[This post was sent in by Mamie Sackey Harris, Africa Projects Manager at the institute.]
Kenya – Jan. 22, 2009
It’s been awesome finally getting to see the Carolina for Kibera program. Right in the heart of Kibera this UNC student-initiated program has really shown just what a little determination can do.
Kibera, population 1 million, is most likely the largest informal settlement on the African continent. With its high rates of poverty, poor health conditions and general decay, Kibera has become a public health gold mine. There are hundreds of NGOs working in this informal settlement, delivering a range of developmental and relief operations: micro projects, livelihood programs, health care, food security, education and delivery of basic material necessities.
Walking around Kibera with CFK Executive Director Salim Mohammed, I was struck by how little had changed since I first came here 4 years ago. It seemed like time had stood still in this part of the world: still poor water and sanitation issues – women fetching water from burst pipes, use of ‘flying toilets,’ large amounts of garbage and refuse and in some parts the heavy stench of putrefying refuse. . .I could go on and on. Witnessing people in these basically unlivable conditions really pulled at my heart strings. Despite knowing there had been a lot of progress in Kibera, a increased number of health centers and greater NGO presence on the ground, I could still not shake the heavy feeling in my heart that the fundamental changes needed in Kibera were still a long, long way off.
But back to CFK. CFK was founded by UNC students as a non- profit organization, and is run by Kenyans with support from both Carolina and Duke. I was extremely impressed by what had been achieved by the local staff, who seem very dynamic, full of heart and passion for the Kibera community and a desire to help lift it out of poverty.
CFK has built from scratch the new 2-story Tabitha Clinic. I can still see the pride in Salim’s eyes as he showed me the truly beautiful building right in the heart of Kibera. The new clinic will have the capacity to provide even more services, such as X-rays, laboratory analysis etc. The Tabitha Clinic is truly a community project. Although all the land in Kibera is owned by the government, with no inhabitant having any land rights, the building and zoning of the land is handled by the local community. The local community not only determined and approved where the clinic was to be built, they also provided the labor for the construction. As Salim proudly stated time and again “the Tabitha Clinic has enabled CFK to prove that even in Kibera local communities can sustainably set up community programs.”
Another thing which touched my heart about the new Tabitha Clinic is the fact that the UNC Class of 2008 had raised funds to add a second-floor which will be named in honor of their classmate and student body president, Eve Marie Carson, who was murdered in March of 2008. I know how humbled and honored Eve, whom I knew personally, would have been. I paused there for a moment, looked down over the heart of this informal settlement, and took a moment of silence for Eve.
It is hoped that the new clinic will eventually have its own doctor, host medical students who want to serve in developing countries, and be able to provide other types of programs that can benefit both Kibera and UNC students. – Mamie