Tuesday, September 27, 2011


It's been 5 months since I left and I thought I would send a brief update on my life here..

Nairobi- a city of over 4 million, with around a third of the population living in slum/informal settlements. A city whose air quality doesn't meet World Health Organization minimum standards, thanks to the most unorganized and horrendous traffic known to man. No vehicle here would pass Vancouver's "Air Care" tests, I can tell you that! This city is extremely divided between the Rich and the Poor. I did not experience this in Uganda, nor have I experienced it anywhere in the world as much as I do here. Being white I automatically am assumed to be Rich, as much as I struggle to say that I'm not. I get called at and stared at on the streets I frequent, offered safaris and taxis and fancy hotels, no matter how hard I try to explain I am working in one of the large slums on the outskirts of Nairobi's industrial area. It's a hard city to work in. It takes me about 1 1/4 hours to get to work each day, and about the same to get home- unless I leave after 4pm, and then I will be stuck in traffic for over 2 hours.

But it is a very cosmopolitan city. There are also concerts and plays and films going on, cultural activities and festivals. It's a fun city to visit, or to explore and do all these fun things. There's a national park, lots of animal centers, classy malls, restaurants, bars and museums. It's really strange, my life sometimes..I go from working in the slum all day, traveling on public matatus (small busses), to going out to a nice(er) restaurant and film in the evening. Working in Development is a confusing world to navigate, how much should you spend on certain things, when should you feel bad for living in a nice and safe apartment when the people I work for and with live in 10 by 10 iron sheeting house?

I work in Mukuru slum, Hazina estate. Mukuru is what I call a "forgotten slum". Everyone knows about Kibera slum. It is famous, thanks to Bono, the film "the Constant Gardner" and President Obama. It's population alone is said to be around 1 million. We are not sure how accurate that is. Apparently the stat for NGOs working in Kibera is one NGO for every one thousand people. The most exaggerated I've heard is that there is one NGO for every 15 people in Kibera, or maybe that's just what it feels like. Kibera is impressive because it is all in one area. The other slum settlements in Nairobi are spread out- such as Mukuru. Mukuru is in between the industrial factories, in smaller pockets of around one hundred thousand, apparently the total is around 600,000, but again, it's impossible to know exact numbers in slum settlements. However we have recently been in the international news, as you may have heard about a pipeline explosion in a Nairobi slum. That was Mukuru Sinai, which is a ways away from our building but in the same area. The tragedy devastated the area and I visited the site a few days after it happened, when they were still finding bodies in the river. This is unfortunately a common occurrence in slum settlements, when there is a gas leak, people run to collect the fuel so they can sell it. However the fuel was flowing through the Ngnog "river" which doubles as the sewer, and houses are build overtop of it. One match, one flame from a cooking stove, and the fuel set fire and flew down the river- burning to death anyone who was there trying to collect fuel.

Where I am based, there are many one or two humanitarian organizations. This is why Mukuru youth have taken matter into their own hands, and ten years ago a group of Kenyan friends formed my current placement; Make A Better World Kenya (MABWOK). They do a million things, but most powerfully is offering early childhood education program, with a linking adult literacy program for the parents of the children, a computer training program, economic empowerment/financial literacy program, and small business/entrepreneurship training program. Their main funder pulled out recently, but the staff have insisted that programs continue as before. This is where I come in- my main role is to support the development of sustainable social enterprises that MABWOK can engage in, to run part of their organization with profit making businesses that can fund the education and training programs at the organization. Currently they are collecting school fees from parents and computer training students, running a small internet cafe with a few working computers, and selling water. We are working on a few other programs that I will continue to update on.

My biggest belief is in MABWOK and my greatest pride will be assisting them to becoming sustainable. They are smart, hard working and deserve recognition. I just wanted to tell you all about them!

I have 3 months left here, and by all means if anyone is interested in hearing more about MABWOK, Street Kids International, or Kenya... Drop me a line at vkharris@gmail.com.

Thanks again for your prayers- for me but more importantly for people of Nairobi- of Kenya- of Mukuru slum, and all informal urban slum settlements around the globe that simply need some investment from their governments to make them thrive.