Updates from Africa – January 24

Today will be a full day.  This morning we are joining Janet Bett, the Manager of the Tumaini social workers of Jamii Bora (“good families” in Kiswahili), in visiting an enclave of street beggars whose home base is on the fringe of a ravine in downtown Nairobi.  As usually happens, when we first arrive, we meet one or two mothers and their children.  And soon, more and more gather, some staying at a bit of a distance to assess before approaching, others moving in.  Soon there is a crowd.  There are fewer street kids than in the past.  One of the mothers advises us that the police swept through last night, arresting many of the homeless boys.  This happens regularly.  This morning is a tough one, emotionally.  It really hits us just how difficult life is in these margins.  The conditions are horrendous.  The ravine’s water flows, but garbage is rolling and drifting and spinning in it–this is the source of drinking, bathing, and cooking water for this group of people.  The mothers are listless.  They ache, and we ache with them.
Janet is an inspiration.  She is 100% compassion, 0% pity.  She plops herself down next to a mother, commiserates about life, and launches into solutions through saving “pole pole” bit by bit with Yawezekana SACCO.  There is support, there is help, and it does work.  Janet knows, because she was homeless herself.  The mother listens.  This may take many more visits, but with each one, more listening happens, and perhaps some hope is sparked.
Lunch is a welcome break at Yawezekana SACCO offices.  We meet again with Ingrid Munro.  And then we are on our way to visit with members of Yawezekana (“It is possible” in Kiswahili) whose income projects are in Kibera slum.  The market area there is called the Toi Market, and someone is selling whatever it is you might be shopping for.  Ester is our guide.  She works with Jamii Bora/Yawezekana, meeting with members who have loans, encouraging them, and helping them overcome any obstacles that might arise that might derail repayment plans.   Ester’s own life has not been easy, but you would never know it when she is working with Yawezekana members.  She is a bundle of positive energy–and people respond.
Ester introduced us to a gentleman who is now 84 years old.  Of his eight daughters, four have died.  He was born in 1935, fought in both world wars, and helped build the Suez Canal.  He has dreams!  He would like to take a loan through the Yawezekana housing cooperative to build a brick house for his family.


We met a member whose business is selling fish, and another member who has grown her business of selling shoes and other items to the point that she now can afford an actual kiosk in the Toi Market.  We have met with her multiple times, and to see the success and growth of her business is rewarding!


We ended the day exhausted, enriched, and more committed than ever.

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