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)
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.
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