Kibera Ni Yetu!

Posted: May 19, 2011 in Nairobi

When @mahebob asked me to paint him a picture of what I thought Kibera was like, I didn’t hesitate. What came to mind and rushed out of my mouth was…broad daylight thuggery, crude weapons, dilapidated shelters, foul-smelling trenches, flying toilets…I went on and on. Never mind that I had never set foot in interior Kibera. It was minutes after our conversation ended that I really thought about @mahebob’s question. And I realized that there’s an off chance that I could be wrong. But even if I turned out to be right, surely there was more to Kibera than met the eye. The desire to find out for myself burned deep within.

Just like me, majority of Kenyans know what they know about Kibera from watching short films by both local and international producers, TV and radio news items, tales by friends who have or have not been to Kibera, newspaper articles etc. So when an opportunity to visit Kibera presented itself, I was more than convinced that this was my chance to experience what was possibly the world’s largest slum and to tell the story from my perspective.

May 14, 2011. I got up early to get ready. With the sort of image I had in mind, I chose my outfit for the day carefully. A pair of faded black jeans, slightly faded blue top, old black sweater and off white sneakers. Being the girl that I am I wasn’t going to match off, even into Kibera, without a hot pair of earrings. I figured if I was gonna look ragged, I’d do so fashionably. Mother always says be ready for your husband could find you anywhere. And doesn’t Kibera qualify as the said ‘anywhere’?

The turnout by tweeps for the inaugural #KiberaRoadTrip was amazing. For an idea that was birthed through interactions on Twitter, the response was overwhelming. I only knew a couple of the attendees from tweeting each other but I had never met them off line. This would turn out to be a social networking experience as well as a chance to give back to society. So off we went, and in groups of about 8 we followed with interest as our guides gave instructions.

I was in Gigi’s group. Gigi is a young man spotting dreadlocks and the spitting image of Kama, the lead actor in Hot Sun Film’sTogetherness Supreme. Turns out they are brothers! I’m not sure if he refers to blood brothers or the bond they have, glued together by their shared struggles and dreams of a better Kibera. Togetherness Supreme is a feature-film that captures real life experiences of Kibera youth during the 2007 post-poll violence. Produced by Mercy Murugi (@mercymurugi), it is a moving story of a young man, Kamau, and his experiences as he gets caught up in the 2007 post-poll violence in Kenya, and particularly in Kibera. The film captures the typical life at Kibera from the struggles of street kids, to how unsuspecting youth are used by power-hungry politicians to fan violence, to the sufferings of the elderly and the sick.

Togetherness Supreme poster

Gigi and Kama are part of Jah Army; a musical outfit that he tells us seeks to promote peace and unity among the youth in Kibera. Jah Army has two albums under its belt and plans of unleashing another one are underway. He says theirs is a calling to spread messages of peace and reconciliation in Kibera. I like how he puts in: “The future generation depends on us. We have to live a life that inspires others.”

Born and bred in Kibera, Gigi knows the area quite well and anyone who’s been to Kibera knows you need such expertise otherwise getting lost is nothing new. This need for direction has in the recent times necessitated the introduction of Kibera maps which would make it easier to navigate the complicated web that is Kibera. Kibera youth came up with an open digital map of the area and this has increased interactivity as community members chip in information towards the project.

Kibera slum. Photo by Alvin Gachie

Gigi gave us a backgrounder of what life was like for the average Kibera youth and as we sat under the tree that has over the years provided a shaded meeting base for Jah Army, I began to shed all manner of stereotypes I had slapped on Kibera and its people. Here is a community riddled with poverty and all manner of social atrocities. Boys drop out of school for lack of fees and get into crime. Girls drop out of school for lack of fees and get into early marriages or end up as street kids battling to protect themselves from ruthless rapists. Social amenities are almost a luxury.Well-equipped hospitals and schools are far between. Clean water supply, sanitation, decent clothing, books…

I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself. I have hot-water shower at my house and yet I still complain when I wake up and it’s not hot enough. I have access to private university education and yet I still complain about how much work the lecturers throw at us. I have permanent shelter, my own bed, security…and yet I still complain. How much more selfish can one get.

