Lake District 24 Peaks in 24 Hours – Friday 16th – Sunday 18th July 2021August 27, 2019
Sanitary Pad ProgrammeOctober 7, 2019
Ten Letters from Kibera
a series of letters written by one of our School of Hope students.
FIRE IN THE HOOD
There are many threats to our lives in the slums which can be traumatizing however one of the most feared, especially in the Summer months is that of fire. This is feared as it can take out whole communities within a hour or two and this is because of a lack of space and tiny houses made of corrugated iron, mud and timber all crammed together with only narrow alleyways separating them. Shacks are constantly liable to fire due to faulty electrical connections often illegal and also due to the problem of open charcoal stoves in the corner of the shack.
Each shack can be the living space for 5, 6 or more people and when fire strikes many people can lose their homes. Recently there was a fire just near my shack. Due to the lack of space the fire fighters when they eventually arrived couldn’t do much to help or rescue many of the inhabitants so some people died in the fire and many lost their properties and had to spend the night in the streets. Some of the churches and mosques put up some of them. The fire started at around 8:30pm at night which made it hard for the neighbour’s to come to help because of security reasons. The fire was eventually subdued at around midnight but the damage to property was enormous
Incidents like this can have huge consequences on people.
No-one is insured due to unaffordability and subsequently many students have dropped out of school because everything they had was burnt down and their parents have to start from scratch again so they have to work to take care of food and shelter before considering the luxury of school.
TEENAGE PREGNANCY IN THE SLUMS
Laini Saba is a locality in the slum of Kibera. This is where I was brought up and is the basis for much of what I know of this world. It is a densely populated area which has no race or ethnical issues since the place has people from diverse background. Here I meet people that I grew up with becoming close friends to most of the girls and also some boys. We used to play around in our childhood totally carefree but most of these people especially the girls are now mothers to several kids.
There are different incidents that I know of and will share just one of these stories with you as it is a touching story about a girl called Nancy. She was my friend in primary school and although we were not that close, she was well known in the school for her courage. Unfortunately, she got involved with a young boy who was a school drop out and also a thief. The boy used to give her presents that she would never have been able to normally afford and soon they became intimate. The girl was so in love with the boy that by the age of 14 she became pregnant. She then took her exams almost nine months pregnant when we where in class eight finishing our primary school level certificate. After several weeks the boyfriend, the supposed husband was burned to death for robbery with a tyre necklace with petrol placed over his head. The emotion of this made her so physically weak, depressed and emotionally unstable that she decided to get involved with another man almost as a comfort and for security. Within another nine months she had given birth to another child belonging to her second boyfriend. Since she was not employed and had not completed her education she was staying at home with her two children waiting for the boyfriend to provide everything.
The boyfriend became tired of her and started violating her; beating her black and blue every now and then and abusing her but she had no where to go to so she just stuck around and soon gave birth to a third child by the age of 16. In no time the boyfriend forced her out of the house so she was left to fend for herself and her children in the streets. She had no surviving family as her mother had died and her father had gone away so she started selling herself to provide for her children and herself and in no time she contracted the HIV Aids virus. She slept carelessly to make money for the pain she felt, not minding who she slept with but just to earn money.
Nancy, a mother of three is now living/dying with HIV Aids, her children have been removed from her and taken to an orphanage and she is now on her death bed counting her remaining days.
This is just one story about a girl, one of many in my slum settlement, about teenage pregnancy and the effect that it has on teenage girls who do not have the means of earning a living by not having a complete education. If Nancy had achieved an education she would have been free to make better life choices.
This is written by a girl who advanced from one of our “Schools of Hope” to College in Nairobi and is now studying Community Development.
The first advice I will give you when you visit me in the slum is – do not be sick while you are here. You must stay healthy, otherwise you will know trouble like you never have before.
I know you will not listen to me and even if you did you will still get sick as you can’t help it and will likely to be sick with a variety of different ailments. First you will run a fever, next you will probably suffer nausea and feel dizzy and then maybe you will have problems with your bowels.
