The program started with a trip to the KCC Slums and a cycle and hike through Hell’s Gate, but I stayed at school that day with the plan to meet everyone in Naivasha. Stupidly even after 10 days I hadn’t realised when they said it was a 45 minute matatu journey it of course meant closer to 2 hours. Luckily I hate being late so pretty much ended up arriving on time despite getting lost in Naivasha itself. The journey there was interesting and beautiful with unexpected views (to me) over the Rift Valley whilst zebra spotting on the roadside, coupled with banter with the locals. It’s hard not to strike up a conversation when you are 5 to a 3 man seat, with someone’s child on your lap.
From Naivasha we headed straight to GilGil to stay at ‘The Chicken Place’ and I spent the night eating, chatting and drinking beers with the rest of the volunteers. Early next morning we started to bag flour and vegetable fat to hand out to families at the IDP Camp & the Nakuru Garbage Slums.
The IDP Camp
The IDP Camp was a result of the 2007 post-election violence leaving 600,000 displaced persons. The camp was originally set up by the UN, but is now privately owned by the 130 families who used the governments grant of KSH 10,000 each to collectively buy the land. Considered an eye-sore by the government (or perhaps they genuinely do want to help the families…) they are repeatedly being told that the community will be split up and moved to differing urban areas. After 3 years they have become a tight community, with a 7-person elected council and in my eyes resemble very little of the refugee displacement camps you usually see on the news which are chaotic, cramped, dangerous and unsanitary. We were told (including by the volunteers that stay there) is it a very safe community and seems as well kept as it can be. Recently a nursery/early primary school has been built there and they also have a borehole (water well). But still a tented temporary community is not somewhere you would want to live.
We visited on a nice, sunny day – the inside of the tents were boiling, and we hadn’t even hit summer temperatures yet. When it rains, many of the tents flood, and of course you have one tent for your whole family, be it 2 or 8 people. Many of the displaced had seen/been victims of violence and had to not only leave behind their homes, but their trades/businesses and sources of income. A few sell vegetables, one lady makes Kenyan name bracelets and some even sadly sell themselves to the truckers on the motorway near by.
The outreach program brings them food approximately every two weeks, but this is not much, and though I’m sure they are happy to have it, unsurprisingly it’s not gratefully received. This for me was the most disturbing part of the visit. Seeing a member of each family standing around waiting for their name to be called whilst us well-meaning Mzungos give them next to nothing must be soul destroying. It felt like being a Santa giving out coal to kids that have nothing – they take it cause there is nothing else. I can imagine the anger at us that they are supposed to feel grateful for this and the loss of dignity or pride. Not that they should feel like this; this wasn’t of their own making. I did hear (through the volunteer grapevipe, so who knows) that people have become dependant on the handouts and therefore less motivated to find their own ways of buying food. But considering the constant threat of moving and the little opportunities there are I can see why people are reluctant to invest in any business plans or more permanent structures. I was told by one of the council members that they would like to stay there, but in concrete permanent housing such as I saw in other IDP camps. The landscape around the site like much of the Kenyan countryside is gorgeous, and in my eyes a much nicer & safer place to bring up kids than the slum areas around Nairobi; If they could built permanent houses and then attempt to re-gain more stability in other areas such as gaining incomes. Yet the lack of facilities and the constant threat of the elements and relocation makes daily life a struggle for them.
Gioto Garbage Slum, Nakuru
No matter what you have heard or seen before going, there are no words to describe that first glance of the houses on top of the rubbish, and the people sifting through the piles and in the garbage trucks eating straight out of them. I know many street kids and homeless people eat from bins (shit, freegans eat from them) but this was different. A whole community living in rubbish, that have been there for the last 50 years, with a wall built between them and the posh private school next door. There is only one two-parent family living within the slums, with the rest being single mum families and lone alcoholic men.
Girls have to be in their houses by 4pm, and the boys by 6pm – otherwise it’s likely they will be raped. One lady that the Fadhili Volunteers are trying to help has 14 kids (8 living with her) and is raped annually by her husband who comes back solely for this purpose. Another man raped her in front of her children, and then raped two of them – aged 3 and 4 years. It was stories like this that hit me the most, even though I can’t deny that seeing pigs and humans eating from the same rubbish bags, on rubbish, surrounded by rubbish, stinking, wasn’t disturbing. The pigs are a results of some volunteers buying two… and then they just multiplied. The families wait until they are about 4 years old, and sell them for KSH 1000… approximately £8/$12. There are also goats and 5 foot vultures to contend with.
To earn money some of the women make necklaces out of newspapers and magazines, and others make bags out of plastic bags to sell to volunteer-spectators like me. The ladies we met were generally very warm and friendly (no men, we were told to steer clear of them, though this particular group allowed us to take photos – I have never felt so ashamed taking a photo, yet couldn’t stop myself). And of course the children were like children everywhere and just happy to be swung about or made faces at, or just laugh at my lip and tongue piercings; always children crowd pleasers.
The Matatu on the way home had noticeably changed very much from the cramped/trying to make lunch on bumpy roads giggle van to pretty much silence… which was broken slightly on seeing Zebra’s feeding on the side of the road (incredibly cool, man I love Zebras. And plain Zebras! (Otherwise known as Donkeys). Also the two funny men on the radio with the incredibly Black African Belly Laugh. How can it not make you smile.
If you want to know more about the garbage slum, or want to help out, visit one of the follow sites: