Good Intentions

Posted Jul 08, 2009 by 7 Comments

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!).

The rock wall, intended to prevent the collapse of the embankment.

The rock wall, intended to prevent the collapse of the embankment.

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.

The poorly designed drainage ditch.

The poorly designed drainage ditch.

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.

The landslide.  Walls of the crushed home are still visible in the top left of the image.

The landslide. Walls of the crushed home are still visible in the top left of the image.

“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.

Pastor Fred (bottom right) meeting with a group of pastors from around Kibera.  These are the long-haulers.

Pastor Fred (bottom right) meeting with a group of pastors from around Kibera. These are the long-haulers.

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.

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Next Steps
    • 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.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive 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.

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  1. Amy Osgood said... 


    July 8th, 2009 at 9:28 am  

    How very sad for the families who lost loved ones. My prayers go to their grieving hearts.

    This idea of magic bullets is close to our hearts if we look closely. How often do I try the quick fix? How many times have I thought “If I just do this…”. Even in our relationships we think we can change someone’s rough life by just this or just that. Truth of what they need is someone to walk alongside them with the love of Christ for the long haul. Not many Americans are ready to do that either. Recently when I was watching a friend unable to recognize their issue, God clearly said, “when they get to the end of themselves, I’ll be there.” Words from our ulitmate “Long-Hualer”. Praise Him Who continues to go the distance with me. Those from Tumaini church are great representations of God Spirit and His Heart. Blessings to each of them and to you!

  2. Kevin Law said... 


    July 8th, 2009 at 8:47 pm  

    I have an acronym that came to me by way of a Styx song (I know – forgettable 80’s stuff): LTSB – Long Term Slow Burn. I’m just as tempted as the next guy by the quick fix, but I try to remember this when embarking on any venture.

  3. rob said... 


    July 9th, 2009 at 12:05 pm  

    My mind’s been brewing over the whole idea of faithfulness in small things over the long haul. It’s what’s framing a theme for the next year and all kinds of stories seem to be popping up – like this one. The “fix-it guy” in me LOVES to get things fixed in a hurry, which is how I look at Kibera (and all kinds of broken places). I want to stop all the suffering NOW. I want to bring peace and comfort NOW. I want…
    Thanks for the reminder and healthy perspective from your vantage point on the ground (and thanks Kevin, for the Styx reference!).

  4. Dave Quigley said... 


    July 10th, 2009 at 7:20 pm  

    I love the long-haulers! Wherever they are, you can see the wisdom in their eyes when asked simple questions or “fixes” are suggested. Thanks for celebrating the long haulers in a harsh and very real world.

  5. Jane VanOsdol said... 


    July 14th, 2009 at 9:22 pm  

    The long-haulers are the ones who are usually there first and the ones who have to help clean up from the “quick bullet” blunders. I thank God for the long-haulers in my life!

  6. Barry Rodriguez said... 


    September 18th, 2009 at 1:03 pm  

    Interesting. It appears that they have begun moving people into those apartments…

  7. Breanna Sipple said... 


    February 15th, 2011 at 10:14 am  

    This was one of my favorite articles I’ve read about your trip to Kenya in 2009 because what you wrote is so true. When you share about those at Tumaini Church, the “longhaulers”, I am reminded of Galatians 6:9
    “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

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