The first impression is usually the strongest
Mine was of greyness vast and bleak. Kibera, the largest slum in Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, is spread across a hillside like a vast anomaly in the landscape. No colours seem to touch it, no green things to grow in it, only the dirty greyness of the corrugated roofs and the red brown mud of the houses, shacks really, held together with sticks and bits of cardboard.
Inside the slum was no different. The first thing that strikes you is that you are not walking on clean earth but on rubbish and muddy sewage. The tracks are sometimes hardly passable as one needs to jump from one ditch to the other or duck under the low lying corrugated roofs to get through.
And everywhere, literally everywhere, are the children. They are Kibera’s largest inhabitants, standing in doorways, playing in gutters, fetching, carrying, running along beside us, shouting their best English greeting “How are you, how are you?’
Yes, indeed, how are you, child of the Kibera, living in such a place as this and yet seeming to somehow survive (although many don’t) and smile? The small children are the most heart wrenching to see, so little, and many times seemingly alone and unattended. As we walk by we hear a baby crying, and I try and imagine what it would be like to have a baby, to raise a child in a place such as this.
Finally we arrive at our destination; after being assaulted by the many smells and shocking sights of the Kibera we come through a gate and into a quieter place. Right away I notice how clean it is here, there is no rubbish, some food is cooking, it smells good. After the stares there are friendly faces. We have arrived at the feeding centre, where the faithful helpers of the Lunchbowl Network team are preparing yet another wholesome meal, catering for hundreds, providing food for those who would otherwise have none.
And, as I am about to discover, not only food. Before the meal there is a performance, a kind of celebration, children are dancing, singing, doing acrobatics, showing us what they have learned and practiced. Afterwards we are given gifts, shown handiwork that again the children have helped to make. The Lunchbowl Network is helping to provide not only food for the children’s' bodies but for their souls as well, enriching their lives in so many ways, giving them role models and something to aspire to.
The word that springs to mind is hope
This is my last impression as we leave the Kibera, carefully escorted out before dark (and what of those who cannot leave whose lives are here?). I pray that this hope will reach more of them, all of them, and that I can continue to help make this difference.
Written by schools' ambassador Carolyn Green after her visit to Kibera in 2011.