Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Slum Life

As the rain pours down here, I am thinking of my new friends. I was able to spend Tuesday morning in Mathare, the slum in which the team has spent most of their time filming this week. J stayed home with the kids so that I could see it all for myself. I had yet to visit one of the slums of Nairobi, and, I must say, you really must see it for yourself to really understand. The one-room mud, stick, and rusty metal homes are so close together that you often risk catching your clothing on them as you walk through the small passages.

The sewage flows out (of the few latrines that there are) right into the gutter areas on the sides of the dirt roads. At most there are about 3 latrines per 25 homes. Because of that many children don’t bother with toilets, and I witnessed several going on the side of the streets. The chocolate brown river is also full of open sewage. They have very limited access to water from the spigots in their neighborhood (usually 1 day per week). This water is “usable” (not purified) and they must fill up as many jugs as they can for every use during the coming week. Four million people live in the city of Nairobi. Three million of them live in slums such as this one.

The children of course grabbed my heart. It seems that once you are a parent you can't see kids without imagining your own. There were children without clothing; some sponge bathing out of bowls on the side of the road. So many kids are out unattended and even 18 months olds are all alone on the streets. The lucky ones are being carried on the back of an older brother or sister; however if they have an older sibling around it means that the older child is unable to attend school due to a lack of funds for the uniform and such. They love to practice their English and shout “How are you?!” and “Take a pictcha (picture)!?” Their dirt covered hands reach to simply grasp a hold of yours for a moment. But, the most striking thing is the way that their eyes hold on to your gaze. When you make eye contact with these kids they don’t look away quickly – their eyes engage you.

It is wild to think that I lived in Nairobi for more than five weeks before I knew many of these extreme realities of the slums. We have driven by the slums many times giving us a somewhat aerial view of the unbelievably broken down structures and sewage lined streets. Even in the neighborhood where we live there is much poverty, with broken homes, trash burning on the sides of the road, etc., but there are also some nice apartments and shopping centers mixed in. So, if I can miss seeing the true conditions of the slums, where most of our “neighbors” live, how incredibly easy will it be for me to forget them when I return. It must feel dreadful to be forgotten.

I think the overall reality for these people is that there is not much room for social mobility. To get a good job you must go to college, which is very expensive. Many must just try to get any job to help support their families (and often younger siblings.) And even further there are not many good jobs available at all, so they find the cheapest rent, in the worst conditions, and try to make it. The woman that works in the apartment downstairs has a decent job where she lives with the family, however she gets to see her own two small children in the rural area just one day per week and is still not paid much. I cannot imagine it.

The encouraging part of my visit to the slums was the hope that exists there. The people there were so friendly and truly live together in community helping each other in their day-to-day plight. There is also much hope in the churches there and their potential new partnerships with Life in Abundance. With the funds raised by the documentary as well as with general donations, LIA will be able to help the churches in Mathare be a light in their community. LIA will be able to train the churches so they can provide basic health information to prevent things like diarrhea from contaminated water, which can turn lethal, especially among these sweet babies.

They will help hold health clinics, and start a school program with meals even for children whose parents can’t afford it. They will train the adults in skills and then give them microloans so they can begin to provide more for their family, like roofs that don’t leak during the tremendous downpours of rainy season. And most importantly, they will provide them hope and the knowledge that Christ came to give them true life. I left the slum feeling like I had much to process, but so thankful I had been there. It is exciting to think that we can help bring some of them hope with even just minimal resources and feeble attempts. But just as exciting is that their spirits of perseverance and resilience should also provide us with much hope as well.


  1. Thanks for writing this, Erin. It helps those of us who can't be there get a glimpse of this completely different world when (like you said) it's so easy to forget.

  2. Amazing blog. Thanks for putting such thought into communicating what you saw, and for helping me understand what you experienced.