Saturday, June 4, 2011

Back the Matatu Up!

I realized I should have given some background on how I came to be in Kibera....

It may be useful to give an overview of what I hope to accomplish and how I got to be in the place to begin with. I am a Master’s Student getting my master’s in global health at Duke. I chose this program almost entirely for the opportunity to go abroad for my research. At the time I hoped to return to Moshi, Tanzania but when no immediate opportunity came up I decided to stretch myself and go somewhere new. While most of my classmates are clinically focused, I am interested in organizations, policy, and programming. I was steered to my thesis mentor who was the founding board chair for CFK. After hearing the story of CFK, its emphasis on community leadership, and learning about Kibera, I  really hoped it was the right fit. As I am not going on to get my PhD or my MD I wanted a project that I could gain concrete skills and experience with an organization, while fulfilling the research aspect of the master’s program. I was curious about Kibera and also knew it would challenge me in unforeseen, but exciting, ways.  Here is some background that might help understand where I am a bit better.
The 12 Villages of Kibera

A picture from above, notice the golf course?

Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and perhaps Africa. The population estimates differ from hundreds of thousands to over a million. This covers about a 3 sq km area. One thing is for certain, this area is growing. Kibera tends to attract people coming from “the village” or “up-country” to Nairobi for employment and much of the population is transient. The population is extremely diverse. However, half the population is under the age of 15. There are over 80 informal primary schools, only 3 of which get government funding. The government maintains that they own the land of Kibera, although some say otherwise. One surprising sight in Kibera is the number of makeshift antennas popping above the rooftops, some using metal plates. These are used for televisions within the houses. The electricity situation is tricky, it is estimated that about 20% of the homes have electricity. Most of the grid is stolen from the Nairobi power grid with a series of wires that create a complex web of electricity from one house to the next. I was told not to touch the metal roofs or metal siding in case of electrocution. There are open wires on the ground, in the air, and running across the sides of the houses.

There are a series of new “bio gas centers” which is a complicated name for toilets. In my observation, each of these centers is run by a different NGO.  In an effort to not waste space, “conference centers” for rent make up the space above the floor with the toilets. The residents must pay a small fee to use the “centers”. It is easy to spot the latrines because they are large, concrete, two story buildings that are round with various colored pointy roofs.  

One of my trusty tour guides. Notice the "stream" on the left.
Another thing that surprised me about Kibera (and it shouldn’t have) is the number of businesses that are around. Many houses also double as store-fronts and people sell the motley collection of goods that I see all around town. Behind one building, we met a group of men carving bones into earrings for the tourist markets. The men showed us how they worked the saws to create smooth pieces of bone. They were covered in bone-dust and told us about how they had saved a very long time to purchase the tools. I thought about a pair of earrings I had purchased while in TZ and how much of the tourist dollar actually trickles down to these men hovered over a dangerous tool, bare electric wires scattered around them, breathing in dust through a ratty turtleneck.

While walking though Kibera yesterday a man tried to sell me a giant American flag. I thought to myself “Yeah, what I need to do is show my American status even more, I should just wrap that around me”. I learned that some of these businesses are so successful that occasionally armored vehicles have to trek into Kibera to take out large loads of cash from the vendors, or to deliver the next shipment of goods. I learned quickly in my first week that Kibera is a thriving community of buyers and sellers, a place with demand for goods just like anywhere else.

The project I am doing for my thesis is to, in conjunction with CFK staff, complete a program assessment or process evaluation of the SRH program. When I knew I wanted to work with CFK, we approached the staff to find a project that would both meet my needs for a thesis and meet a need of theirs. Though I have outlined in detail my plan of attack, I am sure it will change along the way. Luckily, the staff is supportive and it is good timing at the organizational level. I am sure to detail the SRH program as I go along with this blog.
The railroad that passes through Kibera - hop on for a ride to Uganda!
Taking pictures in Kibera is tricky business. For many reasons, taking photos is not always a great idea. I brought my camera on one walk through Kibera this week and managed to find a way to take a couple of pictures when no one was looking.

Hide and Seek: Can you spot the Kitty?


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