Soccer, Scars and the Monkey in the car…

DSC00722Sixty soccer coaches congregating on scrub land belonging to the ironically  juxtapositioned Kenyan Scout ground can give the illusion that the sprawling urban chaos that is Kibera is some distance away. Such is the proximity of Kibera that a lengthy concrete perimeter security wall has been constructed, emphasising the economic chasm and social divide.

The coaches’ enthusiasm is infectious as is their ability to build bridges and develop social cohesion across tribal and territorial boundaries. Their influences upon the mainly male turf wars help provide a much needed positive outlet for controlled aggression and some healthy competition. Coaching skills are on the rise whilst respect and tolerance are being promoted. However the reality of Kibera is never far away and during one water break several lads could be seen comparing and admiring past bullet wounds scars.

Meanwhile a part open rear window of our local transport facilitated some much needed ventilation. Removing the curious monkey from the rear seats required a little more skill.

 

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These writings are penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.        

Two Pistols and a Fake Uniform…

DSC00351Crime rates in Kibera are unsurprisingly high although the gathering and collating of any useful and relevant data is fickle as government activity is noticeable by its absence unless an election is imminent. Police presence is practically non-existent. Low paid and overstretched, interfering with the complexities of Kibera can be hazardous and is often left to the community leaders or at worst the slum lords, gang leaders or mob rule. Gun crime is an accepted part of life, inevitably the darker consequences of which fall upon the young men who crave significance, purpose and belonging.

Jonathan turned up to the community centre church service fully loaded: Two pistols, ammunition and a fake police uniform. He waited his time and at a suitable break in the proceedings, he made his move. The startled leader was implored to accompany him to a respected police station away from Kibera where he wanted to hand himself and the tools of his trade in.

The previous few weeks’ events had gotten the better of him. His children had been attending the community centre’s free feeding program and he had a visit or two from people who just wanted to be kind.

Love wins.

 

 

These writings are penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.        

 

Moving a River…

dsc00517Informal housing settlements are just that. The dynamism and the darker elements of an unregulated heavily loaded land-market, a million or so souls who live hand to mouth in the illusion of trickledown economics and the irresistible urban pull-factors of the Nairobi capital conspire unrelentingly to the DNA of Kibera.

Partly constrained by government policy the inclined land was once deemed to be worthless and only suitable for rural migrants who were seeking a better life, are now inextricably linked to the urban pool of ‘economic’ labour. The ever increasing demand for slum space has produced some ingenious but temporary solutions. Precariously perching a second story upon current constructions relieves some of the land demand and creates rental income. The suck-it-and-see construction techniques can and do result in some horrendous consequences.

Such is the land demand, the heavily polluted river to the south is being challenged. The government strictly enforced natural slum boundary is being manually moved inch by inch. Knee deep in rancid rubbish and human waste, young men can be seen laboriously hacking the outer banks and rebuilding the internal banks to provide precious shack space.

The yet to arrive heavy rains will no doubt deliver their verdict ahead of any government intervention.

 

 

 

These writings are penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.        

Dennis and the Darkened Room…

DSC00699Average life expectancy in Kibera is around 35 years (sources vary); some 20 years below the rest of Kenya. A brain tumour with little respect for wealth or location and in a particularly cruel twist of fate snatched the life of Dennis’s sister at the tender age of 12. Dennis, who is not much older is grappling with his loss and at the same time provides stability and an income. He copes with a tenacity and wisdom of someone twice his age.

A visit to his home, deep within the Kianda district of Kibera was the minimum. The steep narrow dark alleyways that provide route to the tin and mud shack was alive with torrid waste; exacerbated by the recent heavy rains. Entering the tiny home, I respectfully left my sodden shoes at the cloth door and was greeted by the extended family, a makeshift hair saloon mid braid, and a live charcoal burner; all in a two metre square.

Seated like royalty and implored to “say something” is a recipe for internal terror and a mouth disconnect. Eternal silence was broken by my disparate words. Dennis thanked us for our time; his sister still had to be returned to his rural home for burial…

 

 

 

 

These writings are penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.        Dave Boni.

Underground Overground…

dsc00522With minimal warning government plant has unceremoniously razed to zero scores of the tin shack dwellings to excavate a two metre diameter trench along the slum perimeter outlined by the foul water stream.  Flying toilets, (excrement in a bag, centrifugally launched post use) is the preferred method of waste disposal as visiting the few pay-as-you-go pit latrines implies a cost and demands a stomach of impossible strength. These are serviced and slopped out by shovel into honey wagons by  super-humans who presumably have become immune to inevitable heat-fuelled stench.

In place of the demolition, a newly laid preformed concrete sewer has been installed for the needs of the entrepreneurial developers of the surrounding higher and flatter land whose government leases are up for grabs by the highest bidder. There is no service to the Kibera residents of course; Juxtapositioning with irony of  teeth-kicking proportions.

Proponents of trickledown economics would point out that the nearly buried sewer pipes provide new opportunities as the tiny strips of land are hurriedly covered with rubble and rebuilt with stick and mud dwellings ready for rent. The strongest and mightiest on the slum would agree.

 

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(The team have now returned to the UK and are continuing to support the developmental projects via the web. The real work takes place by those who continue to live and work on Kibera, selflessly putting the training and projects into action on a daily basis.)

