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My first week walking through Kibera was filled with the constant smell of feces and body odor, the sounds of roosters crowing and shouts of “mzungu!”, sights ranging from a kid pooping on the side of the road to a literal waterfall filled with trash to stray dogs searching muddy streams for scraps, feelings like sweat and, if you can believe it, something like acceptance.
After a brief trip out to Western Kenya, my time in Nairobi has been wrapped up in the small but incredible ministry of Tumaini church and its school, Hope Academy. My new friend, Pastor Fred, runs both. He’s an incredibly intelligent and compassionate man who could be living large if he simply rejected God’s calling to live and minister in the slums.
Clay (another WND intern) and I spoke a lot over the next week about Kibera and why, oddly enough, it didn’t make us want to break down and weep and the horrible conditions we saw. It wasn’t until we spoke with Pastor Fred that I understood what was going on.
We sat down for chai with him after school one day. As we were drinking, Clay mentioned that Kibera, in fact, seems to be a functioning society. Fred got excited, declaring, “That’s exactly right!” Kibera, while far from perfect, is a functioning society. He went on to talk about some of the real issues in Kibera and I felt as though we were talking about poverty back in the States.
Although they may look different on the outside, the issues are the same. I see the same drug addictions in Kibera as I see around Indianapolis. I see single moms in Kibera trying to raise kids without a deadbeat dad, much like some parents of kids I counseled at camp in Indianapolis last year, and the list could go on and on.
This is why the physical poverty didn’t really bother me as I walked about the slum day by day. I’m starting to understand its true source.
People in Kibera aren’t starving, per se. At least none that I’ve seen… Fred explained that, in Kibera, if someone is short on food their neighbor will help them out, knowing the favor would be returned.
Fred also pointed out how physical poverty is never really cured because of human materialism. If I get another set of clothes then I’ll want a better house, then I’ll want a car, then a vacation house, etc. etc.
The only real cure for the physical side of poverty is contentedness. Without contentedness, you can have the world and still not have enough to “get by.” The real issue in Kibera, Fred described, is in the spirit of poverty: the cyclical system of injustice that prevents people from moving beyond a desperate search for necessities to finding value true in their lives.
That is the reason Hope Academy exists. Not to give handouts, but to foster hope.
Students at Hope Academy have all the burdens of poverty when they come to school. But while they’re there, they shed those burdens for a time. They learn important skills, yes, but also they are valued and given an opportunity to dream and forge ahead.
They are given hope in the form of an education, a staff that genuinely cares for and about them, and of course, the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ. Faith, hope, and love are deeply connected to one another. When one is loved they begin to have faith they have value and can hope for a brighter future.
So love is the answer.
Cheesy? Yes, but it’s cheesy for good reason. It works. I have seen a lot of heart wrenching things in the poverty in Western Kenya, in Kibera, and even back in Indianapolis. But despite the poverty I also see a wealth of hope rising up in people who are learning to combat the spirit of poverty with the spirit of love.
About the Author: Joe is a 2014 WND intern. Born in Arizona, Joe has lived in Indiana for as long as he can remember and is a true Hoosier, doubly since finishing his second year at Indiana University. He currently has no plans for life after finishing his non-profit management degree, but will be well prepared should a robot OR zombie apocalypse strike. A wanna be renaissance-man, he dabbles in ultimate frisbee, cross country, writing, and guitar.