Kibera Summer Reflections: 2011

I have been back home for almost three month but it still seems like I arrived yesterday.  I am not yet ready to leave to the United States. It’s always good to be back home in the neighborhood that I grew up in.  This is the place where I faced many challenges that prepared me for real life. I have to say it’s sad and fun to be back home. Its fun to see your friends, relatives and family members and it’s sad to see people still trapped in the same poverty that I left four years ago. It reminds me that it’s not easy to come out from this poverty and manipulation by the ruling class makes life so difficult for the poor. I feel sad to attend the burials of my friends who could not afford medication. Young people are dying here and it’s so painful as I wonder who will tell our stories, the stories of struggle, and the stories of survival.

I always make it clear that I didn’t get out of poverty because I’m smart. Many of my close friends are still suffering and yet they are the smartest people that I have known in my entire life. They are the people that I approach to listen to their ideas, but despite their brilliance they are trapped in a system that does not allow them the luxury of time and education to develop their talents.  Instead, they are consumed with thoughts of survival, of how to get a daily bread.

My friend Jimmy who I nicknamed Carter, after the US President, was my hero while I was growing up. I used to look up to Jimmy. He never got an education, but being uneducated never made him lose his focus. Jimmy worked as an unskilled laborer for many years. After many years of hard work, climbing up the ladder painstakingly slow, Jimmy became a skilled constructor. Jimmy became a hero in our community here in Kibera. Last year when I met Jimmy I cried for happiness, as I always looked up for him. I was so happy to see a hardworking poor man who became successful—as so often the story in Kibera is of wasted human potential. When I say Jimmy was a successful man, I don’t mean what the western world defines as successful. Jimmy could afford to pay his rent in the slums, had enough food, but still lives in his ten by ten mud house. When I met him last year, he had married. Jimmy was an orphan whose parents died in the village, leading him to come at an early age of 12 to find green pastures in Nairobi’s urban settlements. He thought life in the city was fun but it turned out to be hell, as Jimmy had no place to lay his head. Despite all of this, Jimmy made his way out and therefore he became my hero. He even taught himself how to write his own name.

Despite Jimmy’s struggle and ultimate success of having a wife, a steady income, and two beautiful children, the system did not want to see a poor man thrive.  I met Jimmy two weeks ago in the main street of Kibera near the railway line. It was a different Jimmy and I almost cried.  Jimmy had lost one of his legs! Jimmy told me that he lost his leg when he fell from the 20th floor of a house he was constructing. He fell while working and trying to earn a simple living. I could not stand seeing my friend in pain. Not only in pain, but he was in crutches and could not manage his mobility in a place like Kibera. The company never paid Jimmy for his work, there was no insurance, and they refused to even pay his hospital bills. Jimmy has gone back to square one, my hero could not penetrate the system.

What is a man to do in the ghetto? If he tries to join the gangs, he’ll be shot. If he tries to work hard the system is against still against. This is why my Rastafarian friend Ras Ndolo claims, “there is no problem but the system which doesn’t want to see us lifting up our heads.”


Stories like these are painful, that in order to continue believing and hoping I must contrast them against the stories of possibility and transformation that Shining Hope is making possible.  Indeed, my organization is progressing and at the moment we are building more classrooms. The girls at our school are so happy, and learning so much that they will have a real chance against the system. The largest water tower in Kibera is still under construction and the residents are so eagerly anticipating it’s opening. I’m thankful for my team in America and here in Kibera for their efforts to make us an organization able to change lives. We have touched the lives of many people and we are still growing.  This summer we also were joined by amazing young people though our Summer Institute. These volunteers are the future of the organization, as they remain ambassadors for life. The Kibera School for Girls also had opportunity to exchange ideas about our curriculum with teachers from The Chaplin School in New York.  That was a successful and remarkable moment.

I am about to travel back to the US for the start of the school year…

More writings on the way!!!!




2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mary Costa on August 25, 2011 at 4:33 am

    Always words of wisdom!


  2. Posted by Vivian Onano on August 31, 2011 at 1:52 am

    This is way too incredible..I have been moved to tears reading the story about Jimmy. He is indeed a hero and am sure all his efforts to make the world a better place will be realized through his children who will live his dream. He has a dream just as the Late Martin Luther King Jnr would say. Keep on inspiring!!


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