I walk through the dirt covered path, my head down, as the scent of burning trash fills my nose. I hear the faint screams of a child nearby, and look up to see a group of boys playing a makeshift game of soccer, using a ball made of old newspaper and rope. As I continue walking, I’m struck by a thought: there is a whole world here that I never knew about. There are some moments that can open your eyes to a whole different side of life. And if you let them, those experiences can change you forever. This was my moment. This was my weekend in the slum of Kibera.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I came to Kenya to visit my family and for a relaxing vacation. I had no intentions of doing school work. But after spending a week in the rural village of Koru, bringing school supplies and art projects to a local elementary school, I knew that I wanted to integrate community service into a project that I’m required to do for senior year. That was when I found out about an organization called Carolina for Kibera (CFK) that was based in Nairobi. After a week of hastily made calls and plans, I found myself in contact with the head of the CFK branch in Nairobi. I explained to him that I was researching how NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) are helping the poor in the community. He was immediately interested and that very Friday, I was working with the education program funded by CFK.
As I became accustomed to Kibera, I was able to fully appreciate everything that CFK was doing there. They had established clinics, sports programs, trash collection initiatives, safe houses for girls and scholarship opportunities. The education program especially interested me, and the next day I found myself working with a couple of the teenagers who CFK sponsors as part of their scholarship program. They were currently working through a curriculum created by a University of North Carolina intern. The curriculum centered on teaching everyday life skills such as dealing with peer pressure, and conflict resolution. As I watched and listened to these kids I sensed a passion for learning and a determination to achieve the goals they had set for themselves. I sat in the back of the room thinking that it was only a coincidence of birth that I was born in America, and they were born here. I was accustomed to education as a right, not a privilege. These kids saw it the other way around. I couldn’t help but wonder if the situation was reversed, would I be able to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a better life, not only for me but for my family? I could see that they were fascinated by me, but I don’t think they could sense my admiration for their courage, passion, and unwavering determination.
Many people, including myself until very recently, don’t know what Kibera is. It is the second biggest slum in Africa with a population of roughly 800,000 people. On paper, Kibera seems to be a place that can inspire only hopelessness. However, under the surface of poverty, there are those who are working to inspire the youth to look beyond their surroundings and circumstances to see a better future. I left not only with a different outlook on life, but a desire to help others like CFK had helped these kids. Whether overseas or in the elementary school by my house, I was determined to get involved, to do more, and maybe in the process become someone who inspires others to do the same. http://cfk.unc.edu/
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