Meanwhile back in 2010 on my first visit to Nairobi I met Ben. A woman I had met while travelling in Mozambique had given me Ben’s details to contact him when I got to Nairobi. Ben and his friends run a local NGO called Amani Kibera – Kibera is the name for the slum area of Nairobi and Amani means Peace. It was established in the wake of the post-election violence in 2008 to promote peace in the slums, where much of the inter-tribal violence had taken place.
Amani Kibera runs a football camp for children and has established a football league in Kibera. They supplied teams with shirts and uniforms for the umpires. This simple project has fostered a sense of belonging for the young people, giving them motivation and inspiration to move forward. When I first met Ben, he was talking about a library Amani Kibera was planning. It was a much bigger project than they had taken on before, but a very important one that needed to be achieved soon.
When I returned to Nairobi in May 2011, I called Ben and we arranged to meet for nyama choma a typical Kenyan weekend meeting. Literally it means “meat barbeque”, but practically it means “tough old goat”. You order your meat by the kilo and it is simply chopped off the carcass in the appropriate amount, with fat, bone, and some meat if you are lucky. It is presented on a tray diced into bite-size pieces which you pick with your hands, dip in the pile of salt on the side of the tray and chew….. and chew….. and….chew. If you want to get more exciting you can order side dishes of ugali (maize meal porridge),githeri (beans and maize) or kienyeji (mashed potato with maize). A cold Tusker (Kenyan beer) is a necessary accompaniment, whereas the vegetables are very optional.
So while I chewed, Ben caught me up on Amani Kibera’s accomplishments. The library was open! It wasn’t the final product, but it was an interim solution so the students had somewhere to go. Book club was running every Saturday afternoon and tutorial sessions were also being held regularly. I was so excited and happy about this news and immediately started making plans to visit the library the next weekend – I wanted to see Book Club in action!
Our conversation was lively and excited and as happens in lively, excited conversations, hare-brained schemes arise. The phrase “philanthropic tourism” was bandied around a bit too casually as we developed an idea of bringing tourists to share Amani Kibera’s achievements. Funding is a constant struggle for many local NGOs and indeed Ben and the Amani Kibera team spend a lot of time writing grant submissions to fund their projects. They were also battling with building a donation facility (through PayPal) into their website. But what if we brought tourists to have a look at the library and if they wanted to donate they could very easily do it in person, rather than through a dodgy internet connection?
The next weekend I visited the library. In its current form, it is basically a tin shed tacked on the side of a school. It has 20 seats, with most of the space being taken up with bookshelves. But there were many more than 20 students in there. A tutorial was in progress, but there were children of all ages studying. The librarian was losing heart because it had got to a stage where he had to turn kids away because the library was too full. But I was inspired. This was what I had come to Africa for. Here are children who have little opportunity, but what they do have they grab with both hands and make the most of it. While I was there I was overcome with the feeling that this place had to be shared. People have to see it and it’s my job to show it to them. Overland Travel Adventures moved from being a concept to having a mission.
I donated a copy of “Wuthering Heights” while I was there, I hope at least one student will enjoy it.