“Our work there has been a spiritual presence and an action for the human promotion. In 2002, we have started a movement, the Kutoka Network, to reflect and act on what we do in the slums of Nairobi. We are not an NGO, yet we do things for the people and for the people. Through the Kutoka Network, we have been able to implement various interventions like street children programs, to take children out of the street and keep them in a safer environment; the Dandora dumping site, the campaign stop dumping garbage on us, for the closure of the site and to give alternative occupation to the people working there; the program for people with HIV/AIDS; and the program for justice. We opened a community Justice Centre where people are able to talk to paralegals who can assess their cases, and refer them to lawyers who are linked to the centre and act pro bono. In this way people can access justice. We also have a program for the upgrading of housing and the implementation of the new constitution. We are now going to start an awareness program in view of the next political elections, and recently Tangaza College has opened a branch here in Kariobangi”.
When he speaks, Father John Webootsa Shikolia is full of fervour. John is a Comboni Missionary from Mombasa. He has worked in the parish of Kariobangi, at the outskirts of Nairobi, for the past five years. He has always lived in the slums of Korogocho, tending to the St. John’s outstation, itself larger than many parishes in Europe.
John explain how the work done here by the local community has an ecumenical approach. The Kutuka Network is made up by 26 parishes, mostly from eastern Nairobi. They work in collaboration with many forces, especially with the Justice and Peace commissions. Two years ago, John went to see Cardinal John Njue. “I asked him to give us recognition as a sign that the bishops saw our work as part of the Justice and Peace program of the Church – he says. We were given a mandate”.
Korogocho is a slum grown alongside the Dandora dumping site. This area used to be poor and chaotic. Thanks to the work of the Churches, the slum is getting a better place to live in, while remaining a dangerous site. The year 2000’s campaign to ask for the international debt forgiveness has brought its fruits. Among the countries that responded there was Italy, which pardoned 40 million euro. The government pledged to use part of that money to upgrade the slums. Much of this money has been squandered. However, the main road has been paved, and some dwellers were able to build permanent housing.
“There is no doubt that the slum is better today than it ever was. We have a big campaign going on. A few months ago we had a meeting between the residents’ committee and the government to see how we could plan the future of Korogocho, how to subdivided the land, etc. We need proper planning and a map was drawn with the help of the city council and UN Habitat. The map was then shown to the people who could give their views, some were very critical. We now need to organize a new meeting to see how to revise the map.
No one will invest in permanent structures if the issue of the map is not clear”.
For decades, the people of the slums have been treated as lesser citizens. Many of the dweller themselves have this notion ingrained, and do believe to have lesser rights than other Kenyans. Father John is working towards the establishment of a parish. The outstation of St John is densely populated, being recognized as a community on its own standing would boost the faithful confidence of being important, of value. It would increase their self-esteem.
“Self esteem is important, John continues. This is why we have programs designed to encourage people to become professionals. Some of these programs did not work, other had a modest success. The issue is that these people need money to live. A certificate says little to them. It is important but it does not automatically bring food to the table. The microcredit project was a better program and had a greater response. So education is important but we need to support the life of younger people if we want them to go to school. The majority need economic empowerment. They also realised that poverty is not only imposed by situation. It is also the result of realities on which we have control, for instance the dependency syndrome. So now people are taking responsibility on their own choices, and this is a positive development”.