Throwback to the slums of Nairobi

This time last year I went to Nairobi with my colleague and friend, Saeed Langarudi, for a work project. By a fortunate coincidence I also happened to hear that a friend of a friend was running a local NGO helping kids in the slum pass through secondary school. Their idea is that you could “adopt” one of the kids from the slums and for the price of a few beers in Norway each month, you would sponsor them through 4 years of secondary school. You had to stay committed throughour those 4 years though. So I decided to meet them in person and see what the project was all about. Next morning after finishing our work, we jumped in a taxi and headed to the slums, not exactly knowing what to expect. We entered Mathare – which as we later found out, is one of the worst and most dangerous slums in the world (so much for doing our research) – being perplexed by the conditions we saw: delapidated shacks for “homes”, huge stockpiles of garbage on dirt roads, open sewage systems, stray dogs, people walking barefoot on the streets. We were shocked. After quite a lot of confusion with the “address”, we somehow located the school. While in a much better state than its surroundings, this was not what anyone in Europe would call even a half-decent education centre – and I come from Romania, a country where in some villages toilets are still in the school backyard.

We were received with a lot of warmth by the friendly staff and as we soon discovered, this was the Christmas party day. The school was made up of shacks of corrugated iron, where 20-30 kids would sit on wooden benches in crowded classrooms with dirt floors. Needless to say, toilets were outside. However, everything was orderly and clean and the corrugated iron walls were painted in a bright blue colour with motivating drawings and messages: “working together is success”, or “where there is a will there is a way”. My friend´s friend Isidora, who some time ago visited Nairobi from her homecountry Chile and decided she wanted to stay and help the kids, was full of energy and passion, as were all the teachers we met. They talked to us about the school, their work and their hopes for the kids of the slums, who´ve been forgotten by the authorities. With dangerously high rates of poverty and violence in Mathare, some kids don´t make it back to start a new year after Christmas – they´re either forced by their family situation to work, enter criminal gangs or worse, are killed. “Each year, we pray that all of them come back. Bullets are flying around” the principal told us. It was heartbreaking. But we were also in awe at the happiness and passion of these kids, who laughed, danced and chatted to us about their plans and dreams.

It took us half an hour to find a taxi that would come to Mathare – no driver wanted to enter the slums and we realized why the hotel driver gave us his number for the way back (but did not pick up the phone). When a driver finally showed up, it turned out they did not know where they were – they´ve never entered Mathare before and wanted to get out as soon as possible. I will never forget how devastated Saeed was afterwards. Not by the fact that I took him to one of the most dangerous places in Africa with the idea of “seeing a school in a different part of town”, but by the terrible conditions he saw for the children and the staff. I write this piece because like during every Christmas period at the break between semesters, Isidora is fundraising to get these kids clothes, shoes, books, basic hygiene products and everything else they need to start a new year. More about her work and the campaign here (prices might seem shocking, but they´re in Chilean pesos): She can also be contacted at Website is in Spanish, but google translate does a great job and Isidora speaks great English in case you ever want to reach out and even just say a thanks for her work. But I´m also writing this piece because it´s long due. I´m writing it at my desk in a cosy office, in a safe city, in one of the countries with the highest living standards. It´s a reminder of the priviledge I enjoy.

One Comment

  1. Reflecting on Nairobi’s slums fosters empathy and understanding. The journey inspires appreciation for resilience and shared humanity. Growth emerges.

    December 14, 2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *