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Ever since I decided to stay in Kibera slum, I’ve looked forward to experiencing what the place is like at night. Many mzungus (white folks) have been in and out during the day, but because of fear, ignorance or perhaps, I don’t know… sanity?, they leave before the sun goes down.
I have now stayed in Kibera for four nights, and what I’ve already learned is blowing me away.
No such thing as peace…
One of the first things I’ve noticed during the night in Kibera is the sound. It never stops. Lying in bed writing this, I can hear my neighbor laughing and chatting in Swahili, a baby crying a few doors down and a train chugging past. KTN (Kenya Television Network) is blaring on some tiny TV somewhere and dishes are being put away after dinner.
I can hear it all, because there is a gap between the roof and the top of my wall. One of the windows of my room is just a hole stuffed full of cardboard. My ceiling is a thin sheet of corrugated metal.
And this “house” is one of the nicer ones.
In Kibera, a few square miles that is home to over 1,000,000 inhabitants (yes, million), there is always noise somewhere. Even in the dead of night.
No such thing as space…
Obviously, when cramming millions of people into a tiny area, space is at a premium. In the evening, when most families close themselves in for the night, everyone gathers in their tiny one or two room shacks. There is no way to find any sort of “alone time” other than in the dark and smelly outhouses, (and even there you can hear every sound made by the person in the next stall!).
My host family’s baby is just getting over some sort of illness. As a result, he has been cranky and temperamental. When he is not getting his way, his cries and shrieks practically shake the room.
And as much as I would like to just leave when he’s fussy, the fact remains… I can’t. I am stuck in the 10 foot by 15 foot room with the baby and the rest of the family watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model on their 10 inch TV.
No such thing as reliability…
Electricity in Kibera is fickle (That is, even more fickle than in the rest of Nairobi!).
If it doesn’t rain enough, the hydroelectric dams don’t work and the power goes out. If it rains too much, power lines fall and the power goes out. If too many people tap into the lines illegally, the power goes out.
Since arriving on Friday night, we’ve already had two whole days without power.
It’s funny. I remember being practically paralyzed when the power went out at my apartment back in the States last year. “But without electricity, how will I check my email? Take a hot shower?? Cook my food???”
Looking back I see that perhaps I may have been taking electricity a bit for granted. I mean, in a place like Kibera, you never know if the current blackout will last two minutes or two days. It’s definitely forcing me to change my perspective on things.
So looking at what I’ve written above, it’s pretty obvious that Kibera is uncomfortable. Not exactly a relaxing place. But what I’ve discovered is that what is uncomfortable for me is debilitating for another group of residents here.
That group? Students.
Skim back at the “inconveniences” above. Now imagine trying to study for an exam or write a paper in conditions like those.
Imagine trying to read your homework assignment while your little brother and his friends run around screaming just outside. Imagine trying to memorize multiplication tables five feet away from a blaring TV. Imagine sharing your family’s one lantern with everyone else while you prepare for a speech tomorrow.
The fact is, even those students lucky enough to actually go to school are facing an uphill battle when it comes to their studies. For many, their homework goes unfinished, their papers go unwritten and their test scores fall and fall.
When Pastor Fred explained all of this to me, I was shocked. I honestly never would have thought about the lack of quiet, space and reliable electricity as contributing factors to poor education in the slums.
A simple solution…
That is why I was thrilled when he took me to visit a pilot project that Tumaini is working on with two other churches in Kibera… after-school study clubs.
Every evening, the churches open their doors to students from many different primary and secondary schools in the area. The church buildings are well lit, relatively spacious and best of all, quiet. In one room they have two whole bookshelves full of textbooks for the students to borrow (saving each student’s family a lot of money).
After arriving at the church, Pastor Fred and I watched a bunch of students studying, reading and writing. As we sat there, my heart was filled with hope. These kids were being given a chance that many in the slum will never have. All because of a few light bulbs and a quiet building.
Yet again I am floored by what God is doing here. A handful of simple Christ followers are taking what little they have to provide for the next generation.
Because of their sacrifice, these students are getting a chance to make it in school, a chance to go on to higher education and a chance to get out of the slum for good. Wow.
And to think… all of this goes on after the sun goes down.
- Try spending a day without electricity. See how much you learn!
- Consider covering the electric bill of an after-school study group for a year (it's $13 a month!). Email email@example.com for more information.
- Pray that Tumaini would be able to quickly start a new study group in their church building soon.
About the Author: Barry is the founder and director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.