20 or so volunteers walk in a single file crisscrossing the streets of downtown Nairobi towards Muthurwa Stage. Market people, shoppers, and load haulers occasionally interrupt the single file as the team try to catch pace and walk side by side with their best friends in the group. The destination is the Muthurwa Bus Terminal, where we would be catching a matatu to Landi Mawe. Landi Mawe is a sub-location in the Viwandani location in Viwandani division under the Makadara district’s jurisdiction. The excitement and smiles on the faces are contagious and this is one of the striking features of the youth members of the Red Cross Nairobi Branch. The mission today was a combination of donation exercise as well as a clean-up exercise. We got to the matatu that would take us to the location of the activity and got to our area of responsibility ready for action. Here we met with the members of the community as well as other members of the Nairobi Branch who come from neighboring areas.
The first activity was a tour of the informal settlement that surrounded the area. The tour included the community area, the marketplace, the fields that the children play on and the residential area. The situation was not a pleasing one considering the lack of amenities and proper regulations of the area the members of this society settle. While doing a tour of the slums, we noticed a few of the challenges that the residents go through as well as the lifestyle that they carry. This exposure helped us to come up with a few ideas of how to help alleviate their suffering in line with the values and principles of the Kenya Red Cross Society. These activities were also in line with two of the four objectives of the youth. These objectives are involved in the promotion of life and health, and community service. Among the needs that arose during this tour, was the need to create public awareness on various issues starting with the role of the Kenya Red Cross, sanitation and hygiene standards, as well as the importance of education to the community. Several drunkards were spotted along some of the alleys as well as evidence of brew dens. This is one of the leading causes of society degradation because it brings down the strongest & major asset of the community, – the men. Some have ended up feeling hopeless and useless and therefore find solace in the excessive use of alcohol and drugs. These people need help to leave this lifestyle and educate them that life is not over for them and there is still a long way to go. Another notable challenge was the lack of proper sewage system. The problem with this is that the community toilets that have been put here dispose the refuse directly to the river. This is the same river that children play along and even inside downstream. Inadequate waste disposal and sewage systems are leading causes of diseases and even death. The exposure to the field and the living standards in these residential areas was an important factor to get the members to acclimatize to the situation on the ground, as well as to help them develop ideas of how to help the community as well as coming up with permanent solutions for the residents.
The clean-up involved collecting garbage from around a common area and its surroundings, sweeping the streets around it and disposing the trash at a designated area. The members were in high spirits, and the morale drove the teamwork that saw the successful completion of the exercise. This highly reliable team works as expected and ensures that the objectives are attained within the shortest time possible. The volunteer spirit is evident in each member, and this is a powerful dynamism in the achievement of mutual objectives targeted at helping the community. The exercise lasted about three hours in which the area of responsibility was clean, and everyone had assembled for the next assignment. The challenges with this particular exercise were the lack of enough tools as well as a legally designated area for the disposal of garbage. The leaders of the team received the recommendations of the volunteers and the members and agreed that next time there would be enough tools mobilized for the exercise. The issue of the garbage collection point is a legislation issue since as the leaders of the communities put it, they have been trying to lobby for the establishment of a central location to safely place garbage as it awaits transportation to the designated rubbish sites.
The Red Cross Nairobi Branch also supports a Library initiative that collects books from donors and stores them in a library that serves the entire community. We also cleaned this library up and arranged the books. The library is still small and under-stocked. As a continuing project,
the members collect books from well-wishers and bring them to the library where they help the children of the community. The library plays a significant role in the community because it is the only place most of these youngsters can concentrate. The situation at home is not a favorable one for studies. In most cases, these houses are small, and there are more than three children in need of a space to read and do their homework. Members brought in more books, and they presented them to the community. The challenge with the library project is the lack of a safer space to establish the library. Currently, the library sits on a cordoned off section of the wall of the community center and the back wall. This is a small area approximately 8meters by 3meters. This means it can accommodate only a few people at a time.
The community center is a better location, but the challenge is the community members in charge of this will only lend the space when the books are enough to a considerable count in to facilitate an official library.
The challenges that we experience in the field as volunteers and the different areas of support we identify enable us to be better leaders and allows us to come up with solutions that can be considered in governance and leadership at the local as well as the government levels. After the exercise we sat in a circle, we discussed some of the issues we experienced during the activity, suggestions floated towards how the community can be helped, and their suffering mitigated.
We also listened to the community-based volunteers and a member of one of the organizations at the local level who had a better background in the area. The take home lesson of the day was that more needs to be done in these informal settlements. However, the community appreciates the help that the Kenya Red Cross Society offers them in their times of distress and during community activities.