Toothpaste…

dsc00521The finer points of the community health care (CHC) training can, on the surface seem mundane and obvious and although gaps in knowledge and understanding are unpredictable and astonishing it is the application that presents the challenge. Couple this with ‘traditional’ knowledge, the witch doctor and ‘mother knows best’, progress can be asthmatic at times and the miss-application of part-knowledge truly terrifying.

Whilst visiting a fledgling school that somehow functions with valiant voluntary teachers in dusty, tiny hot tin shacks with near zero resources and in the noisy shadow of a ramshackle charcoal factory, I was summoned into a family home. The tiny informal shacks present impossible challenges and the open-fire water pan had become dislodged midnight, emptying its boiling contents onto a toddler sleeping inches away. The physical damage to sixty percent of the child’s back defied description. The application of toothpaste in the mistaken belief in its medical properties was dumbfounding. The toddler was beyond tears.

Clearly there is still some work to do.

 

 

 

(This article is not meant as criticism of those concerned but to highlight the real life challenges that face the residents of Kibera daily. The toddler concerned was later taken to a clinic and the expenses covered. The toddler’s physical injuries are in recovery; the mental trauma is going to take a while longer.)

Beautiful Intentions…

dsc00532 The recent whiff of alleged financial impropriety and questionable integrity clearly does not limit itself to the upper echelons of English soccer. The demand for the Kibera football academy for coaches was outstripping supply and meaningful progression under the capable boots of our UK trainers.

Rumours abounded of personal financial interest and darker motives by the resident Kibera Saints Coaches who coordinate communication on this fragment of the vast Kibera slum. Nothing could be further from the truth of course as our local coordinators work tirelessly with a number of teams entirely voluntarily. School attendance, conflict resolution, sexual health, respect and gang culture are all part of the post training talks and gun crime is noticeably reduced in the locality.

The training on the rough land adjacent to the slum continued raucously under the unforgiving Kenyan sun. The dust, the baboons, and a wedding proved only minor inconveniences to the training. The warthog kept his distance.

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The Number Games.

dsc00501Subject overview matrices, lesson planning, development and learning outcome assessments are in integral and important part of ensuring consistency and quality of delivery and learning in any teaching environment. Predicting the likely turnout in Kibera across the three teaching streams is a conundrum of Rubik proportions.

The micro enterprise development team forged on valiantly with their sixty plus strong turnout. (Fifteen were predicted) as they grappled with the finer points of developing fledgling businesses with the support of micro loans, whilst exploring USPs and the rudiments of basic book keeping. Entrepreneurial spirit is in plentiful supply; access to basic financial services is practically none existent. Shylock  loans have incalculable interest rates attached to brutal summary justice consequences, which are likely to knock the wind out of a green shoot business well before the breakfast chapatti and chai.

Four percent per day (not unusual for a one day tomato seller loan) compounded for three hundred and sixty five days without any repayment on a five dollar Kenyan Shilling equivalent loan results in a staggering eight million plus dollar debt.

Without a seismic attitude change and some serious support, the poor and disadvantaged will stay precisely that.

 

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The Wifi Revolution…

dsc00560Public services and useable utilities in Kibera are patchy at best and realistically none existent for most. Africa’s largest ‘informal settlement’ is acknowledged in part as a source of economic labour for the Nairobi metropolis, and as a persistent migraine by the overstretched authorities. Ignore it long enough and it might go away. The recent introduction of formal electricity is offset by rampant single wire syphoning whilst earthing through metal ground stakes or iron shack walls; shocks are common and sometimes lethal to the young and the frail. Flying toilets are still rampant, clean water is precious, the police avoid the narrow allies and accidental fires are dealt with by the residents destroying their own dwellings.

Despite this there is an optimism and determination that is both inspiring and infectious. The cell phone revolution allows contact with families in the remote rural villages, provides a conduit to casual work, and access to ‘electronic banking’ via M Pesa or trading using the transfer of phone credit. The introduction of cheap Chinese smart phones could be a portal to a whole new world and from the comfort of the west it is easy to criticise financial priorities for those that survive on so little. Way ahead of the game free wifi (power permitting) is being offered at our community centre for six hours on a Saturday afternoon without limitation.

To educate, elucidate and communicate; the only requirements is for sobriety and to be weapon free.

 

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Ethiopian Spirit…

The first Ethiopian 787 Dreamliner is pulled into its parking spot prior to a VIP flight to Mt Kilimanjaro. note the new titles.

Just how a country with a GBP of 500 US dollars per capita and whose economy is nearly fifty percent rooted in agriculture supports the largest airline in Africa remains an enigma.   Boasting several new plastic Dreamliners and one of the youngest fleets of any airline, the “New Spirit of Africa” sports a livery that is virtually unique in the sprawling chaos that defines the Addis Ababa hub.

Economic challenges prevail as do the need to transport one third of a metric tonne of teaching equipment, donations and personal luggage. “The New Spirit of Africa” obliged without flinching; the Kenyan customs however discerned a financial opportunity. Focussing on a suitcase of deflated soccer balls, a protracted negotiation on their tax value took place in private, whilst the rest of team awkwardly portrayed normal in the concourse.

After all these years of African adventure, the question “How much would you be happy to pay sir?” does not sit comfortably sans-witness and whilst the source of the enquiry is armed.

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