Jose Herrera ’12 — Civilization is struggling in Nairobi, Kenya. The industrialization introduced by the British, like the railroad that slices through the Kibera Slums like a scar that won’t heal, limps along with the benefits horded by a relative few. The government takes its cut, while organized society has seemingly regurgitated the slums as a reaction to its inability to control so much at one time.
That, at least, could be one source of the poverty and huge disparity between the extremely rich and devastatingly poor that can be found in this country.
This idea fermented in my head after witnessing the Kibera Slum, the largest slum south of the Sahara Desert and a place with conditions more desperate than I believed human beings could survive. But despite it all — the sewage running down to the same water source from which a million people drink from daily; the fact that the Kibera Slum is a huge incubator for infectious diseases, viruses and death; the a barely visible and impotent police force; the lack of what Americans would call basic essentials and paved, level streets, electricity, and order; the abandoned children that roam the gutters that pass for streets — the area was rich in more ways I had imagined and in a way that transcends the materialistic world that is viewed as ’’abundance’’ through the lens of an average American citizen.
While material essentials were missing or scarce, there was an abundance of raw emotion and spirituality among the people we met during our time at the edge of Kibera on Friday (June 17). This created not a sense of alienation and disunity, but a sense of family and understanding. Mingling among the local people in the slum — a place of where families survive on one dollar a day — and hearing stories from those we were travelling with, I realized that the locals had a reciprocal approach to survival: If someone had a good day at the market and her neighbor had a bad day, she would share the extra food with that person. Neighbors offers each other a helping hand. Oases of tolerance and unity rose up against the cesspool of violence and anarchy.
No better example of this can be found than the Damietta Peace Initiative in which Muslim and Christian leaders focus on resolving key issues in the slum. Our group was lucky enough to attend one of the meetings held by the Initiative. It was not too hard to imagine that, only three years ago, this very place had been the epicenter of deadly politically motivated and tribally based violence in the aftermath of the 2008 Kenyan presidential elections.
But instead of using a history of violence as an excuse to incite more violence against each other, these leaders of Kibera use the painfully recent past as a point of progression, as a lesson well learned rather than one to be repeated.
Among these people in the Kibera Slums, religious orthodoxy or veiled forms of a superiority complex are replaced by a sense of duty towards a fellow brother; not in the nuclear sense of the word, but in an all-inclusive one. So while it would be easy to judge and stereotype these people based on fact sheets and research while we comfortably sit around with the things we take for granted, the Damietta Initiative members strive and enrich themselves with that which cannot be replaced, substituted, or imitated: sincere human spirit and compassion for our fellow man.