IT IS GOOD TO BE BACK-Director
Ruben Centre was up to its tricks on Thursday 18th January. A Centre with a vision and mission for a just and empowered Mukuru community. I had been away in Australia for two months for a holiday and to also network with donors and friends of the Centre. Often any holiday I have can be rushed, leaving me returning with the sense that I still have unfinished business but not this time. I actually found myself looking forward to returning to Ruben Centre.But however true that may have been, it was not the amorphous Centre that was creating this gravitational pull, rather the community that is the Centre. Staff, friends, volunteers, children in their thousands and of course the sick and down and outs who long for something better are all dear to me and who value my five shillings worth of presence.
“ We missed you, the place is not the same without you,” sentiments flowed and were made for a lovely welcoming home for one of their own.It certainly encouraged me in this journey that is far from a walk in the park and from what I felt about this place on December 4th when I saw the very diminished bank statement for November and on the same day got word that the second largest donor Irish Aid (Misean Cara) had rejected our funding proposal for the next three years. So despite overwhelming issues around the financial stability of the Centre, the morning of 18th was business as usual stuff for me as I arrived for the day still pumped by my reflections on the day’s scripture reading about how ‘the boy’ David slew Goliath. In God I trust I have no fear was the Psalm’s invitation to me and I was on the money!
Right from the start, the place had a larger sense of life and action than just another day thing. There was bustling crowd already filling the Jungu Kuu (open air gathering place) just inside the gate. USAID sponsor our Orphan and vulnerable children program that supports over three thousand slum children and their families, and today together with our Community Health volunteers, they were training and mobilizing women and families in small income generating projects. They had brought over a hundred small mobile cooking units for what maybe the world’s next big fast food venture.
While watching it all unfold, I was called to a meeting with our Health coordinator and programs manager. OX FAM( UK )had arrived with Kenya Red Cross to evaluate our response to the Mukuru slums cholera outbreak of 2017. Apparently OX FAM(UK) are donors to Red Cross and they were doing an accountability follow up as well as searching for our ideas on the way forward within the understanding that ‘prevention is better than cure.’ A robust conversation followed and they left to visit the river and see the environmental disaster there, after I alerted them to fact that all drains from the slum were no longer reaching the river because politicians had profited from dumping soil for housing in the river valley. Off they went to see for themselves the root cause of poor sanitation that will inevitably bring cholera back.I then put my small chocolate bar in my pocket and rushed to our baby care Centre to see how my little mate Joshua was. Yesterday I had installed a new plaything for the forty or so wee kids we care for. However my elephant made of tyres was a bit adventurous for Joshua and he came off with a big thud. We were both equally thrilled. He trying out some Cadbury’s chocolate and yesterday he had bounced so well. I removed the offending elephant and will try it in the school playground.
In the school area gave me the chance to receive a briefing by the local contractors on their progress in lifting up the school’s playground. It had become a casualty of the ruined drainage system and truly was always a disaster area after any significant rain. During the holidays some soil was dumped there and now it is being leveled and a big drain put in to take water away to our neighbours.
With the morning fast finishing I made for the office. I stopped off at the Edmund Rice Room to see what was going on there. It was Grass Roots Journalist meeting with other youth of the slums. One of our partners Wangu Kanja Foundation had organized the forum to engage with the youth to identify issues for the Mukuru people. I listened for a bit and left.
Finally back in the office I am introduced to a former Grade eight student of ours. He had passed his National Primary Certificate well but since school had ended in October, his parents had split up and he was left with his unemployed father who had no money to pay for Secondary school fees. The day before the boy was at our clinic and had his stomach pumped of some foul poison he had taken. It was his cry for help. Our P R girl had talked with the father who clearly was distressed about the plight of his son and readily agreed to find a Secondary school for him.’ You find the school and we can find the $200/ annual fee to give him his ‘second chance,’ I said.
The afternoon was upon me and I was asked to address a group of activists and their facilitators from Sweden. The Stockholm Environment Institute is an international non-profit research organization that has worked with environment and development issues from local to global policy levels for a quarter of a century. SEI works to shift policy and practice towards sustainability. They have an office in Nairobi and they were teaming up with Muungano Wa wanavijijii, a local activist group who have been pushing for the slum to be up graded, both desiring to involve the local residents so that the community itself is at the centre of its own development.
The focus of the Stockholm group was air quality and they had come with equipment to measure Mukuru air quality and a part of the three days was spent identifying the sources of toxic air. Muungano Wa vijiji armed with scientific evidence and data will now try to work with the offending industries to improve the air for the people.