We are greeted on the outskirts of the slum area, Kibera, by our local guide. He has grown up here and what looks like an impenetrable maze to us, to him, it is as familiar as his very own house. It’s Saturday, and on the field across the road, a football game is in full swing. A crowd has gathered to support the players and we are surprised to notice both teams are outfitted with uniforms as are the umpires. “Amani Kibera bought those uniforms”, our local guide tells us proudly. He explains that when Amani Kibera first started, its focus was on sport as a medium to bring people together to breed tolerance and harmony. The organisation established a football competition and kitted out teams and umpires with uniforms. It may not seem as vital as a water tank, but the sense of belonging this simple project gave to the young players is not to be underestimated. Each week these men must train and play, they are accountable to their fellow team members and that gives them the motivation to behave positively.
Our next stop is the library and we pick our way through the slums following our expert guide. All along the way kids stop what they are doing to shout a greeting “How are you, mzungu?!” Mzungu is Swahili for white person or foreigner. It’s not an insult, it’s just what they call us around here. Thankful for our sensible shoes, we reach a tin shack and step inside. It’s a little gloomy – windows have not been installed – but it’s full of students. A banner on the wall announces the shack as the Amani Kibera library. An older student is addressing some of the tables and I’m told he was the dux of his school last year and has volunteered to tutor students. But it’s not just senior students here; all ages from prep onwards have crowded into the library to study and seek assistance from each other with their homework. The librarian tells us disappointedly that he has had to turn some kids away this afternoon because there are already too many here. I think it’s excellent that the library is so popular but he sees it as a failure that they cannot accommodate everyone. The desperation for a larger facility is clear. The best we can do right now is donate some books, but promises are made to communicate in the future about potential fund raising and donations.
Our final stop for the afternoon is at the women’s centre. Here, young women who cannot go to school, make bead jewellery to sell at the market. There are a number of reasons why the girls have dropped out of school, whether it is because they have a baby or they simply cannot afford it, and Amani Kibera is working to get them back to school. Some they send to day school, and others to boarding school, depending on their circumstances (i.e. those from abusive families will always be sent to boarding school). For those girls that cannot go to school, Amani Kibera have established a fashion trade school. Any which way, these young women will be equipped with skills to ensure a brighter future. We spend quite a bit of time speaking with the young women about their achievements, aspirations and challenges and gain real understanding of what life might be like here in the slums.
It can be quite an intense experience to spend an afternoon in Kibera. But witnessing the positive work undertaken by Amani Kibera is inspirational. I will never forget my first visit to their projects, when I was overcome by the overwhelming sense that I had to share this with the world. And now to bring guests here to see it for themselves and have the opportunity to chat with those impacted by the work, gives me such joy. Local people working for their own communities is the most sustainable form of development, and to support Amani Kibera in doing this has become a personal imperative.