From rubbish dump to cabbage patch (2008)

Rubbish is everywhere in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, just a few kilometres from the centre of Nairobi. It lies not just between the ramshackle dwellings, but often underneath them, rendering them vulnerable to collapse in times of flood.

But the face of the slum is beginning to change as fresh vegetables spring up where trash once lay rotting.

The youth in Kandimiru, one of the villages within the slum have, through a self-help group, established the first organic farm on what was once a garbage dumpsite.

“We wanted to keep the area clean so we saw it fit to have a garden,” Augustine Oramisi, the chairman of the Kibera Youth Initiative for Community Development, a local umbrella body for self-help groups in Kibera, told IRIN.

Most of the youth involved in the project were involved in the post-election clashes that rocked the slum earlier in the year, Oramisi said.

“They were the most vibrant group during the skirmishes,” Oramisi said.

Since crime and disease is rife and unemployment is rampant, the project is seen by many as helping reform the behaviour of the youth in the slum. “Most of the members were criminals who have chosen to reform,” Mohammed Abdullahi, an official with the group, said.

“I have seen many people dying here,” Abdullahi said. At least 10 of the group members have been killed in crime-related activities, he said.

“No one could pass here,” Hussein Hassan, a member of the group told IRIN as he tended to a crop of spinach growing in the quarter acre garden located against a heap of garbage. Besides tending to the farm, Hassan also has a job collecting garbage in the area. The cabbages, tomatoes, spinach, kale, pumpkin and sunflowers grown on the farm are sold locally within the slum.

Recently, the group had their first cabbage harvest.

Besides providing food and income, the farm is also being used as a pilot project to teach local students how to carry out land reclamation.

The sprawling, unregulated slum originated during World War I, when the land was a temporary residence to the Nubian (Sudanese) soldiers from the King’s African Rifles. The name ‘Kibera’ comes from the Nubian word ‘kibra’, meaning forest or jungle.

Other prevailing conditions in the slum include the lack of basic water supplies, sanitation, solid waste management, power problems, poor roads and high population densities.

According to Eric Agoro Simba, a coordinator of the youth group, residents in Kibera require a forum where would-be donors and aid agencies can consult with them first to address the various challenges facing most of the slum’s inhabitants.

“The problems [in the slums] might be big but we also have the solutions,” Agoro said. “What these people need is a push, not pity.”

Agoro’s sentiments were echoed by Claire K Niala, a doctor mobilising funds to support the farm project and other development projects in the area. “They [slum dwellers] need empowerment more,” she told IRIN on 2 September.

There was a need to ensure that donor funding for slum projects actually benefited the local residents, they said.

“Anything with the word ‘Kibera’ sells, but the money ends up in the wrong pockets,” Agoro said.

According to UN Habitat, a community-based financial framework for accessing credit for housing and related services, such as water and sanitation, would enable communities in the area to access finance for improving their living conditions and enhance their capacity for self governance and decision making.

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