When we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, on Thursday morning, July 14th, we really had no idea what to expect. We were tired from the travel but excited to see all that was planned for us. We met some of the local leaders from Mercy House and Compassion International at a local gas station for snacks. This was our first introduction to cats roaming everywhere, in and out of buildings and houses, as well as bathroom sinks without water. But we weren’t bothered, really. We knew we were in another country and expected inconveniences.
From there, we were taken to Kibera, Africa’s largest slum. I don’t think we could ever be prepared for what we saw and smelled there. I think I kind of imagined the trash and the smells of sewer, but I was surprised at the size of it all. We were later told that over 600,000 people live in this area just about 3 miles outside the center of Nairobi in an area about 4 square miles.
In this slum, we were surprised at the number of shops and businesses, salons, schools, churches/outreaches, vegetables, charcoal for fires, chemists/cosmetics shops, butcher shops, animals (chickens, goats) roaming the streets, clothing/shoe shops, and so much more. It was a village with everything most communities had. The difference was that it was small and smelly. This made the realization that people lived there a reality to us.
In the midst of all of the trash and crowding, what surprised us probably the most was the amount of color. In the dreariness of the slum, there were signs painted colorfully all around. There were clean (yes, clean) clothes of all colors hanging on lines to dry. The children coming and going from schools had on bright-colored uniforms.
As we remember all the we saw in Kibera, I hope we never forget the colors.
After driving through the slums, we went through a couple of gates and ended up at a nicer house in the slums. This is the home of the Grain of Rice Project artisan group. This building is home to several ladies from the slums who now make jewelry, home decor, and more. They sell their products to organizations like Mercy House Global and help to make a better life for themselves and their families. Upstairs, in a small room, school children gather a few times a week to learn art and Bible lessons. Again, in the midst of the slum, there is color – and smiles!
There’s no way to forget what we saw and experienced in Kibera. There is hopelessness and poverty, dirt and pain; but there is also color and smiles, joy and hope because of groups like Grain of Rice Project. In the midst of their surroundings, it was obvious that many of those people in that slum had found joy that comes only through Christ Jesus.