A little boy, barely more than three years old, throws himself at the legs and body of the head teacher, who is talking to the surrounding children sitting cross-legged on the matting. A gentle hand of reassurance comes down to placate the boy, which, although gratefully received, can not take away his urgency for attention. The other children, some managing to interact with each other and the other two staff members, all look wide-eyed at the ‘mzungu’ sitting in front of them, listening and applauding their attempts at singing together – a heart lifting sound.
The little restless chap doesn’t give up on his attention-seeking ….. and who could blame him. The head teacher, whose gentle nature and physical contact he craves, tells me later that they found him locked-up in a shed. He had not been abandoned, but for his own safety and parental piece-of-mind, his mother had resorted to shutting her son away on a daily basis in order to go out and find work…. any work that would give her enough to keep them alive for a while longer. How long this had been going on was not known, but the psychological trauma to this boy was apparent for all to see.
I was in a little school in Kibera, one of the world’s worst and biggest slums, sprawling on the edge of Nairobi. Kibera is the unfortunate home of over 60% of Nairobi’s population, on 6% of the City’s land … the 1 million tenants massing in 12’x12′ mud and tin constructions.
I attended this school with Karibuni Children organisers John Cotton, Joy Murphy and David Welsh. Now Kibera is not a place I would have chosen to visit – I have no need to actually visualise the horrors of abject poverty on mass – but as I am now a temporary resident in Kenya and my In-Laws were visiting from Wingrave, Ken & Sylvia were keen to support John and his mission.
Although small, the Tusaidie Watoto Nursery School and Kibera Primary School is producing a powerful punch into the lives of over 250 children, who otherwise would face a future of crime, illiteracy and probable prostitution. We spent time amongst children who had little but the uniform they stood up in and food provided by the school. There were so many smiling faces, eager and willing to absorb details and information from the outside world, the world beyond their litter strewn, mud encased, bare existence. We were able to talk with these delightful children, hiding the horrors of their ‘real’ lives whilst in the protection and comfort of their classrooms.
In the huge scale of things, caring for over 250 poverty stricken children in Nairobi may not seem a worthwhile cause, in a country and continent rife with problems, but these children may well go on to produce a very powerful punch of their own. This is only one of the ventures undertaken but the Karibuni Children, who are now seeing the fruits of this labour of love and compassion in the students attending University: qualified, confident and cared for….hopefully a strong influence in the future of this country and this continent. I wept when I left the confines of the school, so powerful was the impression of hope against the odds for these lovely little human beings.
Tania Francis, Nairobi, Kenya.