A Child's life in the slums of Nairobi


What a child’s life in a slum is like is hard to imagine from a Western perspective, but once there you quickly learn that our Western idea of a slum is mostly owed to cliché and stereotype. In truth, a slum is organized like any other neighborhood, only the quality of housing – i.e. corrugated iron shacks or clay huts – and the infrastructure – no water, or electricity – are inferior. Slums are over populated and people live tightly packed in mostly improvised living quarters, without property rights. The consequences this has on a child’s life are substantial, as organizing the means for everyday life exhausts the resources that would elsewhere be used to get education. If you ask an eight-year old child what he or she does best, the answer may well be washing up, tidying up or cooking Ugali (maize meal), which gives you an accurate idea of what parents expect of their children on a daily basis.


In addition to coping with their strenuous everyday life, social problems like alcoholism or drug addiction of parents, violence, disease and crime make this a very harsh environment for children. Nairobi, especially, suffers from violent crime and robberies. Life in a slum usually does not leave room for creativity – the means of escape that should enrich every child’s life. More often than not, these children do not own a single toy. 



The Kibera & Mathare Slum


Kibera is estimated to be populated by one, to one and a half, million people of different ethnic groups. This neighborhood of Kenya’s capital is believed to be the largest slum in East Africa. The word “Kibera” translates to forest or jungle and Nubian soldiers first settled the area in 1920’s. UN Habitat holds some interesting facts on the topic: Soweto East, a region of Kibera, has 71,000 inhabitants that collectively use 15 bathrooms and toilets. It’s not unusual to have six people inhabit a space of 9 square meters (29 square ft.) and have to sleep on the bare ground.


Mathare denotes not just one slum, but an entire row of slums, estimated to house half a million people. The central slum is located in Mathare Valley, a valley of approximately 300 meters (330 yards) width with a length of about 2 kilometers (124 miles). This area is home to approximately 180,000 people. During the rainy season the dwellings become submerged in water and the most rickety houses are repeatedly swept away by the flooding, taking their inhabitants with them (among them many children). The most common causes of death are AIDS, followed by murder. The crime rates are high and gangs dominate the valley. Many children contribute to their family‘s income by collecting and selling trash.


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