Kenya, May 2019

School Supplies, Vitamin A & Deworming Clinic for Underprivileged Kids in Mukuru kwa Njenga.

The Republic of Kenya sits on the eastern coast of Africa between Tanzania, Uganda, and Somalia. According to a recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), over 40% of Kenya’s 39 million residents live below the poverty line - despite the country’s relatively strong economy compared to other nations in the region.

“Kenya is a country of many contrasts, from its landscape to demographics, and more so its social and economic inequalities.” (UNICEF)

Across the nation of Kenya, access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation, health care, and education, is a luxury many cannot afford. With rapid changes to the global economy and the migration of workers and families out of rural settings into urban areas, the ‘urban poor’ have become the most vulnerable group of individuals living in abject poverty. The social and economic vulnerability of Kenya’s urban poor is exasperated by humanitarian challenges, particularly the influx of over 500,000 refugees from Somalia and 30,000 new arrivals from South Sudan.

In the nation’s capital of Nairobi, Kenya’s urban poor have no other choice but to live in one of the city’s 200 slums. Nearly 60% of Nairobi’s population - or 2.5 million people - live in a slum, though the total land area of all Nairobi slums is a mere 6% of the entire city. Slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.00 per day. A great majority living in the slum lack access to basic services, including electricity, running water, and medical care. Unemployment and crime rates are high. Cases of assault and rape are common, and cases of HIV/AIDS are prevalent. Clean water is scarce and sanitation is a constant struggle. As a result, disease due to poor hygiene is rampant.

Mukuru kwa Njenga is a slum in the East of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Mukuru is home to over half a million people and is one of the largest slums in Nairobi. It stretches along the Nairobi Ngong river, situated on waste lands along the eastern edge of Nairobi’s industrial area.

Most houses in Mukuru slum are mere shacks constructed out of corrugated metal sheeting. These structures are small - about ten-by-ten feet square - but must house an entire family. The living area is so small, there would be no space for furniture, even if a family could afford it. Children are often forced to sleep on the ground on cardboard mats. Many homes have no running water or basic utilities. Women and girls must collect water from taps in the street to use for cooking and cleaning. Water pipes run along drainage ditches and is unsafe to consume. Electricity is transmitted into homes through a dangerous network of wires and cables hanging very close to the ground. During the rainy season, many people have been electrocuted by live electrical wires falling into a puddle.

In most of Mukuru there are no toilet facilities. Instead, slum residents must dig communal latrines. One latrine could be shared by up to 50 families. And once the latrine is full, young boys are employed to empty the latrine and take the contents to the river - where the kids play. Sewage and trash litter the streets and the stench is overwhelming. It is hard to imagine a place like this exists in the world.

Fortunately, some of the larger Nairobi slums, such as Kibera and Mathare, have attracted international attention and the resources of large aid organizations. But for the millions of residents suffering in the other slums, little is being done. That is why we have partnered with Jambo Charity Organization to provide support for the children living in the underserved area of Mukuru.

The Jambo Charity Organization has been serving local Mukuru school since 2012. In early 2019, Bogonko Ongera, founder of Jambo Charity Organization, invited us to visit the school in Mukuru. We were fortunate to be able to make the trip and see first-hand the conditions of the families and children living in the slums. We provided uniforms, sweaters, leather shoes, underwear, socks, sanitary pads to the girls, books, text books, studying material and other school supplies and improvements for the eight classrooms. We set up Albendazole and Vitamin A clinic for the students and their families. Most of the kids have never been dewormed before.

Despite its outward appearance, when we first arrived in Mukuru in May 2019, we were welcomed warmly by the community and always felt very safe. Not once we were asked for money. We were quite amazed at how smart and ambitious the students appeared. Most expressed dreams of becoming doctors, pilots, and teachers. Two girls, in particular, stood out. One said she wants to become the President of Kenya; the other said she wants to be a defense attorney working to protect women’s rights. It was inspiring to see these children holding on to dreams of a better life beyond the slums.

While we were working at the school, we had an opportunity to speak with the head of the school and teachers. Amos Zachary, the head of school, has poured his life into making sure the children of Mukuru have access to the very best education possible. Mr. Zachary grew up in Mukuru and he understands the unique challenges his students face. As a child, Mr. Zachary showed incredible academic aptitude. As an adult, Mr. Zachary could have made the decision to leave life in the slums behind. But instead, he is dedicating his life to serving the next generation of Mukuru children. In every action, Mr. Zachary demonstrates selfless love for the children in his school. Under his leadership and guidance, the students of the school are carrying on Mr. Zachary’s legacy of academic excellence, particularly in mathematics. The students at Mr. Zachary’s school are smart and hardworking. When his students participate in academic competitions with other schools, they almost always take top honors!

Despite the amazing work being done with the children, the outward appearance of the school and students tell another story. During the rainy season, teachers arrive at 5 am to swill sewage water out of the classrooms so the students can have a dry place to study. Most of kids must wear old school uniforms with holes and patches. As kids outgrow their uniforms and sweaters, they cut off the sleeves and sides in order to fit. Shoes are mostly made plastic or are just a pair of sandals. And older girls often miss a whole week of school every month because they can’t afford sanitary pads.

Our visit to the school in Mukuru impressed on our hearts the need for providing sustainable help. We arranged for new uniforms, sweaters, and leather shoes to be given to every student. We were also able to bring in new books, study materials, and other school supplies. Even more basic necessities such as socks, underwear, and sanitary pads were brought in so that no student would go without.

In addition to meeting the material needs of the students in Mukuru, there were also serious health concerns that could not be overlooked. Intestinal worms are a common ailment in the slums. These parasites affect a child’s physical and intellectual growth by siphoning off nutrients from the child’s body. Indeed, intestinal worms kill 130,000 people a year, typically through anemia or intestinal obstruction. According to a recent study, Kenyan public health officials found that providing students with deworming medication could decrease school absenteeism by 25%. That is why we also invested in a student wellness program to provide Albendazole (deworming meds) and Vitamin A.

But the fact is, while sending supplies and funding helped lessen the burden temporarily, we knew it simply wouldn’t be enough. That is why we have made the decision to build a new school for up to 200 kids outside of the slum. The new school will be located in a safe green neighborhood within a 40-minute drive of the slum by school bus. The new school will have four large classrooms to accommodate about 50 students each. Students will have access to a community garden, school kitchen, clean water, and even a small playground. The impact of a project like this will be huge!

Preliminary planning has already started. While in Nairobi, we began searching for a suitable piece of property. We were fortunate to locate an ideal place with a high school nearby. There is also a college under construction in the area that would give kids extra opportunity to continue their education, find a good career, and make a new future for themselves and their families outside of the slums. Every child in the slums dreams of getting out. This new school will provide them the opportunity to do so.