It’s almost impossible to describe the Kaptembwa slums. The unpaved streets are rutted and worn. Dust clouds follow each vehicle that rattles along them. In some places, vehicles can only really pass through a narrow strip of the road due to the holes and wash outs. Most of the homes lack electricity and running water is non-existant. Every day we see people standing in line with big yellow jerry cans waiting for the water to be turned on. And these are the lucky ones because they can actually afford to buy this necessity for survival; some families can’t even do that. The water is turned on for about an hour and those who aren’t quick enough might line up all day and still miss out before it’s turned off. As you can imagine, life here is desperate and with that come some serious social problems: unemployment, malnutrition, prostitution, alcoholism, homelessness and disease.
Right in the thick of all that most adults try not to see are the children who drew the short straw in the lottery of birth. Children who were born into the slums. Children who have known real hunger – the kind that comes when you might only get a small morsel of food once a day. Children who live in shanty huts with dirt floors and roofs that leak through the whole wet season. Children who have only owned one set of clothes and never knew what it was to wear shoes. Children for whom childhood seemed impossible.
But even here in the slums, with all this heartache and suffering, there is hope. And that hope is coming in the form of charitable organisations like the Nakuru Hope Project. These projects are providing education to a generation of children for whom the alternative was certainly a short lifetime of poverty.
The children at Gabriel’s School (Nakuru Hope Project) love to learn. You hear them all day long reciting letters and singing songs. The school currently has three pre-primary classes (baby, middle and top) and three primary classes (1-3). In future, there might be a full eight primary classes (1-8) in addition to the pre-primary but, for now, the project also pays for children to attend other schools so that they can receive a full education. The children learn a full Kenyan curriculum including English, mathematics, Swahili, geography, science, environment studies, agriculture and physical education. They receive breakfast and lunch every day, which is often the only food some children will eat all week.
It’s not only the children who benefit from the schools. As I walk through the slums after school is out, I watch mothers walking their little ones home and I can see their pride. I think all mothers just want the best for their children and that it must have hurt these women so much when they thought about what the future might hold. But with education, possibilities open up that were closed before. Perhaps that’s why the woman stand a little taller when they turn up at the school gate to collect their young ones. Maybe that’s why they smile so proudly when they hear their sons and daughters say “Hello mzungu. How are you?” in clear English words as we walk past. Hopefully, the education the children receives will not only help the children grow up with a chance to escape the slums but maybe it will also bring their mothers some comfort.
Kenya often seems like a far distant land with little relevance to my life in Australia. But just being here convinces me that it’s important to think globally because the children at Gabriel’s School in Kaptembwa are as much our future as are those in our schools at home. We are all interconnected as people, no matter where we had the good or bad fortune to be born.
For more information about how you can support Gabriel’s School and some of the children of Kaptembwa slums, go to the Nakuru Hope Project website.