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."

The Mirage of Slum Upgrading

17 Jun

In my last entry, I focused on the visit to Kasarani through the Nairobi Peoples Settlement Network (NPSN). The next day we visited the Soweto Community People’s Settlement Forum, another network focused in the Kibera people’s settlement. They have weekly meetings where they learn about different topics, such as what is in the proposed Kenyan Constitution (to be voted on August 4th and the source of much controversy) and gender-based violence. The groups who comprise the Soweto Forum (24 groups, 500 families) do various activities, such as bead-making and urban gardening (see pictures below).

Women from Soweto Forum showing beads that they make and sell

Women from Soweto Forum showing their urban gardening technique, where plants grow out of the side of the rice sacks to save space.

The Forum’s main objective, however, is to make sure that community members are involved in the slum upgrading project that has been discussed by the Kenyan government and UN-HABITAT for a long time now. Initially, there was a settlement executive committee (SEC) established to represent the people of Soweto in this slum upgrading project, to act as the link between the government and the people. However, community members thought the SEC did not provide adequate communication between the government and the community, nor did it represent the people’s needs as they would have liked. To address these problems and empower people in the community to have a voice, Soweto Forum was established in 2004.

To people living in Soweto, “this [slum upgrading] project is a mirage” (John Mwihia Karanja, Soweto Forum chairman). They have been promised new houses for years now. Some people were in fact moved out of Soweto into a “decanting,” or temporary housing, site in Lang’ata, away from their community and what they knew. They were told they would shortly be moved into new houses and land, better than what they had before. These new houses were built, but were given to people from other communities for reasons the Soweto community was never informed about. Those who had been moved from Soweto were left in the decanting sites.

My understanding of these politics is very limited, and what I’ve said here is incredibly simplistic. All I can gather is that ethnicity and money play a disproportionate role in who gets what. Groups like Soweto Forum have a lot to overcome, but one must admire their courage for standing up and claiming their rights.

A short clip of John Mwihia Karanja showing the conditions in Soweto, Kibera:


Posted By Christy Gillmore

Posted Jun 17th, 2010

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