What I found inspiring and absolutely encouraging is the resolve of the Kibera people to live. Despite their misfortunes, the youth especially have a stubborn resolve to stay alive and not to succumb to life’s imbalances. Gigi is a typical modern-day Kibera youth. He is a passionate film enthusiast working with a number of NGOs on projects geared towards improving the lives of Kibera youth. Currently he is also involved with the Norwegian embassy’s initiative dubbed Amani Lazima that has been visiting slums in the country spreading the message of peace. It is the hope in his eyes and the hunger for change that motivate him to wake up each day and face Kibera. Like him, many youth in Kibera desire a better life. They need to know there is a bigger world out there for their exploration. They need to keep their dreams and talents alive. It is in line with this that Kibera Mpira Mtaani among others initiatives, were formed to bring back the cheer and sense of participation in Kibera. Kibera Mpira Mtaani has been instrumental in mentoring young people and offering hope through their sports and education programs.

Sea of mabati roofs in Kibera. Photo by Alvin Gachie

At the end of the #KiberaRoadTrip, I felt greatly challenged. I realized Kibera ni yetu (Kibera is ours) and as a country and more-so the youth, we owe it to ourselves to share our privileges. I realized too that I was wrong. There’s more to Kibera than the sprawling rusted mabati roofs. There are talented kids living in those temporary shelters and deplorable conditions. There is a distinct warmness about the people of Kibera. They are at peace with themselves. It is the world that keeps judging. They are welcoming. Circumstances just do not allow them to make much progress but the passion is there, the drive and the common interest towards change and a better life.

There is something each one of us can do for those unfortunate around us. We can dedicate our time, efforts and resources towards bettering the life of somebody else. The kids at Kibera need mentorship. They need guidance and life skills. They need books that when they read, they become exposed to a world they never knew. And this is how we can get them to keep their dreams alive. Mohandas Gandhi once said: A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes. Through mentors, the thoughts of these kids will continue to be shaped positively and there’s no limit to what great people they’ll one day become.

Read Kirsty McLullich’s post on #KiberaRoadTrip here. She volunteers with Vision Africa. Many thanks to her and the organizers of this event. It was truly inspiring.

  1. Akenyangirl says:

    Thank you for coming with us!

  2. Dark Angel says:

    They are actually bond brothers :). Thanks for the mention, I was to join you guys with a film crew from our organization’s (Hot Sun Foundation) Kibera TV, but I got held up. Next time 🙂

    • gphilly says:

      They are? How cool is that! They would pass for blood brothers, they look alike. You’re welcome! I should be visiting Hot Sun Films at some point. I’m interested in seeing what brilliant stuff goes on there. You should definitely come cover the next Kibera Road Trip. Looking forward to meeting you! 🙂

  3. […] 19 May When @mahebob asked me to paint him a picture of what I thought Kibera was like, I didn’t hesitate. What came to mind and rushed out of my mouth was…broad daylight thuggery, crude weapons, dilapidated shelters, foul-smelling trenches, flying toilets…I went on and on. Never mind that I had never set foot in interior Kibera. It was minutes after our conversation ended that I really thought about @mahebob’s question. And I realized that there’s an o … Read More […]

  4. Mikel Maron says:

    The #KiberaRoadTrip idea is awesome, and glad to hear it changed some minds about Kibera. Hopeful for Kibera and Kenya!

    When is #MathareRoadTrip? Map Kibera has been helping out there too…

    • gphilly says:

      Yes…there’s a lot of hope for Kibera! It’s really encouraging how much progress there has been. I’m not sure when #MathareRoadTrip is. I’d be interested to find out. Do let me know if you find out. Thanks! 🙂

  5. Sandra says:

    this is s good article. I am myself about to visit Kibera hopefully next weekend.

  6. Minah says:

    looking fashionably ragged? lol, might as well. at least i am a bit educated about kibera coz just as you described ate first, i had the very same picture of how i though it should be.
    great read Georgia 🙂

  7. […] intern in a government office in Kenya to a brilliant piece about Kenya’s Kibera, entitled Kibera Ni Yetu! this blog is simply a grab bag of […]

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