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Kenya Beginning

Since arriving in Nairobi late in December, I've only been able to publish a piece here or a blurb there, as I've been getting used to the new culture and city, the projects my hosting NGO has going on, as well as getting to know just what the task that lies ahead for me is.

That task has become relatively clear and shares similarities to the previous year's work in India. I will be involved with development issues in one slum community and values-based education in another.

Here's what's been going on for the past month.

Kitui Ndogo Slum

I'm in Kenya until early June and there's only so much you can do in such a short amount of time. However, I sense this time is going to be like the first chapter of a book and that we are laying track for work that will continue on after I have to leave.

There are two main projects we are working on simultaneously.

The first is set within the Kitui Ndogo slum, near to the city centre of Nairobi.

This is the harshest slum I have ever seen.

You can see the landfill-like conditions above, as well as the severely polluted Nairobi "river," which doubles as a waste dumping site. I was told that the river also contains hazardous pathogenic material, since a nearby hospital drains waste into it.

Notice how close this woman's home is to an open, stagnated sewage line. During the rainy season, that sewage — including untreated human waste — will leak into people's homes and can be cause for cholera outbreaks or other water-born illnesses, not to mention how demoralizing it is to have to deal with this kind of an issue every day.

This is just a small peak at the living conditions inside of the slum.

Kitui is home to about 50,000 residents, most of who live in abject poverty and earn around $1/day. Because of the harsh environment and significant degree of poverty, the slum is subject to widespread issues of crime, drug and alcohol use, prostitution, and disease.

Very little support is given to the people from the local city government and Jared's NGO is one of less than a handful working there, as Kitui competes for attention with Kibera, one of the largest and most famous slums in sub-Saharan Africa where over 1,000 NGOs provide service.

How to help?

Despite the many challenges, there are still people there who care and who are actively working to improve the challenging state of affairs.

On the left in the above photo is Teacher Grace Kavoi who — get this — voluntarily moved into Kitui Ndogo to teach and take care of the children there, noticing they were being neglected and left outside by their parents who would be out all day finding work.

There is no such thing as a 100% free, public school in Kenya yet, which contributes to many children in poverty growing up without any education, as they can't afford the fees for either a private or lower cost government-run school.

Can you imagine? Voluntarily moving into the slum — actually living and working there — when you could be living and working somewhere else? And then volunteering 100% of your time to serve the children and community, receiving no compensation for your efforts. Grace, indeed!

On the right is Chairman Kilonso Abraham, the respected leader of the entire community, a mayor-type job he says he also volunteered for and performs without compensation because of his desire to live a more virtuous and meaningful life (he used to be involved with crime).

Kilonso was born in the slum, grew up there, and will likely spend the rest of his life there. He works to resolve the various community issues that come up and does his best to help the residents with their personal and medical problems.

A Sanitation Project

After my first tour of the slum about a week after arriving, Grace and Kilonso asked me for advice about what to do about the problems they are facing. Being overwhelmed by what I had seen, I said, "I don't know but I do know that love is the answer."

A few moments later, as we were walking out to leave, an idea hit me.

I was looking around at the dirty, uneven walkways and thinking about walking through that mess day in and day out, how hard that must be, when daily routines for survival are already tough.

What if we chose an area, I thought, paved it and then followed up with sanitation and hygiene awareness programs to encourage greater responsibility and care in the area?

Paving the walkway would be like an injection of hope and happiness to the residents, which would open the window for programs centered around keeping the area clean. That could be a start to something.

Here's a video where I captured the idea in the moment, plus you can get a good look at the slum conditions.

Grace, Kilonso, and Jared seemed to appreciate the idea and after the visit, we all went our separate ways to consider it further.

A couple of days later, Grace and Kilonso came back and said there was a more urgent matter to attend to besides the potential paving project. See below.

That is a stagnant stream of raw sewage and a fresh pile of human waste. What you can't see clearly is the adjacent doorway to somebody's home, about a foot away.

There are approximately 500 homes dealing with this situation and 6,000 residents who are being affected by a total of three such stagnated sewage lines.

It's a big health hazard for obvious reasons, especially during the rainy season when that sewage will leak into homes, surrounding alleyways and the like. We agreed, this matter is much more urgent.

