The very first time I went to Kibera I thought I would never live to see another day. Before we ventured into the slum, my guide who claimed to know every inch of Kibera shared with me three rules that I ought to follow otherwise I would end up on a cold slab in the city mortuary.
First, never drive above 10kph or hoot, apparently, some residents throw themselves on the bonnet accusing you of hitting them. If you don’t pay them off quickly they stone you to death and raze down your car.
Second, don’t carry any valuables or jewelry as armed thugs prowl the slum when the sun is still overhead robbing and killing anyone on their path at the slightest provocation. Third, don’t speak to strangers or ask for directions since everyone you meet in Kibera is a thug, including innocent looking women and children.
Terrified, I followed the rules to the latter throughout the visit, in fact, I didn’t speak to anyone.
From the news, Kibera is synonymous with abject poverty, lack of basic amenities, rampant crime, violent riots and massive destruction of property. However, something didn’t feel quite right.
Recently, I went back to Kibera with someone who actually knows the area. I got a chance to interact with numerous slum dwellers. To my utter surprise, there is so much more about Kibera that people don’t know other than the negative narrative spun by mainstream media and deceitful NGOs seeking to rake in millions of dollars in donations for non-existent projects.
The truth is life in the ghetto is far from easy hence anyone who grows up there has to be street smart for them to survive. Consequently, a number of youth resort to crime & drugs. However, that’s not all there is in the slums.
Most folks in Kibera are actually law-abiding citizens, peaceful, courteous & friendly. The area also houses some of Nairobi’s most beautiful women. Never before in my life have I seen I have seen such ambition, grit, unwavering hope, aspirations, dreams and talent in young people who despite getting a raw deal from life don’t feel sorry for themselves or let their surroundings dampen their spirits.
I met school going kids growing up without the privileges and opportunities kids on the other side of the city have. Some had taken over parental responsibilities, fend for themselves and still excel in school.
I interacted with people who despite owning almost nothing share the little they have with those who don’t. There is a sense of community, belonging and lots of people with hearts of gold something you don’t normally see in most Kenyan middle-class neighborhoods.
There are about 200 slum settlements in Nairobi hosting over 2.5 million residents, which translates to a whooping 60% of Nairobians. These areas are hotbeds of raw talent. They host some of Kenya’s finest innovators, enterprising men, and women who churn money out of nothing.
There are lots of positive stories from the ghettos. It’s time we highlight them instead of the old myopic narrative.
For our country to prosper we cannot continue neglecting the urban poor. They don’t need pity or handouts when elections draw near. What they really need is mentorship, equal opportunities, apprenticeship, capital, hope, and to be treated with respect and dignity they deserve.
Spare an hour of your time, visit a school in the slum, mentor and inspire the children. Believe you me that would go a long way in making a difference.
Written By Mark Maish