborhood instead of helping their own. Those who benefited most were outsiders, in Gabriella’s view, and hence she believed the community at large was somewhat divided on whether they liked this project.
I imagine that as we collect thousands of stories like this, the priorities of the people in Kibera will become quite clear. And when these stories are a public resource available to you, organizations, and the communities themselves, we might see Kibera differently. I hope it helps us better meet the needs of the people. I take Gabriella’s story as a reminder that cleaning up slum is less important to the people than finding them work.
For some of these film students, the results of the survey were immediate. Although Hot Sun teaches Kibera kids and shoots in Kibera, they don’t interact with strangers much. One told me this was one of the few times they had interacted with the very people whose lives they try to capture in movies. Without a script or camera crew, some of them found experience much harder, but helpful.
“We could be taking these stories and developing storyboards out of the good ones,” one said.
“It is great practice on learning how to draw people out,” another noted.
Later I learned the extent to which tribal conflict affects everything in Kibera. One of the seven was of the wrong tribe, and had been run out of Kibera in 2007. Last year, the community apologized and – miraculously – returned his house and stolen furniture. But the next day I met someone who was not so lucky. She is still afraid to return to work in Kibera, even though she had helped thousands of people and dozens of local organizations there over the years. She too was chased out in 2007 for being from the wrong tribe. This is a tough neighborhood. And that is precisely why we are here, gathering stories, ensuring that everyone’s voice is being heard.
Stay tuned for an update from the Hot Sun Foundation, as tomorrow they graduate their first class of 8 film students!