Imagine corrugated iron roofs as far as you can see, with a train track carving through them. Streets running with open sewage, where children play among excrement. Families ten strong who live together crammed in a single room. You’re on the way to imagining Kibera.
Kibera is an informal settlement – or slum – in Nairobi, Kenya, and one of the poorest, most arduous urban living environments in Africa.
It has developed over decades since the early twentieth century, as waves of migrants flocked to Nairobi in the hope of a brighter future.
Although located only 5 kilometres from the centre of Nairobi, Kibera is a world away in terms of facilities and development. In the Nubian language, Kibera means ‘forest’ or ‘jungle’ – words which seem apt when applied to this sprawling urban labyrinth.
Figures for the population of Kibera are notoriously sketchy – estimates put the population anywhere between 350,000 and one million people. Many new residents continue to come from rural areas even poorer than Kibera, seeking work and opportunities for their families.
The neighbourhood is divided into a number of villages, including Kianda, Soweto East, Gatwekera, Kisumu Ndogo, Lindi, Laini Saba, Siranga, Makina and Mashimoni.
Life in Kibera
The Kenyan government owns all the land upon which Kibera stands, though it continues not to acknowledge the settlement officially. For that reason the area lacks the most basic services, such as government-funded schools, clinics, running water or lavatories. Only about 20 per cent of Kibera has electricity. The services that do exist are privately owned.
Hygiene is chronically poor. Kibera is heavily polluted by human waste, rubbish, soot and dust. The area is notorious for open sewers and the use of ‘flying toilets’, in which waste human and animal excrement is disposed of in plastic bags. The lack of sanitation and poor nutrition create many illnesses and diseases among residents.
Unemployment is high: over 50 per cent of the population is without work. Most people get by with casual work, being paid daily when they do find employment, with no chance to save money. For women with families to feed, casual prostitution is sometimes the only way they can make money. Crime – car jacking, theft and violent raids – is rife as a way for people to survive.
Hope for the future
And yet this is in many ways a positive place, with so much human potential. People in Kibera are resourceful, creative, hard-working and hopeful. Families seek to create better lives for themselves and to give their children alternatives. And it has been acknowledged that the population of Kibera plays a significant part in the economy of Nairobi and Kenya.
Kipepeo Designs creates opportunities for women in this difficult environment to gain a regular income, meet their daily needs, support their families and build a long-term future with prospects beyond Kibera.