“Can you see my house?,” Deborah Otieno asks me as we look over the sprawling Kibera slums from the still active railroad tracks. I look over the many homes indistinguishable except for a few pairs of haunting eyes, remnants of a photographic art installation completed three years ago. Locating the route we took over self-constructed wooden bridges, which merge dust and trash paths over streams of raw sewage, I am able to make a guess. “That one?,” I ask, pointing in the direction of some familiar laundry lines. Deborah smiles and nods proudly, “yes, that one,” she says, taking hold of my hand.
Deborah is Erick Otieno’s mother, a student The School Fund supports in conjunction with the Children of Kibera Foundation. Erick, along with his 6 brothers and sisters and three abandoned children his mother has taken in, call their 10 ft x 10 ft corrugated tin shanty, home. 25 minutes drive from Nairobi’s city center, the Kibera slum is the second largest slum in Africa and home to more than a million people in an area only as large as Central Park. They have no running water; some have no toilet access, utilizing the streams that flow begrudgingly between their homes. Their electricity is purchased from poachers, who illegally connect Kenya Electricity Company lines to Kibera homes. Their water is tapped from the government’s main water line and sold back to the residents, only accessible from a few large water tanks on the slum’s outskirts. The Otienos and their neighbors pay rent to landlords, who have illegally commandeered government land, offering rusting metal structures at monthly rates half of the average monthly income. Deborah makes $45 a month, on a good month.
As Deborah begins to veer off in direction of church service, I say goodbye and thank her again for welcoming us into her home and sharing a little of her story. Just minutes before, she had thanked The School Fund for helping to support Erick in school. She encouraged us to continue growing to not only support her children, but the many other Kibera children who still dream of going to school. Children of Kibera Foundation supports 46 secondary school students including the eight The School Fund partially supports, that’s a mere fraction of the hundreds of thousands of secondary school aged children who cannot afford their fees.
Deborah smiles at us with a wide, white smile before she disappears into a jubilant church service housed in another tin structure. Similar welcoming smiles shine across the faces of the children we pass. They ask, enthusiastically, “How are you?,” habitually answering “I am fine,” before we even have the chance. While they may be some of the most impoverished people in the world, the warmth and kindness of the Kibera residents allow me to maintain some hope. The same hope Children of Kibera perpetuates, too. Its founders, who grew up in the Kibera slums, work tirelessly to improve the lives of more than 300 primary and secondary students. Perhaps, with more men and women like the Children of Kibera staff, we may help the sisters and brothers of those 300 students, too.