Thursday, 3 November 2011

Kenya (6)

On Monday and Tuesday morning our party was based at the Samburu Game Lodge for some rest and relaxation, stunning scenery and fantastic wildlife. I will post a separate account of our time at the reserve with photos but I want to record a big thanks to John Doherty who helped arrange our stay and was on hand to give us information on the wildlife. John is based at the Samburu reserve where he heads up the Reticulated Giraffe Project.

After a game drive on Tuesday morning our party headed back to Nairobi with a six hour drive made even longer by hitting the city’s rush hour traffic again. Some of the scenes on the way were pretty hair raising, though nothing topped the sight of groups of school children trying to cross six lanes of under construction motorway full of speeding traffic. The evening was spent unwinding from the journey over an enjoyable pizza and Tusker beer.

There was another early start Wednesday morning to prepare for a visit to Kibera. Kibera is referred to as an ‘informal settlement’ and is the second largest urban slum in Africa. The exact size of the population is difficult to assess as NGOs, the Kenyan government, Nairobi authorities and other groups use different figures depending on their perspective and interests. Our visit was St jeromes Kiberaled by Colin Smith of the Kibera Centre for Urban Mission. After a short briefing from Colin we headed to Kibera, left our vehicles and travelled into the settlement on foot. We split into small groups and were escorted by members of St Jerome Church and the urban mission centre. We were able to visit people’s homes, the church and the centre and talk to those living in Kibera as well as those working in the community. There was also time to do some reflection with Colin on the experience of our visit and to chat with some of those working at the centre.

CUT KiberaNo briefing could adequately prepare one for the experience of visiting the settlement, nor for hearing about the lives of those dwelling in the community. Just a few of the facts about the place drove home the hardships and exploitation faced by the people living there. For example, those living in Kibera pay eight times what other Nairobi residents pay for their water. Despite paying taxes the residents receive none of the public utilities, the settlement is not policed and though there is the promise of a solid waste management provision nothing has happened. The U.N. provided large amounts of money to improve housing but there is little evidence that the money is being used in this way effectively. Many public officials and politicians seem to have a vested interest in maintaining Kibera including those acting as landlords to many of the residents of the houses which are little more than shacks in the settlement.

Despite all the hardships the residents of Kibera maintain a recognisable social structure, with distinct villages, law and order and schooling provided internally and with no external aid from the authorities. Organisations, including the churches and NGOs such as MSF, provide some health care and the settlement has developed its own economy. It seemed to us as we walked around that everyone ran some sort of business or service as a way of surviving. Yet, the open sewers and drainage, cramped living conditions and lack of amenities has a devastating effect on the residents and particularly on the young.

The churches and the Centre for Urban Mission are working hard not only at helping the residents of Kibera to develop skills and education, they are also developing theological insights and approaches relevant to the indigenous population. This includes drawing on the liberation theology concept of base communities, though not in an uncritical way. The Centre for Urban Mission runs modules for theology students and ordinands and is developing an M.A. programme in the face of limited resources and cramped facilities which reflect the character of Kibera.

This was the last morning of our stay in Kenya and the visit to Kibera was possibly the most challenging part of our time in the country as we returned to the luxury of our hotel for lunch and to prepare for our late night flight back to the U.K.. Lots to process and reflect on and I am so grateful to Colin and his team for the time they gave to enable us to experience first hand the conditions in Kibera, though our visit barely scratched the surface.

Our final day in Kenya ended with an early dinner before heading off to Nairobi airport and our overnight flight back to Heathrow. I’ll post some photos and further reflections in the coming days.

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