I recently finished reading Slum: The People of Kibera, written by Genesis Njeru Ngari and his wife Faith Kisolo Njeru. Genesis and his wife live in Laini Saba village (map) in Kibera, and for this book they interviewed other Kibera residents and recorded their stories in short biographies – 20 in all, most around 5 pages long. The book project was sponsored and edited by Greg Lanier, an American who met Genesis in 2005 while on a short-term mission trip in Kibera. Greg provides an overview of NGO literature and news coverage of Kibera, but the majority of the book is dedicated to telling the personal stories of Kibera residents.
What I appreciate most is the authors’ hesitation to provide a definitive macro view of Kibera – there are others who try to do this, and it is a difficult task indeed. By providing these short biographies, readers can get a sense of what it means to live in Kibera, not in a generalizable way, but in a very individual and personal way. I would just encourage readers to have the same hesitation as the writers. These are 20 stories that span a variety of life experiences, but there are many more out there to tell. From my time in Kibera, I’ve heard many stories of struggle similar to the ones in this book, but I’ve also heard a lot of hopeful stories as well. (I also recognize that because of the groups I’m involved with, my experience is somewhat skewed in the other direction.) Anyway, the point is that these stories can provide a glimpse of what lived experience is like in Kibera in a way that is really missing from academic, NGO, and news coverage of Kibera.
Just to give you a sense of the book, here are a few passages that I found particularly informative and compelling:
One of the interviewees (Mark) expressed the cynicism that a lot of Kibera residents have toward the impact of outside aid:
Mark hears often about money given by donors to support this slum, but he is sure he has never benefited from this. The more the support comes, the more poverty is increasing in the slum. He is thankful for the donors who, from goodwill alone, want to support the slum. But he wants them to now that whatever money they send or give to support the people ends up in only a few people’s pockets. He hopes donors can track down how support is distributed and determine if it actually benefits the people it is designated for. However, he fears that if donors come to Kibera and ask questions, they will find out that not even a single cent of support reaches the people.
Another interviewee talked about how his religious faith interacts with his drug addiction:
“After taking my meal [his drugs], I read a small verse in the Bible, and then I tell God to help me get another puff next time. God is faithful and makes this happen. Then I completely forget my family, and life becomes good for me.”
While most of the stories focus on the struggles of living in Kibera, one young woman still has hope for Kibera:
After all these wounds healed and left behind scars, she still has dreams and hopes for her family and Kenya as a whole. She said, “I would like one day to open my eyes and see Kibera as a paradise, not as a slum anymore, and me living in it.”
In the US, you can buy a copy of the book online for $14. In Kenya, you can get a copy from Genesis directly – that’s how I met Genesis and Faith a few weeks ago. They are both cool people, and with the book proceeds they’ve been able to set up a salon to support themselves, offer free training to local youth, and even sponsor some of the youth in secondary school.
Also keep an eye on the blog, where Genesis provides more info about life in Kibera.