Three Unlikely Friends and the Birth of Carolina for Kibera
In the summer of 2000, Rye Barcott, Salim Mohamed, and Tabitha Festo met each other for the first time. Unlikely friends, this University of North Carolina undergrad, community organizer, and widowed nurse and mother of three all shared one desire: to spark change within Kibera.
Originally from Nyakatch village in Nyanza District of western Kenya, Tabitha graduated from high school in Kisii District and became a certified nurse at Masaba Hospital. In 1985, she met Henry, her late husband. That same year Henry, a mechanic, moved with Tabitha to Kibera to find employment opportunities. They settled in Lindi village, and Henry found employment as a welder. Tabitha worked as a caretaker and nursed neighbors in Kibera out of her home.
In 1998, Tabitha’s employer made a sudden decision to downsize and Tabitha’s position was terminated. Shortly afterwards, Tabitha’s husband Henry died unexpectedly from an illness. Tabitha herself then fell ill and barely survived. During that time, her daughters Valerie and Joy helped nurse her from her bed, from which she could not move for three months. At one point she was evicted from her home and forced to live in an abandoned vegetable stand in Toi Market on the outskirts of Kibera.
In July 2000, Tabitha, still jobless, approached Rye Barcott and requested 2,000 KSh to start selling vegetables. Rye gave her the money, the equivalent of about US$26, and returned to America the next day. Tabitha sold vegetables in the Eastleigh District of Nairobi and accumulated daily savings in a local women’s merry-go-round for six months. After six months, with over $130 in savings, Tabitha decided to start a medical clinic, which had been her life-long dream. She named her clinic Rye Medical Clinic and gave it the motto “sacrificing in success.”
Over the next few years, Rye Clinic became one of the cornerstone operations of the non-governmental organization Carolina for Kibera, Inc. The clinic moved twice from its first location in a four-room sheet metal building, finding a permanent home in 2004. Under Tabitha’s guidance and management, services and staff expanded to include a laboratory and a home-based care program for people living with HIV/AIDS. Specializing in maternal health, the clinic became one of the few in Kibera to offer in-patient and out-patient primary care services to residents twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. After Tabitha’s untimely death in December 2004, the clinic was renamed in her honor.
In March 2009, after over two years of fundraising and construction, CFK celebrated the official opening of the new Tabitha Health Clinic. A model for sustainable development in slums around the world, the new Tabitha clinic unites both eco-friendly design and advanced medical services in a beautifully constructed 3-story, 13-room facility. The new Tabitha Clinic features solar-heated hot water tanks, an open-air atrium, a waiting/patient education room accommodating more than 90 patients, intake and triage rooms, a children’s play area, 8 exam rooms, and expanded clinical laboratory, a central pharmacy, and a staff conference room.
Tabitha and Henry had three children, two girls and a boy. On the Ides of March, 2001, Tabitha discovered an infant abandoned at the door of Tabitha’s home and the old Rye Clinic in Gatwekera village. The baby boy, Ronnie, became, by the grace of God, Tabitha’s second son.
Salim Mohamed co-founded and served as the executive director of CFK for eight years. He was involved in the development of MYSA – the largest youth sports program in Africa at the age of 16. The British Council twice employed Salim as a consultant to help launch youth sports programs in Ghana and Nigeria. In 2002, he was nominated to serve on the Diversity for Peace Advisory Board with Nobel Peace Laureates Oscar Arias Sanchez, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and Norman Borlaug. He also serves as an advisor to Global Education Fund a program based in the US and Kenya that provides educational scholarships for young women in Kenya. Salim has been a facilitator for gathering of young leaders organized by YES! since 2005. Since 2006, Salim has been assisting a community in Gambia develop a community program. Salim was also selected as a TED Conference Africa Fellow for 2007. Salim graduated from the University of Manchester with a Masters Degree in 2010 and currently serves as Ashoka’s East Africa Regional Representative.
Rye Barcott co-founded CFK to prevent violence and empower youth through participatory development while he was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years in Iraq, Bosnia, and the Horn of Africa. He then earned master’s degrees in business and public administration from Harvard University, where he was a Reynolds Social Entrepreneurship Fellow. A World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, he lives in North Carolina with his wife and daughter and works at Duke Energy. It Happened on the Way to War, published by Bloomsbury, is his first book.