Hailing from an affluent society, a society where teens are pampered like infants, a group of young innovators currently undergoing a Design Thinking course at the University of Nairobi’s C4DLab, today got a chance to visit Kenyan rookery, Kibera.
The name Kibera always surfaces in the news headlines for all the bad reasons; Electoral bedlam, Insecurity, poor sanitation, shanty housing, just to mention a few predicament the residents of this Nairobi’s overcrowded slum have to face every day.
The innovators’ bus slowly nears Kibera. The driver slows a little bit signifying that the smooth ride has come to an end and the kids are being ushered into a rough ride. A meander through the most feared slum, South of Savanna and North of the Limpopo River.
A stench wafts into the bus through the windows, some kids closes their noses using their hands in a gesture signifying that an unwanted odor had been attracted, perhaps to the outward looks of the kids, maybe protesting that “hawa watu si wa hapa.”
The crowded shanties are a scene to behold. “I never thought a place like this exists!” One kid exclaims. The looks in their faces portrays a script of gloom, sadness, desperation and exasperation. The reality that people lived in this place is like a Disney movie to them. The fact that this place exists in Nairobi – close to their doorsteps is a thing they can’t imagine.
The driver however seems to understand this place very well, a middle aged man, presumably in his fifties, he holds the steering wheel with pride, even though he cherishes his job, carrying these young innovators is an added pleasure. Slowly, but steadily, he navigates the Kibera road heading down to the bridge located in Kebera 42 area.
At this point, it is still Nairobi River flowing steadily across this forgotten estate. Lifeless but toxic, its bubbling affirms that it is still in existence. Littered with garbage and aquatic wastes, this spot seems to be the dumping site the households around the estate have found to be the most efficient, the cheapest and maybe the most accessible.
“People drink this water, children swim in this river,” Making innovators project supervisor, Enock Omwamba tells the kids as soon as they near the river bank. It is a surprising message but one that holds undisputable truth. At this point, I get a chance to ask Omwamba’s 8 years old son, one of the young innovators whether he has been to Kibera. He looks me in the eye for close to a minute then says, “Yes, I’ve been here with dad once.” Unlike many of the kids in this trip, this young boy had got an opportunity to see life from another perspective, at least once.
We meet a group of young men ferrying building materials. We engage them for a short while and they agree to speak to us, but not on an empty stomach. We give in to their demand just to get their side of the story concerning the sanitation around this place. “We have a lot of water and garbage problem in this area. This river bank has been turned into a dumpsite. Drainage system here is forgotten and the water pipes you see there (pointing at uncovered underground water pipes) are often swept downstream when it floods,” one of the men tells us.
To them it is a heartbreaking story, to the kids, it is an unimaginable reality. The journey back to the Chiromo based tech hub C4DLab starts, the bus slowly gains momentum and gradually, the slum disappears and a world of satisfaction appears, skyscrapers, flashy apartments, classy German automobiles welcomes us back into the lifestyle the kids have all along been used to. A sigh of relief creeps in but they remain with one target ahead, to innovate a simple, affordable water purifier, especially for use by the lower class people.