Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Our Work in Kibera

This summer I have had the opportunity to "work in the field".

I LOVE this type of work. I like to be in there, where its dirty and smelly... there is something wrong with me in the head, I know, but I just love it.

I also understand, however, that just because I love it, does not mean its for everyone. And lot of people ask me what in the world I DO on a day to day basis.

So here is a 'sneak peak' into what it is like to do work in the largest slum in Africa.

Disclaimer: not all of this is pretty.

First of all, this is my team. Aren't they lovely? They truly are, let me tell you. And not just to look at. I have spent LITERALLY 24 hours a day with these girls. Kelly and I even shared a bed until a week ago when I threw out my back and have since been sleeping on the couch, which is actually an upgrade. There are not many people in the world who could eat, sleep, work, play, etc etc together and make it out alive. We were SO lucky. I have gained 3 lifelong friends out of this experience. And I know all of their dirty secrets.

Every morning we would wake up and go to the edge of the Kibera slum. It wasn't too far from where we live, so one of our friends would usually just drop us off. Then we would walk for about 40 minutes into one of the 'neighborhoods' of the slum - Silanga. The walk looked a little something like this:

As we got deeper and deeper into the slum, the conditions would get worse and worse. Human feces is EVERYWHERE. Since there are no sewage systems in most of it, people defecate in little plastic bags and toss them. So essentially, we walked on poop.

Here's an upclose look at one of the 'flying toilets' right after I managed to step on it (and some people actually think this work is glamorous?!?):

As we walked into Silanga, we would hear a chorus of "MZUNGU!!!" (white person) "HOW ARE YOU!!!! HOW ARE YOU!!!!" from hundreds of children. Most of them don't speak English, but they surely know how to as how we are. This was precious at first, but after weeks and weeks of it, it kind of started to get to all of us. I actually had a nightmare of thousands of children running after me yelling "HOW ARE YOU I AM FINE HOW ARE YOU".

When we finally got to Silanga, we would do what is possibily hardest to do for Americans but the most common thing in the world here - -- we would wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Eventually one of our community contacts would meet us, and we would chat for a bit. (PS apparently I cannot stand up without my hands on my back).

We would then walk with a community member to whatever section of the neighborhood we would be interviewing in for the day. This was was usually MUCH more difficult than the walk in - with pretty extreme conditions. Silanga is one of the poorest neighborhoods of the largest slum in Africa, so you can just imagine...

We would often pass through areas where we literally had to step in the open sewage. It must have been hilarious to watch us try to avoid it at all costs. Meanwhile, of course, we were passed regularly by women carrying huge jugs of water on their heads.

Many of the scenes we witnessed were just heart-wrenching, and the conditions unbelievable.

Occasionally, we would pass through areas that had stick bridges over running rivers of sewage:

Or by actual rivers which had TURNED into rivers of sewage:

But it was amazing at how quickly we were able to adjust. Even to things like the smell, which trust me, is miraculous.

The women we were interviewing usually welcomed us into their homes. Here is the passageway to a little neighborhood in which we interviewed for a day:

(PS we about all ended up in that sewage - to get to the door, we were literally straddling the trench to try not to fall in, but it was a near fiasco for us. The women in this neighborhood said that the biggest health problem is that their children fall in this sewage and then get sick... and I don't doubt them for a minute).

Our interviews lasted about 50 minutes each. We asked a whole series of questions about Community Health, Water Collection, Sanitation and Toilet practices, and Community Involvement. The interviews were intense, and the women were FABULOUS through all of it. Here is part of our team administering an interview:

Another, earlier interview: (which was terrible because of all of the extra people standing around):

During breaks (did I mention that we WAIT a lot?!) we would often play or talk with the ubiquitous children. They love to see their picture.

Here is Renee visiting with a child who had been left on top of a roof to play... (yes, on a roof...)

We could not have done ANY of our work without the help of our translators and community members. Here is a picture with Rina, one of our fabulous translators, and Sadique, our key community member who helped us set up all of our interviews:

Part of our job also included 'observations' about how the water and sanitation project was doing. So we spent a lot of time visiting the 8 water and sanitation facilities that were funded by Rotary:

Some of them were doing ok, but some.... were not doing so great. Many of them had no water due to rationing, and some of them were completely non-functioning and piled high with trash when we arrived. It was incredibly difficult to realize that things were so far from where they were supposed to be:

But, we rallied. And now, things are looking MUCH more optomistic.
Overall, we interviewed about 50 different women. Once we finished interviews, we had to compile, code, and analyze all of our data, which we usually did from home:

And I am delighted to report that yesterday, we handed over our final report. It was 25 pages long with all sorts of things we had discovered during our time in the field. Our findings were truly interesting. Hopefully I will be able to share some of them soon.

So our work here is now complete.

It was hard.

I mean, really hard.

There were times where I was the most frustrated I have ever been in a project.

But man oh man did I learn a LOT this summer, about things I never could have anticipated.

And you know what, I already actually miss the slum.

I am a REALLY going to miss these ladies:

And that's my story, folks.


Jen said...

thank you. i loved it. cant wait to see you.

Bailey's said...

Hope you are throwing away those shoes!

Emily Boland said...

Well written. What's next up? Catching up on your blog is always one of the highlights of the week. Will you be living somewhere long enough for me to start sending you snail mail?

Victor said...

Thanks for sharing. It's nice to feel a part of it. Thanks for sacrificing, giving, serving, and befriending.

Kent said...

When I pick you up at the airport, your body can ride in my car, but your feet will have to hang out the window.

Samantha Williams said...

I also really hope we can read your report!

Kim Fletcher said...

Love you always,