Life-Changing Impact: CFK Supporter, Matt Grespin, Reflects on His Visit to Kibera April 14, 2015 by Carolina For Kibera
Spring is a time as good as any to reflect on the unpredictable twists and turns that have shaped us and how we see the world. It occurs to me that there are a few formative experiences in all of our lives that are the seeds from which all understanding grows. My experience with CFK and the interactions I’ve had with the individuals attached to the organization have served as seeds for me.
My first introduction to CFK was in 2003 when I was an undergraduate student at James Madison University (go Dukes!) participating in an anthropology field course in Kenya. At that time, CFK was a much smaller and newer organization. Although we spent only one day in Kibera on our trip, and less than a day specifically visiting CFK, the experience left an indelible mark on me.
Growing up, I was fortunate to visit many areas of the United States and countries abroad. But I had never seen anything like Kibera or met anyone like its residents or those who worked in the Tabitha Medical Clinic (though it was the Rye Medical Clinic then). I remember being 20 years old and amazed that people in Kibera had wildly different attitudes towards life, ranging from hope and enthusiasm to general frustration and abject resignation. It was similarly astounding that there could be hope, enthusiasm, and such a rich, communal spirit at all in a place that seemed difficult to the point of being unlivable. How could so many people have such a positive attitude, be so welcoming, and keep the faith so consistently?
Of course, I know now that any and all of these attitudes can be found everywhere, from shanties and tent cities to suburbs and mansions throughout the world. Back then, it was the first time I made that discovery, and it was strange and exciting. Prior to that, I was a well-intentioned but uninformed kid who thought he understood the world because he had gone on a few trips, watched some movies, and taken a few classes. Speaking with the individuals associated with CFK and visiting Kibera led me to radically question the world I thought I knew. That experience also helped push me towards pursuing development and public health instead of medicine in a traditional sense, a decision I have never regretted.
The primary mission of CFK is, of course, to empower and enable those within Kibera to lead happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. However, an important secondary function of CFK is to raise awareness of the many issues faced by those living in Kibera and places like it throughout the world. By extension, CFK encourages dialogue around what the causes of and potential solutions to those issues might be. What historical circumstances have led to the formation of places like Kibera? Based on those, what will the evolution of Kibera and similar communities look like going forward? Perhaps most importantly, how can we learn from both the negative and positive experiences of those within Kibera in order to shape our own understanding of poverty and make strides to improve upon it?
The impact of CFK on those living in Kibera is profound, but it does not stop there. Like many who have had an opportunity to visit Kibera through CFK, or even to meet its staff and volunteers at universities or fundraising events elsewhere, I count myself as someone upon whom CFK has had a life-changing impact. My first encounter with CFK in Kibera and their ongoing work continues to shape my view of the world and of all that can be accomplished through dedication, empathy, and compassion. In that sense, its reach has extended and continues to extend far beyond the borders of Kibera, Nairobi, and Kenya.
Today, over a decade after my first and only visit to Kibera, I still follow CFK, including this blog, with enthusiasm. The degree to which CFK and its staff and volunteers can affect positive change for so many of those living in Kibera is truly amazing. It is wonderful and inspiring to see great people working with one another even though they are at times separated by an entire world.