It’s difficult to describe all the feelings I’m experiencing a week before I depart for Nairobi, Kenya. It’s different from what I felt going into the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa- then I was full of apprehension, fear, and naivety. Anxiety is inevitable before embarking on a journey to the developing world- and Kenya is no exception- but this time I know what I will be doing, what my purpose is. My biggest fear is Nairobi, for I have never lived in a big city, and certainly not one as notorious as this (a common nickname for the city is “Nairobbery”). But here, I have the opportunity to do more than in a rural village in Mali, to work with organizations doing advocacy work in one of the most unequal nations in the world.
Through The Advocacy Project, I am partnered with Hakijamii, or the Social and Economic Rights Centre as it roughly translates from Swahili (the most widely used language in Kenya). Hakijamii works to strengthen and build capacity of community-based, or grassroots, organizations that are advocating for economic, social and cultural rights. Right now, Hakijamii supports over 120 organizations throughout Kenya and even other countries. It provides assistance through awareness raising, training, support for new community movements, advocacy and litigation support, and much more. Many of its achievements have been related to campaigning against forced evictions, a serious problem in Kenya. For decades, Kenyans have been forced out of their informal settlements to make way for government development projects. Faced with homelessness and loss of livelihood, they live in substandard conditions with little or no access to food, shelter, clean water, education, and healthcare. Nairobi is home to one of the largest slums in the world, Kibera, where between 600,000 and 1.2 million people live in an area smaller than Central Park in New York City, according to the Economist.
Though I haven’t had much contact with Hakijamii staff personally yet, Odindo Opiata, Hakijamii’s director, and I have laid out a rough job description for my time there, which involves profiling the members of the Hakijamii’s partner organizations through picture and videos and compiling a database for the website. I am thrilled to do this, as it will allow me to work in the field where these grassroots groups operate. I will be collaborating with the Nairobi People’s Settlement Network (NPSN) and the Kisumu Social Rights Association (KISORA), coalitions formed as a result of Hakijamii’s work that bring together the smaller organizations. NPSN and KISORA focus on rights to food, education, and healthcare in addition to housing. Hakijamii and its partners operate in the same vein as Amnesty International and Cordaid, two international partners.
The work of Hakijamii and its partners is moving and inspiring. They face tremendous obstacles as they fight for justice and continue to make change where others have given up. I’m excited, honored, and ready to be introduced to a new world of human rights advocacy work.
Posted By Christy Gillmore
Posted May 27th, 2010