Apparently our Africa trip recap needs THREE posts. Here’s the third and heaviest one. Our last full day in Nairobi we chose to visit Kibera, Africa’s second largest slum (though on google I’m finding articles that say it is THE largest in Africa). It was one of those days that changed all four of us.
Maybe I haven’t posted about this for a year because I haven’t had the words. It was unlike any place I had ever seen – or imagined – in my life. First of all it was HUGE. A million people live in this particular slum; it spans a few square miles.
We met our tour guide, Abzed, that morning in a nearby shopping center. He had us remove all valuables, even a simple gold chain necklace Sally was wearing. I carried a backpack with a few of our belongings tucked away. We had Abzed carry a duffle bag we brought. It was filled with coloring books, crayons, stickers and two emergency water filter kits.
We didn’t know what to expect. I remember how I imagined the slums before that day. I was way off. I thought I knew how to imagine poverty but I had no idea. The roads weren’t concrete, they were barely even dirt. They were more a combination of mud and trash. And the smell was overwhelming. Bathrooms were a rarity, in some cases one per 100 people.
It is extreme poverty, one I have now seen with my eyes but still don’t have the words to describe.
It quickly became noticeable how different we were. How foreign we were with our light skin, long hair, makeup and clean clothes. I nudged the girls to take our sunglasses off because that was just one more glaringly obvious difference. They stared at us. Straight faces, eyes locked on us. It was intimidating and unnerving. Not scary. But uncomfortable in a lot of ways. But then we’d give them a little smile and nod. Look them in their eyes. And most of the time they’d smile back. They were curious. What were these different looking people doing here?
I didn’t get any pictures of the areas we walked through except the following. It was NEVER an appropriate time to take out a cell phone and take a picture. I’ve never been more clear on that. But no one was around and I wanted to snap a quick picture to be able to relay to my family the level of poverty we witnessed.
The Children at Grace of the Lord Academy
We had been walking for maybe 30 minutes when we arrived at Grace of the Lord Academy, a school for kids ages 6-13. The name sounds so formal and fancy, right? But there were no hard floors, tall ceilings, running water. I didn’t even see any school supplies in the classroom we entered.
We were given a warm welcome from Ms. Jane and her students. They were all seated on their benches, in their coordinating uniforms, well behaved, staring at us, curious. The kids were young, maybe between 3 and 6. It was like their preschool-aged class. I noticed how close in age the kids were to Layla and Ellie.
They watched us intensely as we unpacked the duffle bag and got ready to hand out the art supplies we brought. We gifted Mrs. Jane with one of the water filters we brought with us. She was so grateful. There is a water crisis in Kibera. Not only is their water not clean, but they only get it 3 times a week, and sometimes one has to wait in line for hours to fill up their jugs. I just got word that they are still using the filter at the school.
But these kids… you would never know their hardships from their attitudes. They oozed love and joy. They didn’t know what a sticker was or how to use it so they brought the sheets to us to peel them off. Even after we showed them how, they still wanted us to do it. They’d hold out their hands or point to their shirts where they wanted us to place the sticker. The eventually ended up all over them, even their faces. They laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world.
We noticed how well they shared with each other. I didn’t witness any of the “MINE!” stuff we see so often among kids this age. We gave them small coloring books and a colored pencil (just one each) and they were thrilled. They asked us to draw pictures and help them color.
Ms. Jane kept telling us “Easter came early! You have blessed us all!” but in reality, WE were the blessed ones. What these children showed us was much more than the time, art supplies and water filters we brought them. Perspective. That’s what they gave us. Our typical problems are not serious problems, their first-world problems. That phrase couldn’t be more true. And they taught us about joy. That joy comes from within, that you don’t really need that much to be happy. And even, the more simple things are, the more happy you might be.
However, these kids DO need more. They need healthcare and clean water and toilets.
They need the opportunity to get an education. I got word a few days ago that the school is in serious need. They’re a few months behind on rent payments and they don’t have enough funding for their food program. As a result their attendance is dropping.
We have to help!
We have created a gofundme campaign to help raise funds to keep the school from closing down. Our goal is to cover the rent costs and food program expenses for a year.
Please consider chipping in a few bucks to support these children. They would be SO very grateful for your help!
Thank you from all of us!