In the centre of Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya, on what used to be a rubbish dump, stand three schools, a boarding house for teenage girls, a church, a medical clinic, some outhouses for animals and a basic kitchen. There are fewer open sewers and more roads here than anywhere else in Kibera and every day 1,400 children come to learn and be fed.
In January this year a team of six British women left the Midlands to spend a week helping in one of the schools. It’s hard being a child in Kibera slum. Some drop out of school when they are eight to work on the rubbish dump, rummaging through the waste looking for things to sell. There is a high rate of unemployment and alcoholism. Girls are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking. A 12-year-old girl’s education isn’t as valuable to a Kiberan father as the dowry of cows her marriage might bring. Rachel and Hannah from Hinckley, Leicestershire spent the week with the teenage girls.
“They were aged between 15 and 19 and most hadn’t reached the level of GCSE or equivalent. Our team tried to address mental health at a very basic level – talking about good thoughts and bad thoughts and how we can deal with them. We adapted material that had previously been delivered to UK teenage girls focusing on identity. It’s a Christian resource, exploring God’s love for them. We wanted them to know how much they are loved and valued because their world doesn’t communicate that. It’s not news that teenage girls in the West struggle with mental health issues, self-harm and even thoughts of suicide. The girls in Kibera have the same struggles, and in addition they have to exist on the poverty line in a culture that gives them little sense of worth. We encouraged them to write down their bad thoughts and we gathered them like bad seeds and burned them on a bonfire. For homework we put the girls in pairs and asked them to write down something good that they saw in their partner. The next day they ‘planted the good seed’ by speaking out that affirmation to each other – looking into each other’s eyes as they delivered it.
“During the week we witnessed these young women recognising and releasing some specific bad thoughts that weighed them down. One confessed she had been feeling very low, to the point of considering suicide, but after being affirmed by the other girls in her class she felt lighter. She shared that she felt loved and that life was worth living. As they continued to speak out the good they saw in each other, we saw their relationships with [one another] deepen. It’s a wonderful legacy we hope long outlives our return to England.”
The rest of the English team worked with the younger children. They attend the school from age three and at lunchtime even the two-year-olds wander in unaccompanied for their free meal before toddling back into the slum.”
The schools provide these children with opportunities they otherwise would not have had. Despite limited facilities, they boast championship girls’ hockey and volleyball teams. These and more are testimony to the work, faith and commitment of Kenyan pastors Chris and Joanna who set up this settlement. Joanna herself grew up on Kibera slum and knows just how hard it is to escape generational poverty. They have been living out their vision alongside the people of Kibera for 25 years. Feed the Hungry partners with them, providing the meals and giving resources towards their building projects. Just 12 months ago, the boarding accommodation that now houses and protects 64 vulnerable girls was no more than a pile of bricks. Hope grows in messy places; it turns out that buildings can too. All it takes is ordinary people with hearts of compassion willing to scatter some good seed. Of the team that went out with Feed the Hungry, one woman was 73 years old, with impaired vision. This was her first mission trip.
Pastors Chris and Joanna continue to explore new projects to benefit the people of Kibera, including water purification and a fish pond.
For more information, or if you would like to support our work in Kibera, please contact feedthehungry.org.uk.