Friday, June 3, 2011

Who's There?

June 2 pt. 1

The program that I am working with at CFK is the sexual and reproductive health program. Key to the facilitation of this program is the peer youth educators, a group of local youth leaders who give their time to the organization and make significant and impressive efforts to bring information about health to their peers in Kibera. Last year it was estimated that tens of thousands of people were touched by their work. The PYEs also provide a link into the community and are a good contact for me to get to know my way around.

My tour guide for the day was Eric, a PYE who grew up in Kibera and went to school there.  He gave me my second tour of the community, winding through new pathways and leading me over streams of refuse and waste water. This was my second tour of the community but I think I could have a tour every day of my stay here and not see the same thing twice. Kibera is split into 12 different villages, although to the untrained eye the mass of humanity doesn’t shift from one place to the next. Eric took me to a village named after the current Prime Minister, Railla Odinga. One thing that surprised me about Kibera is that it is quite hilly, making the trek all that more exciting (or tricky). We climbed to one far side of the slum to Railla to look out on most of Kibera. It is impressive, in a heart-rendering way, how big Kibera is and how it seems to stretch on and on. We were in a new area of Kibera, and Eric told me that despite efforts by numerous NGOs, Kibera is continuning to grow in population and in size.

We were standing in fields of plants, another surprising thing to me. Around me, mixed in with the houses, were large plants – yams, cassava, collards. When I asked who got to farm these lands or if anyone came and took this food when they were hungry he looked very confused. “No”, he said “you cannot steal from your neighbor. This man put the plants there and this man will take them home when they are grown”. It seemed nearly impossible to me that a large source of food so close to thousands of grumbling tummies would go untouched. When I asked if the people farming the land rented the land, or even owned the land, he reminded me (again) that the land was owned by the government. Apparently farming, and building homes, is on a first come first served basis.

We continued through the winding alleys, through houses, ducking laundry, dodging chickens, doling out high-fives to children who jumped up and down when they saw me. Suddenly Eric announced it was time for his meeting and led me to a door that was painted with blue paint “Hall for hire – all are well come”. Inside I met a truly inspiring group of youth leaders. In the wake of election violence in 2008, the youth of Kibera decided they must come together and advocate for themselves. The members of the organization explained to me that youth often feel like pawns. During election time, politicians make promises never kept in response to garner support. Significantly, the politicians also use the tensions between the tribes within Kenya to create trouble. Because in Kibera tribes mixed in extremely close places, it was a target for ignition. The Longatta Youth Network, a collection of youth leaders from many organizations within Kibera, formed to create an outlet for youth leaders and to make a platform for advocacy. Most of the people were my age, out of secondary school and attending, or hoping to attend, university.

They held a meeting that was meant to meet with another organization they were partnering with from Mombasa. Before the visitors from this organization arrived, they went through some group business. In one poignant moment, Eric, my host, told the crew of about 20 leaders to look at the door.
“Look at the door!” I didn’t catch onto the gimmick, an apparently ritualized one due to the smile on the girl next to me’s face.

“Look! Who is coming? Who is coming?” I was both curious and a little cautious about what was going to come through the door.  I also considered that this may be a Kenya-hyped-up-version of a knock knock joke. I almost thought this would end with someone saying “Aren’t you glad I didn’t say ndizi?” (ndizi is banana).

“No one! No one is coming!” This seemed a bit anticlimactic, until those around me started chanting “It is us! It is us! It is us!” And I finally got it, in slow mzungu time. These youth leaders realized that it was up to them to advocate for the youth of Kibera, to support themselves and their neighbors, and to create a sense of community within their diverse surroundings.  

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