Following the muddy tracks

My placement for VSO is with Kenya YMCA – I know you will all have heard of it! And no, we don’t do renditions of the song in our break times…

Kenya YMCA is the oldest NGO in Kenya. We’ve been here over 100 years and today there are around 25 branches spread over the country. Today I went to a branch relatively close to home: YMCA Kibera, right here in Nairobi.

Kibera is Kenya’s biggest slum and the second biggest in Africa with anywhere between 600,000 to 1 million people depending on whose stats you choose to believe. That’s about 1/3rd or 1/4th of Nairobi’s population!! As a result it gets a lot of attention from NGOs.

I was there to meet the Assistant Branch Manager, Isaac, to get an understanding of the work the branch does and to see if I could help with any funding needs. Being made up of a maze of little alleys, Isaac kindly met me outside so I wouldn’t get lost. And I’m very glad he did. Crammed with shops, stalls, homes, clinics, schools and hair salons, one of Kibera’s most distinctive feature is the train line that runs straight through the middle.

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As we were traipsing through the mud, watching our step, a train whizzed straight through
with just a toot of warning for everyone to scramble off the tracks. No mean feat when you’re on the tracks selling a big pile of mangoes in a wheelbarrow or when you’re the man selling suits and advertising them by wearingevery single item you are trying to sell at once!

Once we reached the branch I was impressed to see how well established it was. There was a primary school serving over 200 children with a well-stocked library and computer lab. There was a dress-making and tailoring college with so many beautiful Singer sewing machines I thought the All Saints clothes shops in London would be envious. We were there just before building work was going to start and transform the temporary school buildings into solid, permanent structures. Kibera YMCA seemed to me a shining example of what was possible.

Just before we left, I asked Isaac if there were any security problems at the branch what with the computer lab, the brand-new industrial sewing machines and library full of coveted school books. He said not really apart from once when a thief had tried to steal some metal. Luckily though the Night Watchman spotted him and managed to SHOOT HIM WITH AN ARROW!!

I couldn’t help but ask why he was shooting with arrows…? “Because he can’t afford the bullets for a gun”.

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