I’m now in Nairobi, where I had the opportunity to meet an inspiring young man. Aowki Patrick “Paddox” grew up in the city’s Kibera slum, a sprawling maze of corrugated metal shacks housing around a million people. We met at one of the slum’s entrances, near the railroad tracks. It had been raining the night before and the ground was oozing with mud and garbage. We walked along the train tracks, avoiding noxious puddles and sleeping dogs. “The tracks are still in use, but we’ll feel the ground shake long before the train gets here,” he told me. It was around 10 a.m. and the sun was growing hotter by the minute. We left the tracks and dove into small alleyways filled with barbershops, banana stalls and women doing laundry. Much of the slum was built cliffside, and many shanties were on a severe slope. Water flowed down the steep pathways and we picked our way around rocks, slime, goats and the occasional chicken. “Hello, how are you?” cried groups of children as we passed. Stopping to take some pictures with them, I was struck by the fact than none were begging, or even demanding candies or pens, which I’d experienced with children in other developing countries. Most of the kids looked quite well fed and their smiles were infectious. A few adults stopped to say “Jambo” (hello) and shook my hand, as well.
The slum had started off as housing for Sudanese soldiers who had fought for the British during world war two. Today the majority of inhabitants are Kenyan nationals. I learned that everything has a price in Kibera – water is metered and sold at outdoor taps. There’s a fee to use the few public toilets available. Most people’s income comes from bits of causal labour. Women do laundry, men haul goods in wheelbarrows or on their backs, small shops and food stalls operate everywhere. It’s animated in Kibera, but also a very difficult life and one that’s hard to climb out of. Paddox, an orphan, was raised and educated with the help of funds from good-hearted donors. For the past few years he has been running a small school for orphans in the community called Seed Junior Academy. Every day, he and his wife teach 42 children, grades one to four. They even give the children a meal, with support from GIVE International, Brookhouse Schools, plus numerous individual, group and church donors.
“The children are on holiday today, but I’ll show you the school,” he said. We pushed on and came to an array of blue corrugated metal rooms build against a set of public toilets. Inside, his wife and a few children were washing the concrete floor. “We want it to be clean,” she explained. In one room, there was a blackboard and a few brightly painted desks. In another, shelves were partially filled with books. “That’s our library,” Paddox explained, adding, “We just got some money to paint the walls. Eventually we’d like to put up posters and decorations.” As I nosed around, I heard the front door open and group of small children filed in, looking at me curiously. Chattering amongst themselves, they squealed and ran back out the door when Paddox shooed them away so his wife could continue her cleaning.
Paddox is struggling to maintain the school. Side income comes from taking people like me on tours through Kibera. Although he is working in very limited circumstances, the education he’s providing will give those kids the tools of literacy. His steadfast determination will make a big difference in their lives.