I’ve been in Nairobi for two weeks now, and a post is long overdue. I’ve had some difficulty bringing myself to write my first post but not for lack of material; I have experienced and learnt so much since I arrived. However, I think I have been feeling some sort of detachment from reality. Let me try to explain. My first day here I went to visit Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world, with Barbara, the other Advocacy Project Peace Fellow who had already been here for a week before I arrived. It was a good visit; but afterward, when Barbara asked me if I had been shocked by what I had seen, I thought about it and was surprised to find that I wasn’t shocked. In fact Kibera was very much what I expected. I did not feel overwhelmed by the incredible poverty and deprivation I had witnessed.
Over the next week I visited several other areas of Nairobi, upon reflecting on these visits I found that I felt no real emotions in response. I felt a numbness or separation from the horrific poverty and living conditions I was witnessing daily. I found myself greatly disturbed by my lack of emotion, which felt to me like lack of empathy. I had many conversations with friends who tried to help me understand my reaction. But I wasn’t satisfied. It wasn’t until I started describing in greater detail some of the things I had seen to a friend back home that I realized that I was actually very much affected by everything I had seen and all the stories I had been told. Typing out the stories over a g-chat, almost in tears in Undugu’s office, I happily realized that I am still human! I simply didn’t known how to process everything I was taking in. This resulted in a sort of paralysis, which really was not allowing me to do my work effectively. I am supposed to be “telling the story” and not just reflecting on the story endlessly.
So, I suppose this gets to be my outlet. And it is time to start telling the story of the marginalized youth in Nairobi. But before I get ahead of myself, I will explain what exactly it is I am supposed to be doing here this summer. For the next two months I will be in Nairobi working with the Undugu Society of Kenya (USK). USK’s mission is to rehabilitate street children and empower communities. In the past few years they have added advocacy to their various programs, hoping to give a voice to the vulnerable and marginalized children and youth in Kenya.
Last year Kristina Rosinsky, another Advocacy Project Peace Fellow, started the Digital Storytelling Project, which allowed 12 young people belonging to Undugu’s informal schools and Street Associations to self-advocate using photography and blogs to tell their stories. Together they identified police harassment, glue-sniffing/drugs, and the environment as three of the biggest issues of concern in their lives. Unfortunately, for a multitude of reasons, once Kristina left the project was put on hold.
This summer I will be working with Barbara Dziedzic, another AP Fellow, as well as two of the young men who participated in the project last year, Martin and Joseph. Together we will be relaunching and retooling the program so that it may be sustained, hopefully for years to come. When I asked Martin and Joseph why they wanted to continue working on this project they explained the great need to change the negative stereotypes that young people face in Nairobi. Young people living in the slums throughout Nairobi are most often perceived to be violent criminals, perhaps this stereotype has grown even stronger as a result of the post-electoral violence last year. Martin also expressed the need to talk about the issues that they face everyday to try to change their circumstances. Their blogs can be accessed here: Martin Ndung’u and Joseph Gachira. And so that is what I will be trying to do this summer, or winter in Kenya: trying to help a new group of young people find their voices in the hopes of changing and bettering their lives.
Posted By Alixa Sharkey
Posted Jul 10th, 2009