Transformation through experience
In August/21 I traveled to Kenya to dedicated myself in a volunteering project in the second largest slum in Africa continent. It's part of my personal project of traveling the world as a process of self transformation, enhancing values and reinforcing that education is the unique path to strengthen and raise equality and income distribution aiming a sustainable world. Therefore I invite you to travel with me by reading text below:
Kenya and its challenges
Kenya has a population of almost 50 millions people and despite of its development in past few years, it is still considered a poor country. Two-thirds of Kenyan population lives in poverty below U$3,20/day and unemployment rate reached 40% of the population. Paradoxically has the third largest economy in Africa, behind Nigeria and South Africa - which denotes a huge concentration of money causing inequality and corruption - growing an average of 5,4% annually. Its economy is based on agriculture, forestry, mining and tourism (which has been severely impacted by the pandemic). Under Democratic system but with several corruption scandals and about to elect the next president, Kenya is trying to find its way for a sustainable growth. There are 42 tribes and each one with their own culture and language. So imagine how complex it is. Additionally it has been rapidly increasing its population (by the way, África has 1B people and expectation is to reach 3B people by the end of this century).
If not correctly addressed, poverty will continue to raise and will be severely impacted by global warming which will strongly hit Africa, actually it’s already reflecting on agriculture due to lack of rains and extremely weather conditions. Regions which used to be quite productive with very ground nutrients are turning into dead zones. Antagonistically they are paying a price not caused by them, but by developed countries which keep on releasing CO2 emissions into Atmosphere and so far haven’t demonstrated interested in extinguishing it (earth has reached already 1,5C, overcoming the limit stablished by Paris agreement).
The capital Nairobi is the most populated city in Kenya with near 5 million people. It’s a chaotic place, extremely crowded and dangerous for foreigners as mugging, scams and kidnapping often happen. Everywhere you go you see bridges, highways and many infrastructure construction supported by Chinese investments. Outstanding goes over trillions and will take decades to be settled.
Nairobi holds the first and second largest slums in whole Africa, Kibera and Mathare.
Mathare slum has near to 1M people living in a very precarious, to do not say sub human, lifestyle. There is no sanitation, dump site, potable water and electricity fails often. People live in spaces 10x10m with no kitchen and toilet. They’ve been completely forgotten by government. Children play with old tires on its dusty roads and alongside open sewer, surrounded by mosquitos, flies, chickens, goats and millions of bacteria. Diseases are quite common due to lack of hygiene aggravated by the environment they’re inserted.
Inside this context I decided to volunteer in a NGO based on Lea Mathare, supporting a children school dedicated for those who cannot afford education.
I lived with a Kenyan family and shared same behaviors. Small apartment and 7 people sharing two bedrooms (5 kids, the couple and me) located in a poor Nairobi area.
The quantity of insects are impressive and bed nets became imperative for sleeping. Walking on streets, which is an elementar activity, turned into a challenge as everywhere I went people stared me, called as “muzungo” and tried to sell me something as being white is some areas can be a synonym of money.
Woke up everyday at 5am, had a quick breakfast and walked 1,5km toward bus station. Public transport in Nairobi is not regulated by government which denotes poor service quality. Old busses, produced in Japan under the brand of Isuzu. Every bus was remodeled according to drive’s will, which includes very loud musics, over capacity and often not respecting any sort of rule.
After a journey of 20 minutes heading to Lea Mathare, walked around 2.5km up to the school in order to start daily tasks.
Returned from school around 6am, completing more than 12 hours of working. Had a quick dinner and went to bad in order to have a little rest to the upcoming day.
My activities included help in kitchen, teaching, fundraising, painting, play with kids, help somehow the community and any other help they may needed.
Founded on 2013, the school attends 100 children every day from age 4 to 15 and supports the less fortunate such as women, the sick and PWD. Provides also two meals per day (breakfast and lunch). Many kids come to school mainly to be fed, as they don’t have it on their own homes. Since the organization opened its door for community way back 1000+ children had passed through the programe in terms of education support. On Saturdays there is also a feeding program sponsored by local partners, providing between 500 and 800 meals to be shared with the local community.
