Back in my college days, when I was young and idealistic, I spent two months with an NGO helping to build a school in Kilifi, on the Kenyan coast. We mixed cement by hand, laid bricks, and lived alongside Kenyan students. Twenty-some years later, I came back, this time with my children.
Surprisingly, the structure I helped build still exists, as does my youthful scrawl in the cement on the side of the building. Unfortunately, the students still lack books and furniture and access to educational tools such as computers. I made a monetary donation and left, wishing I could do more. Back in the van, the kids and I talked about the disparities of education and opportunity.
On our first day in Nairobi, we visited the community center and school supported by our tour operator, Micato Safaris. The fancy Range Rover pitched and rolled over rutted dirt lanes lined with a random assortment of gummed-together wood, thatch, corrugated metal and cement dwellings that make up Mukuru, an unregulated district of 600,000 squatters about six miles outside the city. (For a bigger discussion on slum tours, check out a piece we ran on the subject.) My sons’ eyes grew wide in the face of real poverty, so different was it from the kind they consider themselves victims of whenever I deny them a new pair of Nikes. On the other side of the car window, children’s smiles–incomprehensively bright–greeted us. There was no denying the discomfort my sons and I felt. But perhaps comfort wasn’t the point. The point was to feel, to question, to think, and then perhaps to act. At the Harambee House, visitors saw what previous safari clients have been moved to accomplish.
Here, slum dwellers’ children were offered food and education and training, young adults taught skills–a way out and up.
Parents think they should have the answer to everything, but I disagree. Sometimes it’s enough to ask the questions.
What are your thoughts?
Photos by Norie Quintos