Volunteering in my community November 27, 2010 by Carolina For Kibera
From Education Program Volunteer David Otieno
Volunteering in CFK’s Education Program has been one of the most interesting and amazing experiences in my entire life. I live in Kibera, but working with my neighbors as well as CFK’s many visitors and volunteers has taught me more than I ever expected.
Part of my role in the program is to visit the homes of our scholarship recipients. A typical home visit starts bycalling the parents and asking them to meet you at the CFK office. We then embark on a long journey to their home through narrow corners, navigating dark alleys and being cautious not to fall into the many open sewage lines. Normally such a walk is characterized by numerous stories and complaints from the enthusiastic parents ranging from overeating children to skyrocketing food prices and lack of security. Chatting with a female parent is interesting. It seems that they are always complaining about their husbands. By the time you reach the house, you practically have nothing to talk about because the information you have is more than what you wanted.
But sometimes I walk through Kibera with a mzungu (white/foreigner) and it’s a completely different experience. This journey is usually characterized by numerous shouts of hawayu (how are you) from half naked and in most cases, malnourished children. The mzungu smiles, ask for a translation and calmly responds nzuri sana (I’m fine). The children then giggle their way away, partly happy that they had communicated to a mzungu but at the same time disappointed at their lack of enough vocabulary to continue their conversation.
When I am alone, I receive a warm welcome from both the children and the parents. When I begin to ask questions, the parents are not afraid to give me the real answers. However, when I have a mzungu with me, everything is different. The family becomes reserved and is almost unwilling to share their issues. When they do finally speak up, they give me a long list of excuses rather than reasons. Meanwhile, the other children simply stare at the white fellow, wishing that they had more words to say to him/her apart from the hawayu. The mzungu periodically nods, smiles, and whispers for a translation. I wonder if the translation is good, knowing that it will turn their smiles into frowns. Without the mzungu, these discussions last fifteen minutes; but when I am with a mzungu , these conversations can last up to thirty minutes because of the long pauses, language barriers, and sometime uncomfortable feeling of the situation.
The different in treatment clearly comes due to the fact that African culture often encourages people not to disclose their poverty or frustration to strangers, until they have built some rapport with the “stranger”. This explains why the community members would rather wait until they reach the house to discuss their issues. Problems like gender violence are considered private and cannot be disclosed to the white fellow. Trust is not earned easily, but learning a few swahili greetings and words help. Here’s a few to get you started:
Habari? – How are you?
Nzuri – Fine (response to Habari?)
Jina Lako ni nani? – What’s your name?
Jina langu ni _____. – My name is _____.
Tuende! – Let’s go!
Asante – Thank you