While here in Nairobi a thoughtful water consultant from Brisbane e-mailed me to let me know about her recent work at Kibera, Africa’s largest slum. She heard that Global Young Greens were in town and thought that we should make contact with a Kibera youth group.

Unfortunately I received the e-mail after the conference had ended, so we weren’t able to invite the young people along. However, today a group of us were privileged to visit Kibera and meet with a youth group that is working on a water sanitation project that is partnered by Tweed Shire City Council (a fact that surprised and delighted me all at the same time).

We were told that Kibera has a population of about 800,000 people. Although the people pay rent to landlords and electricity to third-party, non-government providers, they are not given any basic services such as water, sewerage and garbage collection. The government – despite promises – seems to have put Kibera in the too hard basket.

The young volunteers network with about 60 groups to educate young people about water sanitation in the slums. They are striving to clean the river network and, while their task and long-term goal is huge, their short-term work and initiatives are realistic and inspiring.

They capture the attention of the youth through soccer games. Attracting up to 2000 spectactors, they use the games as opportunities to educate the young people about topics such as HIV and water sanitation. We visited one of these soccer groups where the young fellas raised money by providing computer time, movie watching and ironing services.

I was fortunate to be able to take some photos of the river in Kibera to share with those here at home. Kibera’s footpaths, alley ways, waterways and rivers are chock-full of rubbish and fifth. It was difficult to see and I will be able to share the photos once I have them available. What I won’t be able to share is the smell. What I won’t be able to explain is the warmth and spirit of the people we met. The people of Kibera become accustomed to that smell and that lifestyle – but they shouldn’t have to. The cheerful greetings from the children; the hope in the eyes of the teenagers; and the adults’ willingness to live ‘normally’ should be met with wealth, not poverty.

I saw furry goats heads and fish covered in flies being cooked on street-side stalls. I saw narrow pipes that were meant to carry drinking water exposed and broken, allowing sewerage to seep into the system and further contaminate already ordinary water. I saw children playing in a creek bed near what was once a forest-lined fresh water dam. After 30 years of neglect, the river and riverbed is compacted with rubbish and the water is black sludge.

At the opening ceremony march of the World Social Forum, I was inspired by a group of protesters singing and dancing: “We are searching. Searching! We are searching. Searching! We are searching for water! We are marching. Marching! We are marching. Marching! We are marching for water. We are fighting. Fighting! We are fighting. Fighting! We are fighting for water.”

It was a group raising awareness about the water situation in Kibera.

At the opening ceremony march I also met a young fellow called Timothy and his friend who hoped to be involved in the River Symposium this year. Being a Brisbane-based initiative, it was a strange co-incidence to bump into them. Timothy’s friend called it “God’s work”.

Whatever it is, I’m contacting B4C straight away for some advice on how I can channel this calling into something purposeful and productive.

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