28th October 2019

Kibera, Kenya

Louise Barea

During one of my travels I met a friend who introduced me to a work colleague of his. He was astounded with our work in Ghana and urged me to visit his hometown of Nairobi, Kenya. This was during a time when I was extremely busy prepping for a large project in Ghana, and the idea of starting Helpmelearnafrica elsewhere was something that seemed very far fetched. Later that month I gave it some thought, reconsidered and begun to plan my visit to Nairobi. Although Kenya is considered one of the most developed countries in East Africa, attracting tourists from all over the world due to its beautiful landscapes, wildlife and immense savannahs, deep in its capital of Nairobi lies Africa’s Largest slum, Kibera. With a population of over 1 million people living below the poverty line, this overcrowded and heavily populated slum was where I knew I had to be.

I had been advised not to attempt the slums the week I arrived in Kenya as there had been campaigns going on which I had been told can quickly turn ugly and the slums were considered unsafe and volatile, but I decided to go anyways.

I felt uneasy on arrival and kept looking over my shoulder, but after about half an hour I quickly settled in and I was introduced to Peter, better known as Asumbi. What can I say about Peter, other than the fact that not only was he welcoming but he made me feel safe at all times.

We delved deep into the slums , its  conditions were unimaginable, with a vast sewage drainage eliminating peoples houses, and rubbish that covered the streets . Despite this though, I was continuously greeted by people and children who wanted to hold my hand . There was so much life in this densely populated place; there were barber shops and bars made out of waste materials in every corner, medical centres that had queues of people waiting to be seen, phone shops full of all sorts of gadgets and grocery stores that sold everything from fruits and vegetables to pork and beef.

We visited over 6 primary schools and 3 orphanages and this was just a third of Kibera. Over 200 schools and orphanages are based in the slums which all depend on donations and Non profit organisations to keep them afloat. The schools were overcrowded with teachers overworked and orphanages that had water leaking from each area of its partly broken ceilings. Kids were sat on the streets because there was no space inside their homes to shelter them from the rain and dogs wandered the roads looking for any scrap of food they could find.

People were living in extremely confined spaces with no access to electricity or running water. They were sharing outdoor toilets and showers with over 50 people . The foul smelling odour of sewage was consistent throughout the slum, and the amount of rubbish that covered the streets made it hard to walk . Yet, although I was stunned by all this, I wasn’t taken aback by any of it, but the opposite actually, I felt there was still so much more to see. I think I felt the need to understand how hard life is for these people and figure out what best way to help them.

It’s shameful that as human beings we have failed so much that we turn a blind eye to the fact that people are actually living without access to clean water, toilets, showers or even basic human rights. Seeing such vast poverty impacted me on another level, and put many things in my life into perspective. A week prior to visiting Kibera I remember complaining that my water supply had been cut off and I wanted a warm shower. Bear in mind those who know me, know I have lived in basic conditions before in other countries and I can live without a warm shower, but what I am trying to say is that we get accustomed to living a certain way and forget that just a few hours away on a plane others haven’t eaten a meal or showered in weeks.

By day 3, I could hear my name being called through the narrow alley ways and children would shout my name and grab my leg, begging me not to leave. I did not want to leave, because i knew that I was going back home to my hot showers and warm bed. I felt so bad that I get the opportunity to live so lavishly whilst others have no choice but to try and survive. Every single person I met in Kibera was kind, respectful and humble and made me feel welcome. I started to really integrate myself with the community and tried to figure out what best way HelpmelearnAfrica could have an impact. The problem was there were so many schools, orphanages and people that needed help I had no idea where to start.

I am certain we can help Kibera, and I am confident we can change some lives. I am aware we cannot help 1 million people, but we can certainly help change the lives of a few hundred. I will be returning to Kenya in January, with hopes to continue my work and establish a project there for late 2020.