It was July 1st that we went to the largest slum in Africa.
5 square kilometers (3 square miles).
At least 1 million Kenyans.
This is Kibera.
We started out down the same road that we traveled to visit DHQ in the beginning of our trip but took an earlier left turn, going from a road that was full of merchants and stores selling everything from wild plants to handmade furniture to a dirt road that was small, secluded, and seemed rich - on your right, you can see muzungus playing polo on horses. Nate mentioned that this was supposed to be the largest slum, and none of us found it easy to believe that this road could end in something like that. Suddenly, the area opened up and we found ourselves looking at a huge space, containing row after row of identical mud sided, tin roofed buildings. We drove over a small stream, the banks colorful with what we realized was piles of garbage, mostly plastic bags, and saw goats, dogs, and people picking through it. The slum itself was like the other villages we'd visited, except very condensed and packed- we didn't know what small was at this point, because then we took a right turn down a sidestreet that was so slim, we could have reached out and picked the fruit we wanted to buy right out of the huts, or shaken the hands of the great number of people that were trying to squeeze by the safari van.
Soon the familiar red, yellow, and blue colors appeared on a wall in front of us and we were in front of Kibera Primary School. (Disclaimer: I may have to check some of these facts and names later). For attention's sake, I'll have to greatly summarize this experience. Here are the facts:
There are 7 teachers and about 90 children.
I believe around 10 of them are orphans.
A few of the children are HIV positive.
The cost for a single child to go to school there for a month is about 450 shillings. The exchange rate might be about 80 shillings to a dollar on a given day. Therefore, the cost would be roughly $6.
The school there is like a bubble. You forget what kind of poverty and living conditions are right outside the doors. We visited a few classrooms while they were in session, and were often greeted by a zealous blast of nursery songs, both Kenyan and American. I remember specifically a song that spoke about swallowing a penny and having to have surgery at the doctors and feeling better, and another about the wise owl. We didn't spend as much time with the kids as we would have liked, but we did talk to the officers and the staff, and to representatives from organizations that worked with the Salvation Army in that area. They pointed out the housing that had been provided by the government, which did help, but was a very small drop in the ocean. We also stepped outside into the actual slum for a few minutes to do a home visit. There were people outside cooking and boney dogs looking for scraps. We noticed a dead rat next to the wall. The actual house was an unbelievabely cramped space, but the mother and her two daughters that were present were dressed better than we were. We thanked them for welcoming us into their house, and asked for prayer requests to bring them before God.
So those were the logistics. Here's what we learned.
When we rode in with our matching lime green team shirts and wide eyes, I felt a strange emotion that goes along these lines - What are we doing here, and who do we think we are? We don't fit in here, and we don't understand. We came into that place expecting to bless others. Instead, we were blessed. We thought it was unbelievable that the school was surrounded by such poverty and unclean living - we learned to see that it was a miracle that a God-centered school where the children could receive an education was in a place such as that. We thought that the people in this place (and the others in the future) were poor - we learned that we were judging by materialistic standards, and that while some may not have much, they can be so rich in spirit. We learned that while money can help provide clean water and clothing, it can only go so far, and that the real answer is love and compassion and teaching the people how to take initiative and solve the problem themselves, instead of quickly providing a temporary solution.
"The owl sits in the oak
The more he listens, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why can't we all be more like the owl?"