Jambo Kibera

Jambo Kibera
By Angela Rizner

Welcome to Kibera, Kenya: a rapidly growing “slum” located only three miles from the center of downtown Nairobi. Although population estimates range widely due to flux and difficulty in collecting data, Kibera is thought to be the largest urban informal settlement in Africa. Kenya’s government owns the land where Kibera sprawls, but does not formally recognize it, and is seldom involved in its well-being. It is here that hope, resilience, and collaboration prove to be a powerful tonic against the disease of marginalization.

“The houses are mud, but people are not mud,” explains William Ogutu, a well-known and trusted resident of Kibera. Affectionately known throughout the community as “Bangkok,” a nickname he reportedly earned while boxing in Thailand in his youth; William is rumored to have once been among the most formidable men in the community.

"Transformation comes from within, but opportunities to transform are contingent upon fundamental human needs, such as energy, and access to clean water and sanitation."

Growing up in Kibera, William knows how challenging life on the streets can be. Like many other parts of the developing world, crime is often one of the only paths available for youths. It is a symptom of severe economic stress and lack of opportunities.

After what appears to have been a miraculous shift from darkness to light, William went to trade school and became an engineer, traveling away from his stomping grounds and fabled “troubled youth.” Concealing a machete, he walks with a quiet authority through the winding paths. At 6’4” and 220 lbs, contemplative and missing his right eye, William is an example of what is possible.

Realizing that he could use his background and influence to relate with others for a higher purpose, William returned to Kibera. He has since successfully managed to leverage the cooperative spirit of the community to battle crime and work together in innovative ways.

Today, William is a leader in the community, and an expert in the challenges and opportunities they face together. His work as community ambassador for the non-profit, The Human Needs Project, makes him a tributary of influence in skillfully distributing ideas and technologies that can change the face of Kibera’s future. William remarks, “When you change yourself, you change the community. If you cannot change, it is very hard for the community to change.”

Transformation comes from within, but opportunities to transform are contingent upon fundamental human needs, such as energy, and access to clean water and sanitation. To encounter Kibera is to come face to face with the staggering, interrelated nature of global, systemic externalities. One difficulty leads to another, in a seemingly endless web. It is impossible to pinpoint one source of the many problems, but there are a few clear solutions to the obstacles that trouble this resilient, united population. Light is one. Join us in this series that explores MPOWERD in Kibera, focusing on areas of life positively effected by Luci lights. #ShiningLightOnKibera #lightuplife