Considering there isn’t any support from Union, the organization counts on donations from every kind of entities, such as private donations, partnership with farms, companies and foreign organization from all over the world. Also it’s very impressive the impact that can be created with low amount of money (based on ocidental perspective). A rent inside the slum costs around U$20/month, keep a child in school no more than U$100/semester. Food in the community can be guaranteed by only U$40/month. If you are reading this article from developed countries or from BRICS you may think it’s crazy.
The NGO aims the education as a path to break this vicious cycle and give some contribution to the kids as well as the community. Certainly it is not enough but as a result of this, children have food, education and support from teachers, besides others activities such as community clean and sports.
Despite all of this outstanding work from NGO, it’s unlikely they can accomplish it organically to change local economic panorama. Political moves are imperative conditions so as external support from developed countries. It’s a must to migrate from an extractive political cultural to a trustworthy democratic system. Distribute income to population and invest on education are sine qua non conditions to reduce poverty and inequality.
The experience has been transforming and has still shaping my way of thinking as it became clear that our reality does not reflect the world’s reality. However I admit that the mainly and most important lesson was seeing how charity is relevant and how small projects can transform people’s live and bring some comfort to disadvantaged ones. It’s just breathtaking seeing people dedicating their own lives to support someone else.
They live with very few and even though share without hesitating. Additionally it has become crystal clear how privileged am I for having education opportunity. It’s transforming and mind-changing.
Education is the unique path to transform the world into a better place. Alienated population is not capable to push the elected ones for better life quality such as access to basic public services, healthcare, security and education. Poverty strengthens populism. Politicians seeking for votes promises silly and unreliable things and an attentive population can contest it immediately. Reason it’s not unusual seeing lack of education investments in poor countries once it favors elites and inequality - we can even trace a parallel with Brazilian scenery -.
Progress has come, but along with all the benefits, issues like excess of plastic, CO2 emissions increasing, pollution, nature destruction and violence have come together.
Africa is about to finally have an important role in the world but it needs to be done sustainably and unfortunately it’s not happening in majority places.
This opportunity was only possible because of a man named Reagan Waithaka. He opened his house to me, provided all information and shared all his thoughts about poverty challenges. He had a such difficult life but turned around and founded an outstanding project here described. I could not describe in words how grateful am for having him a tutor during 14 days that we spent together (24 hours per day). He gently resumed his biography and I share here below.
Am Reagan Waithaka, born and raised by a single mother in Mathare slum Nairobi Kenya. Am 36 years old.
My Mother passed away when I was 15 years old. My mother death pushed me to run away from school and home and start living in the streets of Nairobi. Life in the streets was not easy for me because I could even spend days without food. I used to go to the dumpsite to look for something to eat.
After living in the streets for 2 years, I met a good samaritan who took me back to school (primary school). I was thirsty for education so I worked very hard until I completed my primary education level (Grade 8).
In the year 2000 I joined secondary education level, where by I dropped out of school again on the year 2003, all this years I was staying in a missionary church.
After dropping out of school I went back to Mathare slum and start working in Mathare river where we used to prepare and sell illicit brew and other types of drugs and that become the end of my education.
I worked there for 4 years until I met a friend of mine whome I used to play soccer with. He advised me to leave that job and focus on playing soccer, that's when my talent was identified by local football club and I was named to Play in Sweden and Qatar.
I played soccer for 6 years with no benefits.
On 2011 I went back to my community and start life again, that's when I looked back to where I came from and one thing on my mind was there is majority of children who are suffering the way I suffered.
In the year 2012 I collected data analysis to know and identified how many children were out of school and those who have never joined school and the results were very shocking, because 30% didn't attend school.
On 2013 I founded a Nonprofit community organization (LEA MATHARE FOUNDATION) to support the less fortunate children, women, the sick and PWD.
Under the organization I run a primary school with a total of 100 students between the age of 4 to 15 years.
Since the organization opened its doors for community wayback 1000+ childen had passed though the program in terms of education support.
I dedicate myself to transform, change and support the next generation because children are the future.
Sources: World Bank, Usaid, How to avoid a climate disaster (Bill Gates)