We will not be rushing you to the hospital. Oh no! For a start there are no hospitals in the slum and anyway they cost too much and what is the need, we have seen these symptoms many times before, we all get sick and we know the exact cure for what you are suffering from. We will use a herbal concoction, it is very popular here as it cures 40 diseases! We call it Muarubaini (this is Swahili for forty). We boil for several hours the buck of the neem tree with fresh bones from a cow. This concoction will be served to you in a big mug; you must drink it all down without putting the cup down. It is more bitter than anything you could ever imagine; but the bitter taste is good for killing the germs or so we are all told. You will go temporarily deaf – but have no fear within a day or two your hearing will be back and the feeling of sickness will be gone!
If after two days you have not sweated out the illness, and you do not have any money, you are in big trouble however here in the slums, we always support each other. We will spread the word that someone is sick and needs help. We will place a bowl at the front of our house and friends will drop money into it – a penny or two but it all adds up. In a few hours we will hopefully have enough to take you to a doctor at the County Government Hospital.
Now the big job will be to carry you from the slum to the hospital – remember there are no roads getting into the slum just rough muddy small paths between the houses. But we are creative people; we will pull out a blanket, wrap you with it and get two strong men who are not working that day to carry you. There is never a shortage of volunteers for this job; as we move around the village, many people will step in and take turns carrying you. Soon my friend, you will be at the entrance of the County hospital, with a large crowd escorting you to the doctor’s office. This crowd will compete to inform the doctor what is wrong with you; some clever ones will even suggest the kind of medicine the doctor should prescribe for you. It will go like this “Doctor, we have brought our friend here, who has malaria, just give him some quinine and he will be well again” others will dispute this diagnosis and say “our friend here has typhoid, please give him antibiotics and he will be fine”. The doctor will need to call the hospital guards to push out all these bare footed doctors in order for him to hear and examine you.
Once the crowd has been successfully evicted, then you will have your turn to speak to the doctor; in a few minutes you will have a prescription in your hands, you will pay for your medicine and the crowd of sympathizers will escort you home.
There will be many stops on the way home as those who did not get to accompany you are updated on what they have missed out. Once at home, there will be many visitors coming by to check on you and to find out if the medicine is helping you, someone suffering similar symptoms might even stop by to share your medicine!
HOUSING IN KIBERA AND THE GHETTOS OF NAIROBI
Now that you have come to know me quite well (through my past letters) I will welcome you to our home. I informed you earlier that I live in Kibera which is Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. I forgot to mention that I have lived here since birth. My father gives us tales of how he left the Northern part of Kenya to escape poverty and settled in the city. Hmm, he had so looked forward to finding a nice job, finding himself a nice house and settling his family.
But unfortunately my father had not gone to school and it was impossible for him to find a good job. So he moved to Kibera and was helped by people from his village (who had come to the city before him) to find a job as a night guard. He married my mother and had five children.
Sorry I was taking you on a tour of our house.
We are now at the door; as we go in, please mind your head, as the door is low, if you are not careful the beam will hurt you. Now that you are standing inside our house, it is okay to lift up your head. The room you see in front of you is our whole house. I hear people say it is 10 x 10 feet!
Welcome anyway, you may take the seat. This is our living space. The sofa you are sitting on is also where my two sisters and I sleep at night but by the day, it is our living room. Remove your shoes and cool your feet on our PVC carpet, we are among the lucky households that have a nice carpet. Our floor is earth, it is cheaper to rent a house without a real floor and improvise to make yourself comfortable. It may seem dark in here as there is no window, we share walls with our neighbors so there is no place for a window; the wall facing the street has the door, we could leave it open but then every Tom, Dick and Harry passing by would poke their noses (and heads) into our business. At night we light a homemade kerosene lamp, which we hang on the wall, it is not enough light for reading but at least we are able to see each other faces!
