Grace and Kilonso

Teacher Grace Kavoi on the left and Chairman Kilonso Abraham on the right are everyday heroes that could inspire the everyday hero in you.

Shortly after this photo was taken, I looked both in the eye and said, "You are angels, you are doing God's work." I don't use the word God that often, if at all. But it's really true and I really meant it.

We had just wrapped up a tour of the Kitui Ndogo slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where both live and work as community leaders. Kitui is a slum that houses 50,000 people in some of the harshest living conditions I've ever seen.

Most of the slum I saw looked like that, like a landfill.

Here, there is quite a bit of empty space because a number of homes were recently demolished without notice from the government, which left residents homeless.

You have kids hanging out amidst the rubbish, sometimes barefoot.

Here's a bathroom facility that costs 5 KSh to use as a toilet and 10 to use as a shower (you pay for the water and use of the private space).

Most residents earn about 80 KSh in a day (about $1 USD). In a way then, using this facility is something of a luxury, so most residents don't end up using it. In the absence of free public toilets, comes the issues of public urination and defecation, which are common in Kitui Ndogo.

This is just a small peak into the conditions at the slum.

Following a Calling

I met Grace and Kilonso at a program we held earlier in the day.

My project partner for the next six or so months, Jared Akama from CEPACET, a local NGO, and his team organized a lunch and distribution of school supplies for 70 kids who live in the slum and who attend Grace's free school and daycare center, called Malezi.

Read this slowly. Grace, who is well educated, willingly moved into this slum with her husband (when he was still living) because of her concern for the children who she saw were not being taken care of by their parents and not going to school. She moved into the slum to start a daycare center for them, which over the years, has evolved into a formal school.

Can you imagine? Willingly moved into the slum to serve neglected children, when she and her husband had enough money to live a middle class life. That's how much she cares.

Grace is gifted with her students and they look up to her with wide, vulnerable eyes. Towards the end of our program, she shouted in English to all who were present, "Are you happy children?" and all responded in unison, "Yes, teacher!"

Think for a moment what it takes to do what Grace did. The sacrifice. The sense of purpose. The courage. Grace, indeed.

Then there is Kilonso, who is the Chairman (like a mayor) of the entire slum community. While on our tour, we were told we were safe because he was walking with us. Otherwise, we might have been robbed or harassed or worse. That's the kind of respect he commands from residents, even the criminally minded, who look up to him as a leader.

Kilonso was born in the slum, raised there, and will spend his entire life there, just as his parents did. I was told he used to be involved with crime and other such dealings but one day had a realization he didn't want to live that way. He heard a calling to be of service to his community.

Afterwards, he voluntarily started helping where he could. Helping sick residents get medical treatment. Pacifying the various disputes that come up between neighbors. Working with the local government and NGOs on development matters. His efforts eventually awarded him the title of Chairman.

I find it inspiring that even in the midst of such difficult, near hopeless circumstances, you can still find people, like Grace and Kilonso, who care and who are willing to try and work towards change.

Continue to the next update about my work at the Malezi Centre.