Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kenya Sketch Journal #8

So let me type a little bit about visiting the slums where the children that attend this school live. I know the standard response would be that it was an "eye-opening experience," which it certainly was, though I don't know how much that tells you about the experience. I guess you could say the same about my whole trip. In general it was humbling and at times I felt like a naive rich American invading people's homes... It was also a very tiring experience. I was actually reminded in a strange way of that passage in "A Christmas Carol" where the Ghost of Christmas Present guides Scrooge through the "surplus population" of the world to experience the conditions of the poor and the sick.

Our guide through the slums in Kisumu was Alex, who is the principal at Arise N' Shine. We were also accompanied by many of the children and one teacher (who is drawn above, she is actually very kind and has a warm smile, despite the stern look I gave her in the drawing). Alex knows many of the care-takers for the children that attend the school and he introduced us to them and helped to tell us their stories and history. This is one of the things that Alex does for his job. He talks to the care-takers so that he can keep a record of where each child is coming from, what happened to their parents, where they are living now and so on. Many of their stories were similar. The child's parents died or is dying of AIDS or some other disease, or they simply don't have the resources to take care of their child, so they are looked after by a relative or friend, who often already have children of their own to take care of.

The homes that we visited were very tiny, with dirt floors, mud walls, tin roofs, and no lights. It was usually very hot and dark sitting inside them, and a bit claustrophobic. Often there would be several kids sleeping on a dirt-floor bed that is barely big enough for one person. Outside there is trash littered everywhere, as well as the stench that comes with it. There is no real regard for sanitation, though usually the people we visited kept the inside of their homes as tidy as possible.

Most of the adults we met seemed tired to me (just like I already was). They didn't seem to express much happiness or sadness as they invited us into their homes and told us their stories (I suppose it's also a bit wierd to have foreign strangers visiting and listening to your life story). It felt like most people have simply resigned to the conditions they live in, and are surviving day to day. In contrast to this, the children we saw in the slums were full of excitement and smiles (that may sound overly dramatic or sentimental, but it really was like this! Part of it is because we are white, and they don't see many white guys in the slums, but in general the kids had more energy too). They followed us crazy white guys and they were eager to practice their english by constantly asking us "how are you?" This is why it was so good to see that Arise N' Shine is already taking care of some of these children by providing them with food for each day of school and probably more importantly, an education that will hopefully help them create a better life outside of the slums, even if the school is only able to help a small fraction of children in need. This also takes some of the burden off of the care-takers, helping them to take care of their own needs and the needs of their children more easily.

There you have it, I think I have maybe one or two pages left. Sorry for the inconsistent posts, I know I keep taking more and more time between each one... If anyone is interested to hear more details about what it's like over there and the work the organization is doing from another young white American guy's perspective, check out Matt's "Kenya Diaries" and videos on the Hope For The Child website (Matt also helped Sasha and I get set up for our trip):

*EDIT: the "Kenya Diaries" link no longer works, but this is the main website for the organization: