Sunday, May 13, 2018

First Time in Kibera (Largest Slum in Africa?)

I went to Kibera for the first time last week. It was a work trip, as we're not normally allowed to go for security reasons. Kibera, located right here in Nairobi, is famous as the largest urban slum in Africa. Though some prefer the term "informal settlement" to "slum", I've heard locals (including those who live in these neighborhoods) use both.

My biggest takeaway from this visit was the friendliness of the residents! People were so happy and welcoming to me, even though I was so clearly an outsider. I dropped a few Kiswahili words and they were over the moon.

I was there for the commissioning of the SHOFCO School for Girls. SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) describes itself as a movement, and it certainly has a unique story: a partnership between a Kenyan man who grew up in the slums and an American woman who studied abroad and never ended up leaving.

The event was attended by the U.S. Ambassador, the First Lady of Kenya, and several other high-level guests. I was really impressed by the grace, charisma, and warmth of the First Lady. I can see why she is so popular even among political opposition circles.

I also got a few small glimpses of life in Kibera in between stops at the work event. For example, this sign above shows the cost of a few things in the nice part of the neighborhood. Kenyan shillings are about equivalent to cents, so using this toilet costs 5 cents. Many still couldn't afford or chose not to spend that amount, as I learned when I picked up certain smells while walking around.

I've also never seen so many secondhand clothes street stalls, and they're pretty ubiquitous in Kenya. It definitely explains how we come to find random Kenyans wearing things like Virginia Tech football hoodies and even Ingress shirts.

Before I left, I grabbed a photo of this #vaccineswork sign because seeing the public health issues here has made me appreciate my privilege so much more. I never had to worry about polio as a child in the relatively-highly-vaccinated United States (something that is unfortunately starting to change). For the first time, I now know a polio survivor. Even those who have sanitation and eat healthy food can be at risk due to lack of access to vaccines. Many mothers would give anything to be able to obtain this level of protection for their children. I am so proud of the work my colleagues do to help expand access to these and other life-saving treatments around the world. Nobody should have to suffer from a disease we have the potential to eradicate.

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to support this event and visit Kibera. Kenya is one adventure after another, and the diversity of Kenyan experiences never ceases to amaze me.

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