A Day Spent Cleaning Up Kibera June 20, 2014  by      

By: Charlie Sessoms, UNC School of Nursing Volunteer

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Daniel Mjee (Economic and Entrepreneurship Department Field Officer) tossed me a football jersey when I arrived Saturday morning, June 7, for the Taka ni Pato community trash clean-up event. And with that, I already felt like an important member of their team.  Kiberans young and old who I had not met before greeted me with energetic smiles as we left the Carolina for Kibera main office with karatasi (trash bags), rakes, and shovels. Dressed prepared to navigate the muddy streets in my old military boots, and alongside my new fellow volunteer friends from UNC, I was ready for my first lesson in Kiberan participatory development.

There were about 30 of us.  I didn’t know where I was going, so I just followed their lead. Some were raking, while others were holding open trash bags for those who were shoveling trash into them.  I found I could work fastest just picking up piles of trash with my hands—with broken glass and metal scrap everywhere, it probably wasn’t the brightest idea, even while wearing gloves. Nonetheless, my adrenaline let me ignore this risk.DSC_0306 [re-size]

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Other Kiberans were going about their daily business. Some of them were annoyed that we were blocking their path, and others enjoyed taunting us with remarks that our effort was futile. Immediately I thought, “What are we doing?” The ground here is made of garbage. The idea of cleaning it up seemed to me akin to a child’s effort to dig a tunnel to the other side of the globe. We were not going to scratch the surface of Kibera’s garbage disposal issue in one day’s work.  “So what is the point?” I thought.

Just as quickly, I was reassured when I looked around and saw, among others, women in their 40s, men in their 20s, and teenagers all wearing the same jerseys and all doing the same work. These people have homes and children to tend to, school to study for, and other work to do that could bring more money than collecting trash, and I knew they could not afford to waste their time doing this filthy chore if they did not believe in its purpose. They were willing to work together to help their community, and by their side, I never felt happier to be covered head-to-toe in mud and who-knows-what (though we all know what) kind of waste.

After picking up trash from the street and stuffing it into trash bags, everyone began taking the bags to what was called a “consolidation point.” From there, it would be easier to load the bags into a truck and drive them out of Kibera.  Nelson, a Taka ni Pato volunteer, and I ran back and forth with a piece of canvas to retrieve some bags of trash that had been overfilled and split open.  I was out of breath and happy, as if finishing a race, when two Kiberan men asked me, “Do you know what Taka ni Pato means?”

I said, “Yeah, it means Trash is Cash.”

They replied, “No, it means Garbage is Wealth.”  However it is translated, Taka ni Pato, is one of many ways Kiberans set an example of community allegiance.

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From left: Daniel Mjee, Economic and Entrepreneurship Department field officer; Nelson, Trash Is Cash Volunteer; Charlie Sessoms, UNC School of Nursing Volunteer

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4 responses to “A Day Spent Cleaning Up Kibera”

  1. bill sessoms says:

    way to go Charlie. looks as though you did not have to look far to find work! I am so proud to be your dad!

  2. Glenn & Margaret Sutton says:

    You’re looking good, Charlie. We’re proud of you and what you are doing and glad to know that you are well.

  3. Aunt Linda says:

    I so admire you and your colleagues! Talk about grass-roots community health nursing…you are inventing it; the threads that binds.
    Your grandmothers are proud…as am I.
    EAL

  4. John Gilreath says:

    Charlie, I received your postcard addressed to my parents. You expressed gratitude for the Fran Gilreath Memorial Scholarship. Fran was my only sibling. Sad to report our parents have both passed. It was a true gift to hear of your passion for giving back to the world. On behalf of my entire family we are so proud to be a part of your life. May God speed your efforts. John (’73 BSBA)

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