Email, Education, and Inflation in Kibera May 27, 2011  by      

From CFK Summer 2011 Fellow Kevin Diao:


Today, I traveled with Nick, one of the CFK “youth” (quotations, because youth in Kenya can refer to anyone from 5 years old to 30 years old – Nick is 23 years old) field officers through three of the villages: Kianda, Soweto West, and Raila. These villages are situated on the western portion of Kibera. The CFK main office is located nearby in Olympic Estate. We delivered messages to various secondary schools telling of an upcoming CFK-sponsored discussion. The discussion would address the role of parents in talking to their kids about sex and sexual reproductive health. The journey of twists and turns down thin alleyways and over shaky, wooden ad hoc bridges that connected the two banks of sewage rivers took all of about two or three hours. E-mail probably would have been easier, but in a society that emphasizes formalities (the best example that comes to mind is the way people here are often welcomed and bid farewell to with short, serious, personal “speeches”), hard letters are much more effective and welcomed.

If e-mails were used predominantly, attendance at events would likely be much smaller, some CFK staff members stipulated. So here we were, delivering the letters to the principles of the schools. Along the way, Nick and I discussed our aspirations as well as political turmoil and corruption that plagued Kenya and ultimately resulted in the oppression of Kiberan people – when politics and corruption reign supreme, the poorest of the poor are the ones who lose and pay for it.

Nick is studying law at Mt. Kenya University in Nairobi. He plans to become a lawyer and use his skills to fight for the legal rights of Kiberans. While he generally works from 8-5 AM each day with CFK, he fits in night class that lasts from 5:30PM to 8:30PM at the University. The amount of effort and determination that such a rigorous schedule demands is incredible, yet it is fairly commonplace in the area. While journeying through Raila village (named after the current Prime Minister, Raila Odinga), we ran into one of Nick’s good friends, named Reagan. The two have been friends since early in primary school. Reagan graciously led us to his modest but cozy home in Raila. My best guess was that his home was 10 ft by 11 ft or so. He lived there by himself, with a very friendly cat that immediately jumped on me and made himself at home in my lap. There were two sofas, a chair, a coffee table in the middle, and a TV which all but took up the ~110 sq ft. On the wall hung some of his soccer equipment and some Chelsea and Arsenal memorabilia (two soccer English Premier League soccer teams, for those who aren’t familiar with it). Reagan told me that this was the first time he had a “mzungu” (the word for white people in Swahili, although it’s also occasionally used as an umbrella term for foreigners) visit his home.

Reagan was an amazingly generous host, in true Kenyan fashion, and told me it was a privilege to have me there. I quickly told him, meaning every word, that it really was my privilege to be there. Moments like these are, without a doubt, the most memorable and rewarding. We hung out there and relaxed and just talked about whatever. Later on, another one of their long-time friends named George arrived. While Reagan is studying social work resource management at Kenyatta University, George is also studying law (I believe at Mt. Kenya at well, though I didn’t ask). The three used to live in a hostel together, in a room that housed 16 boys in total. Today, Reagan said, 13 of them are left, and they are still a tightly knit group. He proudly talked about how within the group there are [future] lawyers, social workers, accountants, IT specialists, and teachers. One day, he said, the 13 might create an organization for progress in Kibera. This is exactly the kind of powerful and pervasive effect that education can have.

Reagan talked about how because of rampant inflation in Kenya, the friends have slowly had to reduce from three meals a day, to two meals a day, to now, when they eat just one meal a day (supper). We joked about the ridiculously large plates of pilau and ugali that were served as a result, and about taking any kind of quantity over quality in meals. We laughed it off. Bear with the sidetrack here, it’ll make sense in a moment, but there is a rumor, or more properly named – prophecy – going around here that the world is going to end on Saturday 5/21, but people everywhere have been talking about it. Anyways, I told the friends that now that the world is ending, they can finally go for quality instead of quantity. They heartily agreed, deciding that they would go for pizza (for the first time) and then would be ready to leave behind the world.

Here are some pictures taken in Raila village of Nick and I, not more than a minute from Reagan’s house.

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2 responses to “Email, Education, and Inflation in Kibera”

  1. Mia Kennedy says:

    Kevin, this is beautifully written and an inspiring story. The boys you are talking about sound as if they have their heads screwed on and will make a real difference to those that live in Kibera. A great insight into the work that is being done. Thank you.

  2. Thomas Bwire says:

    I like the flow of the blog and truly written with a purpose. Would love to see Kibera being transformed by elite minds that know the kind of problems we do experience so as we can have a better tomorrow for the generations to come

    Bravo Kevin

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