I promised you a tour but since you can see the whole house from where you are sitting, you do not need to rise up. On your left, the corner that you see is our kitchen, we use a charcoal burner, we take it out to light on the street, (we don’t like smoke in our house) and we bring the stove back into the house when it is well lit. That corner of the house is a no go zone for young children, many children in our slum have fallen into the evening meal or boiling water! It is a real disaster, if the burns are just slight, a volunteer community health worker will be called to bandage the wounds, they will charge 50 Kenya Shillings but if the burns are severe, then the child will be taken to a nearby health clinic mostly run by an NGO for treatment. If the Mother has to stay home and watch this child, then the family income is so reduced, they cannot have two meals in a day. But there are far more serious accidents; in some homes, especially where children are in charge, they forget to put off the charcoal burner before going to sleep at night, some have been killed by Carbon Monoxide fumes and in some cases there have been house fires that wiped out whole families and their neighbours.
When the food is cooked, we pour it all out into a large tray and we sit on the floor where you have now placed your feet and enjoy our meal. It our culture, everybody eats together from the same plate or tray. This dining space is also the sleeping area for my two brothers; and also the bathing area for the whole family. My brothers place their mattress on the floor at night and remove it during the day. This is our fun space too; we sit and listen to our battery powered radio after our mid day meal and if our parents are not home, we even practice our dance moves.
The curtain sheet you see in front to you separates the space where our parents sleep with the rest of the house. This is our parents’ space but we all store our clothes here, we have a rope running from one side of the wall to the opposite wall, we hang the clothes on it. Dirty clothes are hung on one side and clean ones on the other side.
Do not glance under our parents’ bed that is where everything else is stored; our school bags, shoes, washing basins and our water in jerrycans. We take turns bringing the water home from a ½ a mile away. You need to be up at 5:30 am if it is your turn, crawl out quietly, making sure you do not step on anyone on your way out; hurry to the water kiosk and queue with others. We use a 20 litre container which we balance on our heads and hurry home in time for breakfast.
I am almost done with the tour; I need to quickly end this, before you ask to use our bathroom. That question is always met with silence, and then we glance at each other. Our parents space is our bathroom; We will give you the plastic bag that we sometimes use, or the bucket that we all relieve ourselves in and empty once a day and point for you to move behind the curtain and do your thing, because you are a guest and we do not want to embarrass you, we will wait outside!
Cases of rape are almost common day occurrences in places such as Kibera.
It’s no longer such a big deal to hear of incidences for any young girl living here.
RAPE IN THE SLUMS OF KIBERA
Recently a one-year-old child was raped to death by three men and that horrifically even included the baby’s father. The medical investigation done on the child shows that although the father denied the charge and refused to make a statement the medical evidence and the statements by witnesses indicate otherwise. The frustrated mother was sobbing bitterly when describing the occurrence. She explained that she had a quarrel with her husband after which the husband angrily chased her out of the house. When she came back in the morning she found her daughter’s body laying lifeless on the ground. Despite the police having clear evidence, the father appears to be walking freely in the neighbourhood.
Just living in the vicinity of such people and knowing that they are at large around the community makes us all fearful and each morning when we wake, is the start of another challenging day.
If this wasn’t bad enough, less than a week later after the murder of the baby we found a woman lying lifeless in the muddy rubbish strewn alleyway in front the entrance to our shack. It appears after investigation that she had been sexually abused and gang raped by a group of hoodlum men none of whom have been brought to justice so far and who may well get away with the crime. Local people live in constant fear due to these tragedies happening in the neighbourhood.
WATER COLLECTION IN KIBERA
Kibera, being amongst one of the biggest slums in the world has the biggest number of slum dwellers who undergo many challenges.
One of these challenges is water collection as most shacks do not have running water.
The quality and quantity of water is a huge challenge to slum dwellers. Not long ago there was an outbreak of cholera due to the poor quality of water.
Outbreaks are not that common but when they occur they have devastating consequences. This outbreak came about as the pipes bringing water to the slum passed through a number of unhealthy areas such as sewage and dumping sites and due to pipe leakage and breaks in the pipes the water became contaminated and unsafe for human use. Some thieves had punched holes in the water line so as to get water instead of queuing for hours. Unfortunately, the waste from the open sewer drain mixed with the water, the result was that a cholera outbreak broke out before people realised and so many contracted cholera and died.
