Worldwide, more than a billion people live in slums, with as many as one million in Kibera, Africa’s largest such settlement, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Slum Survivors, IRIN’s first full-length documentary, tells some of their stories.
Meet Carol, a single mother of three, who walks miles each day in search of work washing other people’s clothes. It is a hand-to-mouth existence - sometimes she gets work and buys food, but most of the time she and her children go to bed hungry.
Carol’s situation is so desperate that on more than one occasion she has come close to suicide. With no-one to rely on for support, she’s left hoping for miracles.
“We hope that one day God will come down – we keep on saying that. One day God will come down and change our situations.”
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Dennis Onyango fell into poverty when his father left his mother for another woman. Forced out of school because of unpaid fees, he ended up in Mombasa where he found work as a DJ.
Life was good until inter-ethnic fighting forced Dennis back to the safety of Nairobi. But poverty and desperation pushed him into a life of crime.
“Many of my friends had guns. I had grown up in the hands of the police because my father was a policeman. He used to leave his gun on the table so I knew how to dismantle and reassemble guns, so my friends used to bring their guns to me for cleaning - that’s how I got started.”
But these days, Dennis is trying to change. He wants to turn his back on crime and start afresh.
Patrick Mburu says he has lost many friends to crime and believes hard work is the only way out of poverty for him and his young family. His parents were both alcoholics and so he has had to fend for himself from a young age.
Patrick empties latrines for a living. Most toilets in Kibera are privately owned and residents must pay to use them. There are so few toilets that on average each one is shared by more than a thousand people.
Most slum dwellers never finish school and end up trapped in poverty, which is why Patrick is adamant his kids will get an education.
“In Kenya, no education means you can’t get a good job; that’s why I send my son to a good school, because I want him to know that the job that I do is only for people like me who didn’t go to school.
“So, I will struggle - I will carry a lot of shit, I will do anything but steal to keep him in school.”
Abdul Kassim also believes in the importance of education. He works as a telecoms engineer, but puts most of his income into a free secondary school for girls, which he started in January 2006.
“I saw that there was no gender equity between the boy child and the girl child here in Kibera, and so we started a girl’s soccer team. Then all the challenges, all the bad things that happen within Kibera saw some of them getting into early marriages, some of them got pregnant - there was a time when I lost the entire striking force of my team and it brought into question the starting of another alternative, which was nothing but education.”
Christina, 17, is just one of 48 pupils at Abdul’s school but her story is typical. She lives with her mother, father and five siblings in a one-room shack. Her parents’ relationship is fraught and Christina is often left alone in charge of the house.
When she finished primary school, her father refused to send her to secondary school, claiming that educating girls was a waste of money.
“My dad wants everyone to drop out of school. He complains that he has no money, or that he’s sick … I don’t know … I don’t know why he doesn’t want us to learn.”
Christina has a hole in her heart - a serious condition for which she should take daily medication but the cost - US$10 a day - is far beyond her family’s means. School, a job and then a salary might just save her life.
For Abdul, education is the key to solving the problems of the urban poor and that is why he started the school. He has lived here all his life and has seen Kibera change beyond recognition as more and more people flood into the city in search of a better life.
“I don’t see why people are living the way they are living in Kibera, or in any other slums, there is no reason - there is no justification.
“And in Kibera if this issue is not handled at some time this problem is going to come knocking at people’s doors - and those who think it’s not their problem might be surprised one day when this problem comes knocking at their door.”