Christy Gillmore

Christy Gillmore (Hakijamii the Economics and Social Rights Centre): Christy received her BA in Anthropology and Economics in 2006 from the University of Virginia. Upon graduating, she joined the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa, where she worked to empower women in a rural community. After returning from the Peace Corps, Christy worked in refugee resettlement as a health care coordinator and caseworker. At the time of her fellowship she was pursuing her MA in International Development and Social Change from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. After her fellowship, Christy wrote: “I had never lived in a big city in my life, and this experience opened my eyes to the immense inequalities that are growing due to globalization and rural-urban migration. I feel that I gained invaluable skills and confidence. I feel like I have gained writing and editing skills. I know that I want to focus on human rights now that I have experience of working in the field."

People’s Settlements, Not Slums

14 Jun

My first real working week has proved a whirlwind of navigating the seemingly endless number of community organizations that Hakijamii works with. As the first AP Fellows with Hakijamii, we have been trying to create a feasible work plan for our time here. Hakijamii’s work is vast- the best I can compare it to is a Kenyan-focused Amnesty International. We began by meeting with several of the networks that Hakijamii supports- the Nairobi People’s Settlement Network (NPSN) and the Soweto Forum. NPSN is large and incorporates 87 groups ranging across the 168 slums of Nairobi. Soweto Forum is geographically focused in Soweto village, Kibera, and is comprised of about 18 groups.

Our first real site visit was to Kasarani, located in the Korogocho slum, several kilometers out of Nairobi. Marcy, the Community Officer at Hakijamii, took us on the visit.

Marcy is from Kibera, and provided us with a wealth of stories about life in the slums and the difficulties that people in these communities are facing. Perhaps the most important thing that she informed us about was the proper way to refer to these areas. The word “slum” is used regularly- by the media, NGOs, every day citizens- so I assumed this was an appropriate way to describe the settlements. In fact, Marcy informed us, in the past people in the communities had no problem referring to their homes as slum areas. That is, until they discovered the connotations behind the word “slum”- meaning a place unfit for humans to live, a place suited for pigs. This was an insult to the people living there. Though residents were fully aware of the unsanitary and harsh conditions when compared to cosmopolitan Nairobi, the settlements were still livable- people have been living there for decades, after all!

Therefore, residents call their communities “people’s settlements,” and I will do my best to refer to the areas this way. Change must come from the bottom-up, from those the most affected; a small step outsiders can take is to reduce the stigma associated with slum areas by referring to them as the communities do.

Kasarani village is located right next to the Nairobi city dump. I won’t say much on this subject, as Louis has blogged about it, except to say that this is both a blessing and a curse to those who live around it. There are obvious health implications of literally living in the dump- high levels of lead in your blood, respiratory problems, higher rates of problem pregnancies. But, the dump provides livelihood for thousands of people (5,000, according to one blog post). Every day, residents of this area scour it in search of items to resell- plastic bags, appliances, anything they can. The Kenyan government has been discussing the removal of the dump for some time, and the debate between long-term health effects v. being able to buy food today continues. (See pictures below of Kasarani and plastic bags from the dumpsite)

Alleyway in Kasarani, Korogocho

Plastic bags drying after being washed, Dandora dump, Kasarani

Despite the conditions, within this community are an abundance of organizations doing incredible work. We attended a meeting held by the secretary of NPSN, Samuel Njoroge (see picture below, with Louis Rezac), where about 17 groups came to discuss their efforts using theater and entertainment to illustrate the different issues facing the settlements- i.e. HIV/AIDS, water and sanitation, education. Jungle Africa is Samuel’s theater group, and they often perform at soccer matches and other community events. He said that lecturing people is ineffective in getting messages across, but if you entertain them they will listen.

Samuel Njoroge explaining NPSN's work to Louis Rezac

As Americans we might think of ourselves as educated and interested in learning about the world’s issues without the need to be entertained to do so. But how does the average American become aware of the world’s troubles in the first place? I’m thinking of movies like Blood Diamond and Slumdog Millionaire, and famous artists who rap about the injustice of the ghetto (we were also treated to a performance by a Kasarani rapper while there- see link to video below).


We shall be attending a Jungle Africa performance sometime in the future, so stay tuned.

Posted By Christy Gillmore

Posted Jun 14th, 2010

1 Comment

  • iain

    July 11, 2010


    Lots of good portraits emerging from your, and from Louis’s, blogs. Look forward to seeing them on the Hakijamii website! I also like your nuanced approach to describing Kibera and the other settlements. Nothing quite does the trick, does it? “Slums” may be demeaning, but “settlements” is neutral and antiseptic and fails to convey the fact that the atrocious conditions are the result of government failure.

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