Another ongoing problem is the distance from the home shacks to the water collection points. In many cases it could be up to 1k between the collection point and the shack. This forces people, mostly women and girls, to wake up at 4.00 am (it is unsafe for young girls to go out at night) and start the daily routine of fetching water. Females in the slum will often carry one or two 20 litre jerrycans on their backs as they feel its faster and less tiring than using hands and arms. That equates to a weight of 44lbs a can and of course if you are carrying two jerrycans you can double that weight. Some women can make as many as three or four trips a day since the water is needed for different chores. As so many trips have to be made the younger children who are not strong enough to carry the water, stand in the line queuing as the mother and older children rush home to deliver the water and get back for the next refill. The length of time waiting in the queue depends but at times we might wait there for up to three hours for just to get two jerrycans of water.
The water points are situated at water shops at different locations where we go and queue and pay according to the litres used. A standard rate for one 20 litre jerrycan is 5ksh (the equivalent of 4p) yet that is barely enough for one person to use and the larger the family living in Kibera the more trips required. The cost is reckoned to be more than the cost of water in New York or London yet Kibera is one of the poorest places on this planet.Of course the good water is not for washing clothes, for this we go to the streams, that pass by near the settlement, which are free. The streams are also good for bathing the children though they may rinse off with a small bowl of bought water. The fact that a lot of people in the hood do not have toilets and use the river to relieve themselves does not necessarily put people off from washing – if you don’t have the money or time to buy water there is nothing else that a poor family can do.
CHRISTMAS IN KIBERA
It is Christmas again, life is good
The security guards at the malls will stop us from going in; they can tell that we are from the slums and think that our dirty looking clothes will put off genuine shoppers
At midnight we return to Church, mass is held and we perform a play about the birth of Jesus. You will be amazed at the talent in our hood. We act so well and at times move the audience to tears! There is no sleeping on 24th December night, we will sing and dance all night, after all it is Christmas!
Christmas day comes; we are still too sleepy and tired but will now wear our new clothes and step out. We also try new hairstyles, our hair may be kinky and hard to manage but we know the tricks. A hot comb will straighten it all out and you only need a few old newspapers to curl it up beautifully. Christmas for us young ladies is about fashion, no one mentions about Jesus being born. The main objective for us is to impress our friends with our new clothes and hairdos and to possibly get a nice boyfriend at the end of the day.
You are well rewarded when you step outside your house and you get nice comments from your girlfriends and a few stares from boys.
Christmas is also about eating nice food too. Chapati (a thick pan cake) is a must have for all. There is no Christmas without Chapati, every Kenyan knows this! A family may be having seriously financial problems but they will still buy wheat flour and oil and provide Chapati for its members on Christmas day. It would be a very sad Christmas if Chapati was missing from the menu.
Another thing that must happen, is that you must invite people into your house to share your food; there is no way a family will cook just enough for themselves. We, young people move from house to house having a taste of what has been cooked. Mothers will stand on their door way and call out to young people passing by to go into the house and have a taste of her great cooking. You cannot refuse such an offer and it does not matter that within the last few hours you have been invited into ten other houses and had a taste of ten meals. You will be nice and accept the food, you will eat everything on your plate (you do not want to offend the generous neighbour), and after the meal you must thank the host and compliment the Mother of the house on her great cooking.
After every meal you will be served a cup of tea, this one is usually a painful dessert. Milk is expensive in the slums and the tea usually does not taste too good.
Some kids have been heard to say that it tastes like dirty water or donkey pee!
