The Stories of Kibera

Guest writer, photographer, and Nairobi native, Janvika Shah, joined our content collection team this summer to help capture some of CFK’s Stories of Progress.  During her time with us she was faced with both devastating realities and awe inspiring resiliency of residents in Kibera.

Volunteering in Kibera was without a doubt the most inspiring and eye-opening experience during my one-month stay in Kenya this summer. As a Nairobi native, I witnessed the city’s pervasive economic inequality from an early age. However, visiting one of the five largest slums in the world gave me an insider look that left me in awe.

Hundreds of thousands of people are squeezed in a one square mile radius area in Kibera. Many lack basic needs, including sanitary facilities, nutrition and secure houses. Just a few days before my visit, a fire ravaged approximately 20 homes, rendering its residents homeless. While the fire truck arrived in Kibera, it couldn’t make it to the fire as the ‘road’ leading to the neighborhood was completely inaccessible.

I later learned that one of the infants at Carolina for Kibera’s (CFK) nutrition center recently lost her father in an automobile accident and a week later, her house burned down in that fire. I had wondered about her story, as she was the only child whom I couldn’t make smile with my silly faces, play and cooing.

Later that week, I visited CFK’s Tabitha Medical Clinic, a clinic open to all Kiberans and offering services, such as x-rays, ultrasounds, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, immunizations, and family planning, for an affordable, flat fee. Collaborating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the clinic is staffed by medical professionals that believe in the clinic’s mission to focus equally on prevention and treatment.

While at the clinic, I had the opportunity to meet with a patient, Naomi, 23, who had just given birth to her second child. Her first child was born in 2018 and enrolled in the nutrition center where children at risk for malnutrition spend their days at the center receiving nutrition and care during their most crucial period of development.

Educated by CFK on exclusive breastfeeding, Naomi started breastfeeding right away, so her baby could receive colostrum. Colostrum, the first food breasts make, contains everything babies need to transition to life outside the mother’s body, including antibodies and white blood cells for immunity against diseases and infection.

While she receives additional supplementation from the medical center, she explained that she hasn’t accessed all of the benefits and services from the medical and nutrition center, as her babies’ father didn’t provide consent.

Nonetheless, she was happy that her two babies were getting the nutrition they need and shared her big dreams of them becoming a doctor and lawyer one day. She also expressed gratitude that the centers existed to assist people who can’t help themselves.

Naomi, like many other Kiberans, finds strength and joy in the close-knit community within Kibera. That day, she was accompanied by a friend who was also pregnant and benefiting from the Tabitha Medical Clinic. Naomi explained that many of her neighbors and friends know about the clinic from their conversations.

I always admired the resilience and optimism of the Kenyan spirit. Yet, after chatting with locals and CFK staff, I learned that many of Kiberans choose to stay in the community or return after their studies or travels to help improve living conditions. This was one of the most inspiring and unique cases of ‘strength in numbers’ that I had ever witnessed.