Slumming it

This morning, Okwiri and I go to Dandora. Many people know of Kibera, Africa’s second-largest slum. Dandora isn’t that big, but it looks pretty disgusting.

As for Kibera: I’d prepared myself for the worst. And of course, on a sunny mid-morning, the reality didn’t seem that bad. With hindsight, though, I realise what I’d been dreading were pushing crowds, aggression, shouting, feeling threatened. There was none of that.

The viewThat’s not to say it’s easy to live here. Erasto, a filmmaker, recently made a report about the sanitation ‘system’ of Kibera: men who scoop out pit toilets by night, transporting the waste with handcarts – and dumping it in the Nairobi river.

Kibera, at least, attracts funding and some good projects; and from the Langata road you can see the skeletons of new-build housing for relocating some of the residents (who, apparently, refuse to move because they believe the government will hike up the prices once they’re in the new houses).

Okwiri grew up in Dandora, and having somehow managed to get an education – he is now studying Law – founded a primary school for kids from the worst-off families. His goal, though, is to move that school out of the slum, and make it a boarding school. He wants young people to see that life is better elsewhere; that will also encourage them to stay in school.

Interestingly, the story behind Kibera Film School is somehow the other way round. Originally set up to give youth in the slum a chance to learn new skills, the school has done so well that it attracts people from outside Kibera – and even outside Kenya (one current student is from Uganda). Erasto, who works at Hot Sun Productions, another wing of the foundation that manages the film school, moved to Kibera himself last year – because it’s more convenient, and cheaper, of course. But he seems quite at ease as he leads me around his new hometown.

The drawback of taking in people from outside is that the film school moves away from its original mission – Aida, the film school coordinator, told me around 80% of students now are middle or upper class. That’s no doubt partly due to the fact that students now have to pay fees (though fees are still subsidised). On the other hand, if a place as notorious as Kibera manages to attract some educated, relatively well-off, ambitious people – isn’t that good for the area as a whole?

And could Dandora do the same one day?

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