At the end of Christmas day, your stomach is so full and you are so tired all you want to do is lie down. This works very well for our parents, it is time to pull out their beers and the traditional brews; the men will sit together in a group (on the open corridor) and chat to the small hours of the morning, though honestly they do more drinking than talking. The women in our area take this time to enjoy each others company; they will sit a distance from the men, if the men feel generous they might pass some beers to the women. But even if there is no beer; the women will enjoy themselves, they tell stories and laugh their heads off. This really annoys the men! But it is Christmas and everyone is merry! Christians and Muslims together !
Merry Christmas good people and have a happy new year!
In Kibera, we start to prepare for Christmas early, the whole year we look forward to this time of year. Money is saved and hidden away for the Christmas celebrations.
We start by cleaning our houses; most of them are made of mud (earth) and wattle and we do not want our house looking tired over Christmas, so we gather with our mothers and plaster wet red soil on the walls to give them a facelift. We draw flowers on the walls and write Christmas messages; we also write messages to welcome visitors to our houses. It is a competition; everyone wants their house to be the talk of the hood, and for those passing by to marvel at how beautiful the house is. It is nice to find a crowd gathered outside your house discussing the beauty of your walls.
After the hard work is done it is already mid-December, the Christmas mood has taken over; this is when we visit the nearby malls to stare at shops, the decorations and lighting at these malls is heavenly; it is so beautiful, we stare for hours. We at times go into the malls to stare at all the beautiful clothes; but if we are not in nice looking clothes, the security guards at the malls will stop us from going in; they can tell that we are from the slums and think that our dirty looking clothes will put off genuine shoppers; some rude guards will even ask us to show them the money that we intend to spend at the mall. It is does not dampen our spirits after all it is Christmas!
Full day celebrations start on 24th December, we rise up early and start to sing. We are excited; we have songs for waking each other up (that is the beauty of living in dense spaces). Teens waking up in one house will sing out loud and if the teens in the neighbouring house are awake they will answer back in song, and it catches on to the next house. You could have twenty households singing in a perfectly coordinated manner. Would you call this a mass choir or an orchestra!
It is beautiful, after breakfast we the young people move together to the nearby Church; do not mind that some of us are Muslim and will be wearing our bui buis (the female Muslim holy dress) to the Church, no one notices, it is Christmas after all!
We practice song and dance and after that move from house to house singing Christmas songs; if anyone is home and opens their door and listens to our songs, they must give us a gift, if the gift is large then we might perform several numbers for the generous neighbour.
Some rude guards will even ask us to show them the money that we intend to spend at the mall. It is does not dampen our spirits, after all it is Christmas!
You could have twenty households singing in a perfectly coordinated manner.
It is normally agreed that young children can do their business in the open and each one of them knows where to go. Some young children might be cheeky and do their business outside a neighbor’s house though this can cause huge trouble, bitter words, and even a few blows might be exchanged. It is considered a very big insult for an adult to do their business outside your house. It is different when the faeces is in a plastic bag, the culprit cannot be known as the offending bag may have been thrown from any corner of the slum, but that does not mean that insults and curses will not be hauled at the unknown offender.
When you live in Kibera, you learn to walk with your eyes open. If one is not careful you will step on some slimy stuff. I hear women saying they are good at multiple tasking; I challenge you to come to our slum and try walking as you speak on your mobile phone or as you chew gum, soon I will hear you cursing loudly as your foot will have landed squarely on some plastic bag especially when the full content of the bag splashes on your shoes and dress. It will simply ruin your day!
People in Kibera can be very kind. If there is an older person, a person living with disability or a person who suffers ill health; they will often let them use the toilet for free; they will even allow them to queue jump and use the toilet before those who are already waiting. If your family is wise and can afford it, they will invest in a bucket with a lid and everyone in the family can use this bucket and old newspapers are used for covering the stuff so that the next user does not see what was left in the bucket. You only empty this bucket once per day and only pay once for using the toilet, clever, isn’t it? You spend just Ksh 5 (3p) instead of Ksh 60 (36p) per day! That may not seem much to you but it often is the difference between feeding the family that day, or going hungry.
Those are what we call survival strategies!
DOING YOUR BUSINESS IN KIBERA!