The same principle of the original idea still applies though. We will invite a sponsor to cover the cost of building a drainage system that would free up the stagnating lines, vastly improve the cleanliness of the affected areas, and so improve the lives of thousands of residents.

Following that work, Grace and Kilonso will do their part to sensitize the residents about the importance of keeping the new drainage areas clean through daily sanitation. Grace, in particular, will focus on the children in her classes by teaching good sanitation and hygiene values and habits.

I will be starting to fundraise shortly!

Keep reading about this sanitation project.

Brosis School

When Jared and I began to talk about how best to use my time in Kenya, he mentioned the Brosis School his organization has been supporting, which is about an hour away from the city centre and Kitui Ndogo, located in the Ngando slum off of Ngong Rd.

Brosis, like Grace's daycare centre in Kitui, is a direct response to the issue of children in poverty not having any option for going to school. Brosis offers free, in many cases, and low cost education to any child willing to learn. They are sustained by a small amount of school fees and on and off again donations, not to mention a great deal of sacrifice and love.

The sanitation project in Kitui is a one off and doesn't require my ongoing physical presence. At Brosis, I could do something more process oriented over the course of a few months. Plus, the school is within 15 minutes walking distance of my home. A bonus, since Nairobi traffic is infamous and fortunate is he or she who doesn't have to rely on public transportation!

After watching this video about the school and its teachers, I got the sense there was something special about it. There is a humble, loving spirit there.

The name gives us a clue. It's a combination of the words brothers and sisters, chosen because the headmaster and teachers want to encourage a sense of unity among their students and within the community. Brosis, also, functions as a community centre and often organizes various events where residents gather to discuss and work towards solving their issues, mostly having to do with poverty.

The spirit sources from the Brosis staff, pictured above. Like Grace and Kilonso, they all volunteered for the job, being genuinely moved by a desire to serve their community and its children.

All live in the same slum area the school is in and are dearly sacrificing — each teacher earns only $30/month, no more than a typical slum dweller working construction — to give their students an education.

It's a powerful intention and why the school has such a big heart and special spirit.

Fanning the Brosis Flame

Brosis already has a flame going, that should be clear. What I'm here to do, is fan that flame a little.

What I want to make sure of is that anything new we start to improve the school, has equal ownership by the staff. So far, so good in that respect.

In fact, the Headmaster, Abel Siro, said that the ideas I've been coming up with, he shares as well—he just didn't know how to go about implementing them, being so involved with the day-to-day operation of the school and challenge of making rent each month.

Brosis, I found out, has never been officially inaugurated. This, to me, is like having a child but not giving him or her a name.

Later in February, we are going to officially inaugurate the school with a public function. Parents will be invited, local government officials, and neighbors. This will give us an opportunity to publicly declare what the school is all about.

In preparation for this event, we are going to work on a handful of beautification projects for the school and area surrounding it.

The arrows above point to the rear and right sides of the school's "structure," which are half covered only by tattered plastic. Not only does this pose a problem for the upcoming rainy season but it diminishes from the pride we want the students to feel about their second home.

We recently hired a builder to redo the entire exterior of the space, the cost was around $250.

Now, the rear and right sides of the school have walls and the plastic tarp has been removed. The rear was also extended a few feet to make room for three classrooms, which will be partitioned.

We found a local artist, Dixon Asiago, who will paint a large mural for the entire front of the school.

It's going to be a visual depiction of the core values of the school, a daily reminder for the students and something teachers can reference when teaching.

We also want the mural to add to the beauty of the school, making it more like a home and a place the students feel more connected to.

Tuko Pamoja, toward the bottom of the above design Dixon is holding, means, "We are together" in Swahili and you can see all the brothers and sisters holding hands around the globe, in line with Brosis's unity theme.

The hand prints off to the left and right will be the student's actual hand prints, helping to make the mural and school their own.

We planted this single tree outside the school the other week during my welcome ceremony, a tree we said was a symbol for growth.

Throughout this beautification process, I plan to do follow up activities with the students, to either reinforce the values or encourage hands on participation in the work. We do not want to give the impression all these changes are a handout, but a gift and that we want everybody's participation in the process.

More to come as we progress...

Continue to the next update about my work at the Brosis School.