Wow, it has been a busy, exciting, and fun week here in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s definitely a big change in scenery in comparison to the quiet country-life of Lira.
This week, I traveled 6 hours overnight to Kampala, Uganda, then 12 hours overnight to Nairobi, Kenya, by bus – quite the journey! Luckily, I was able to upgrade to “luxury” for both bus trips, which meant much more comfortable seats that recline and have a bit of foot room, making sleeping a bit easier despite the insanely bumpy highways. The trip was largely uneventful (a good thing when traveling in Africa), and, two days later I arrived in the bustling bus park in downtown Nairobi.
I traveled here with my co-intern to work for a week with CAP Networks’ Kenyan partner: Kijiji Cha Upendo. Kijiji Cha Upendo (which is Swahili for “Village of Love”) is a small organization working in the infamous Kibera Slum in Nairobi. Kibera is the largest slum in Africa, with a population of approximately 250,000 to 1,000,000 people (depending on who is doing the census) in an area of approximately 2.5 square kilometers. The average house is 12ft. by 12ft. and houses 8 people. It’s packed. There are people, garbage, dust, smells, shops, animals, and vendors everywhere. The Kenyan government has largely ignored the needs of Kibera (likely because it is embarrassed about how out of control it has grown and refuses to admit how many people actually live there), and this is quickly apparent as we drive into Kijiji Cha Upendo’s office, located in the middle of the slum.
The roads are pretty good, until we get to the last section that approaches the office, which is a dirt lane (not a road), where you have to maneuver through a ditch and a lot of garbage to get there. Every time Andrew (our boss for the week) drives through, no matter how slow he goes, the car bottoms out and makes that horrible grinding sound of metal on packed dirt. It takes over five minutes to drive the final 200m to the office, but Andrew explains that he has to park close to the office so that his car doesn’t get vandalized and stolen for parts. Life is tough here and people are always looking for a way to eek out a living, whether it is legal or not.
But, back to Kijiji Cha Upendo (KCU). KCU is a small, community-based organization (CBO) that aims to help orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) due to HIV/AIDS in Kibera. They do this through a variety of methods: they provide a portion of school fees for OVCs from grade 1 to grade 12, they provide interest-free loans and livelihood trainings for caregivers of OVCs so that they can better support and take care of their children, and they also provide weekly support group meetings where OVC caregivers can come and discuss challenges they are facing and share ideas for how to overcome them.
On the first day, we drove around Kibera and Andrew and Leah (KCU staff) introduced us to various beneficiaries. The women showed us their businesses, their homes, and introduced us to their children. It was truly amazing. Many of the women have 2-5 biological children, but in addition to that, they also often had 2-5 orphans under their care. That makes, on average, 4-10 children per caregiver, often surviving on an income of less that a dollar a day. So many of these women have so little to start out with, and still they find a way to take in children that have been orphaned for a variety of reasons associated with growing up in the slums. They find a way to make it work, though this is of course not always easy. This is where KCU comes in. By providing support for these caregivers that are already doing so much on their own to make the best life for both their biological and adopted children. Through Canadian donations, KCU is able to provide a bit of funding and support to these female caregivers in order to ensure that their children are able to consistently attend school, have food on the table, and have a roof over their heads.
Essentially KCU is a small program that is making a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of children in Kibera that would otherwise, unlikely be able to attend school consistently. By ensuring that the basic needs of these OVCs are met, KCU is helping to break the cycle of poverty and giving these children options for their future. Many of the children that have been supported by KCU that have graduated from high school have continued on to attend university or trade school, opening up the job opportunities and options to help them to escape poverty.
It was truly inspiring stuff.
Our work, while we were there for just one short week, consisted mainly of helping out with various monitoring and evaluation tools so that the many beneficiaries working with KCU can be recorded and their impact and stories can be shared with Canadian donors. We did many interviews with beneficiaries and KCU staff in order to share how to use the beneficiary tracker form. We did excel tutorials in order to keep a database of beneficiaries and the various projects that KCU has on the go. Basically, KCU is doing great work in Kibera, but they are not always keeping claer records of how many lives they are impacting and in what way. The hope is that by developing tools to track the many projects and beneficiaries of KCU, they will be able to clearly illustrate their impact in Kibera, which can help ensure continued funding from donors, and subsequently, continued programming by KCU in Kibera.
It was a great week of teaching and learning, and in the wink of an eye, it was over. I would like to say a huge asante sana (thank you) to KCU’s staff: Andrew, Leah, and Moses for welcoming us to work with them and learn about their organization. I do hope that our paths cross again, whether it is in Canada or Kenya, and that we have the opportunity to work together in the future. KCU is the perfect example that even if you are small, you can still have a huge impact on other’s lives, which is the reason we are out here in the first place. Each person pulled out of poverty, is a life transformed from vulnerability, illness, and hopelessness to opportunity, freedom, and hope. Cheesy, but its true.
If you would like to know more about the work KCU is doing in Kibera, or better yet, if you would like to donate to their programs, you can follow their website here.
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