Living in Kibera has its lows and I can tell you for free that not having a household toilet tops them all.
In the slum several houses share a toilet (call it a small cubicle squeezed in at the end of a row of houses) with five to ten households sharing this space. You are lucky if this is a “free to use” toilet but most of us have to pay Kshs 5 (3p) per use per person. Now if you are five people in your house and each of you uses the toilet three times in the day, then there will not be any money left for food or any other needs. When you consider that the average wage is less than £1 per day and that the unemployment rate is 50% you can see how hard it is. So we get creative, plastic bags can be very helpful, you do your business in the bag and hide it. When the night comes, you step outside your door and haul the bag as far as you can, more often than not it hopefully will land on someone’s roof. However, the bag may land on some poor fellow walking around the narrow dark slum paths. You will often know when this occurs as there will be cursing and threats out of the darkness. All you care about is that you have saved money.
It is not always about the cash however. Just imagine your stomach is acting up, you have diarrhoea and you need a toilet really badly. There are about 10 people ahead of you in the queue waiting to use this same toilet. What do you do, you run back to the house get hold of a plastic bag and do your business. It is easy for children; we can always make fun of this whole business but pity the father or mother of the house whose stomach is upset when there is a long queue at the communal toilet! They come running shouting “Quick, quick everybody, get out of the house!” We kids know this is an absolute emergency and need to get out of the way fast. Just add to this the additional problems if it is raining as it so often does in the tropics!?
You must be wondering about our houses (I will tell you that story another day) but for now all I can say is, it is a single roomed shack made of corrugated iron and mud. They are 10 x 10 feet, divided by the use of a cloth curtain (a bed sheet does this job well) to create a bedroom, a cooking area and living room. Now you know why everyone has to get out of the house if adults need to use this space as a toilet!
Using a shared toilet needs special skills. These of course are not flushing toilets, they are ‘long drops’ approximately six foot deep. One has to balance well in order not to step on the mess made by the last person and so as to be careful not to fall into the pit. Children are trained and supervised in using the toilet, but generally toilets are not used for children below 10 years.
A LETTER FROM A TEENAGE GIRL LIVING IN KIBERA
Being a girl in the slums isn’t easy since we face lots of challenges.
One of the many challenges comes from our homes where we are regarded as objects and where a parent or guardian is often quite willing to sell their daughter to men for a packet of milk and a loaf of bread. Some are forced to do odd jobs to keep the family going.
Most of these girls are illiterate, and they dwell in poverty which forces them to engage in such activities. There is so much poverty and illiteracy within the slum that prostitution is no longer seen as a big deal.
Neither is the use of contraceptives seen as a big issue since a lot of chemists sell them for about the equivalent of 10p and also do next day injections at a fair price. However when you are poor do you spend your money on food or contraception? Unfortunately STD’s don’t really exist in the minds of most people in the slums which is a problem in itself as these spread. Pregnancy is the big fear since nobody wants an extra mouth to feed.
Abortion appears as an option to poverty but is illegal in Kenya . There are a few specially licensed hospitals that are allowed to do it with a cost of a thousand shillings (£6.70) but since this is so expensive people use other means like drinking undiluted juice or taking a lot of tea leaves in their water which apparently can work.
Once a girl gets pregnant she is often thrown out by her parents and will be forced to go live with the boyfriend.
The boyfriend will then enjoy the benefits as if he had a wife, having freedom over the girl. He is able to do what he wants with her since the girl is already an outcast and has no where else to go.
Most of these girls will be young teenagers who dropped out of school due to poverty, peer pressure and even bad company. This is self-perpetuating as these teenage parents have children and so it goes with the street mentality and social behaviour which continues this cycle of poverty.
I have even heard of families who have identified men who they regularly send their daughters as young as 9 to have sex with, in exchange for food or money.
A mother will say to a child, ‘Go to so and so house and fetch some flour for us’, the child knows what this means. After the sex then the child will return home with the gift of food or cash. The matter is never discussed. Child prostitution goes on but everybody pretends it is not happening.