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It started with good intentions.
Several years ago, the Kenyan government embarked on a project they thought would quickly and effectively ‘fix’ the problem of overcrowding in Kibera. The answer? Brand new apartment buildings.
The plan was to build government subsidized apartments on the edge of the slum. Once built (so the plan went), eager residents would move out of the informal settlement, allowing bulldozers to come in and make room for even more apartments.
Well, the apartments are built, but nobody lives in them. Years have passed, the apartments remain walled off and the slum continues to grow. Apparently the builders are waiting on the sewage system to be finished (although the fact that rent there will cost more than most people make in a month might also be a factor!).
Meanwhile, in preparation for this fabled sewer system, an army of manual laborers have been building a stone wall down the street that is supposed to prevent an embankment from collapsing under the weight of the new sewage.
Part of the wall includes a drainage ditch that inexplicably runs straight down the hill, onto the same embankment they are trying to preserve.
With such shoddy workmanship, it was only a matter of time before something went wrong. All it took was one heavy rain, and the embankment, heavy laden with all this new water runoff, collapsed in a terrible landslide Saturday morning.
The mud and rocks in the slide crushed two homes, trapping two school-age children and their adult neighbor. By the time frantic residents were able to remove the bodies from the mud, all three were dead.
Obviously nobody can blame the embankment’s collapse on those empty apartment buildings. It wasn’t technically the government’s fault that three people died. But I find it interesting that such good intentions could lead to such tragedy.
As I walk past the embankment now (which is on the way to Tumaini), I am reminded of something that has become apparent as I’ve lived in Kibera. Magic bullets don’t exist.
Magic bullets are those sweeping initiatives and “quick fixes” that are supposed to change the slum in one fell stroke.
“If we can just teach women in Kibera how to make necklaces…”
“All we need to do is provide school lunches…”
“If we build just a few new apartments…”
These magic bullets sound great on paper. They look amazing in Powerpoint presentations. And they are also what Westerners (like me) love to read about.
We want to believe that Kibera is “fixable.” We want to believe that if there was just a little more money put into this school or that initiative, the poverty and suffering would end. But magic bullets don’t work. They don’t fix anything. And sometimes, they create more problems than they solve.
Ok then… That’s depressing. Putting it that way, it sounds like there isn’t any hope here.
Oh, but there is. And that’s the amazing part. There may not be hope in the magic bullets, but there is hope in a group of people who actually are making a difference here.
I like to call these people the “long-haulers.” These are the people who have dedicated their lives to social justice in the slums. These are the people who live here, who love here. These are the people who are in it for the long-haul.
My friends at Tumaini church are long-haulers. Pastor Fred has been living and working in Kibera since 2002. He’s educated. He’s talented. He speaks English perfectly. But Pastor Fred is a long-hauler. He and his team are following the call of God in this difficult place, despite the sacrifices it requires.
And you can see the difference they’re making. Tumaini Church is meeting the needs of their community from the ground level. Food programs (like the sukuma wiki sacks I mentioned before), counseling and a brand new elementary school… All of them tailored specifically to the needs of their people.
In the end, they may not reach more than a relative handful of folks, but the fact is, they are reaching them. Tumaini’s work won’t burn out after a year. It won’t go up in the smoke of good intentions.
Tumaini Church, along with all the other clinics, schools and churches they partner with here, can meet the needs of individuals like no huge ribbon cutting ceremony ever can. There are no magic bullets here. But the long-haulers are making a difference.
Now, obviously I am not saying that huge NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) or international aid agencies aren’t effective. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they are able to help alleviate poverty or create jobs or promote sustainable living.
But from what I’ve seen on the ground, the NGO’s are not the ones who will “fix” Kibera. Real change is going to come from the long-haulers.
As the family of the landslide victims continue to grieve, as the government continues to make promises and as the residents of Kibera continue to survive, you can be sure of one thing…
The long-haulers are still here, and they’re not going anywhere.
- Pray for the families of the landslide victims.
- Send an encouraging email to Pastor Fred! (We will pass it on to him)
- Comment and tell us about some "long-haulers" you know.
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.