We have just made a song together that we submitted to the contest eineweltsong.de. Please listen and vote for us here: "Made in Kibera Band - Love your neighbour"
It all started with a student project during the corona pandemic. In April 2020 corona forced my music students and me to have our lessons online, which is not very profitable. So we had to do something that was only possible online and that was therefore no longer an annoying stopgap solution, but a fulfilling project. I had already joined a worldwide musician's group on facebook and now, with the help of international colleagues and some friends I had met while traveling, I was looking for music students, preferably from every continent, to record a song with an important message: music knows no isolation, overcomes all borders and connects all people! Let the music fly around the world!
From facebook to Kibera
One of my facebook contacts is Mari Gikaru,
a singer and songwriter from Nairobi who occasionally gives music workshops somewhere in a “Kibera”. “I really enjoy working with the kids there, they are very enthusiastic and have a good energy,” he reveales to me.
I have not yet understood what exactly a "Kibera" is. Some kind of house, home or school? A district? So Henton, Daniel and Derrick from Kibera find their way into the project and shoot their video. I am just happy to have young people from Kenya joining us.
The three boys rap about their firm belief that they can work for a better life. Behind them, rickety barracks can be seen in the video, mountains of rubbish, no green anywhere, only brown and gray. Of course, I had googled the mysterious Kibera.
The sweet side of the world
From my travels to India and Papua New Guinea, I already knew the feeling that was creeping up on me now: a mixture of anger, shame and gratitude. Anger about living conditions being so unequal in the world. Shame to think that these Kibera children will watch the video and see the other's large, clean, and fully equipped rooms. And gratitude, because I find it extremely important to realistically assess my own situation - and what is absolutely real when looking at this world with really open eyes is the fact that I am RICH! If here, on the sweet side of the world, we don't even know and appreciate how much we have and how little we have to worry about, then there is still no happiness, no “enough” and therefore no reason to give anything, to redistribute, to move, to change something. And the things that make me so angry just stay.
Sammy spending time with the kids So Kibera is not a house or a school, but one of the largest slums on earth. Mari gives me the cell phone number of the “guardian” of the three boys to coordinate further organizational matters regarding the song, Sammy Wandera (a funny young man into acting and comedy, as I find out later). We say “hello” on WhatsApp and I ask him what “guardian” actually means. I imagine he's a social worker or maybe even a real guardian because the three of them no longer have parents? During my research, I learned that many children in Kibera are HIV orphans. But luckily this is not the case here. The three live with their families. It takes me a while to really understand Sammy's caregiver status. No, he doesn't get any money for it, it's not an official job. But what exactly does this young guy, only in his early 20s himself, do with children and adolescents and why? Little by little, I understand that Sammy willingly spends time with them on a regular basis to keep them on the right track, away from the way too easy path of crime. He sends me videos where he dances and sings with the little ones. It looks joyful and cordial. But this is also inherently about survival. I am truly touched and for the first time I can feel the love and unshakable faith of the people in Kibera, which I would feel more often later from many others I get to know there.
Initiative against early pregnancy (Sammy on the right) I ask Sammy what I am actually allowed to ask him, whether there are taboos in his culture and how I should behave correctly towards him. And then, with his permission, I begin to ask questions completely free of taboos and discover a largely open culture that, at least in private and in urban life, is much closer to my own than I thought. I want to know firsthand everything about life in the slum. He wants to know just as much about me. And this is how long and intensive chat conversations arise. Sammy tells me about his efforts to change the slum, about how he wants to stand up for girls, prevent their early prostitution, offer them other income opportunities and call on men to be decent. He tells me his own difficult life story, from which he draws the motivation for his commitment - he does it for his sisters, his mother, his family. But he feels alone with it, he tells me about the many dead ends and the structural hopelessness and asks me if I can be a mentor for him and the kids. He could also have asked for money, he could have moaned and aroused my pity, took advantage of my attention and my wealth. But he didn't.
Sammy With everything I see and hear from a wide variety of sources, one thing is clear to me: Sammy doesn't tell fairy tales. I will be very happy to be a kind of mentor without even batting an eyelid. Together we think about how to pave ways that break through the boundaries of the slum and lead outside. I understand that I am outside myself and therefore I can perhaps help in those places where Sammy repeatedly sees barriers from within – like when for some people outside of the slum, all Kibera residents are automatically thiefs and good-for-nothings, which can reduce their job and development opportunities. We agree that private donations would only be a drop in the air or lead to dependencies that neither of us want - and that long-term structural changes are needed. And it is clear that Sammy needs connection to others (which he later finds). There are hundreds of organizations in Kibera that are changing things for the better. So I want to look for points of contact for Sammy and the boys on the internet and see if they can make some helpful contacts.
The Kibera fever
In the meantime, my friends and acquaintances are also becoming aware, asking me questions, making inquiries themselves. Some of them join us straight away and want to do something themselves. When a big fire destroys Sammy's home and his few belongings, we send him some money for a mattress and other things to re-furnish himself. While he is looking for new accommodation, he sleeps on the street and catches a cold. Nights can be chilly in Kibera. In Weimar meanwhile, a - positive - Kibera fever is spreading! There are still no ambitions to set up an organization. But actually we're almost one. And in the end, founding one becomes necessary.
Sammy (in the front row) later finds a connection with ETCO I have been looking at my computer non-stop for two weeks, in order to research possibilities to support Sammy and the children in an organized way - within trustworthy, tried and tested structures. Here in Germany you keep hearing about organizations that arrange sponsorships. I call or write to a few and want to become a sponsor, at least to finance one child's school attendance. But without success: some are present in other parts of the world, others do not react. On the phone, I ask an employee of a certain organization that supposedly works in Kibera, about how the people actually find access to their helpful structures there, who they can turn to or to whom they can apply - or whether the organization chooses the people. She evades me, which makes me suspicious. She tells me to write this question by email. I do and never get an answer. I have about 20 organizations in my bookmarks. I keep asking Sammy if he knows the one or the other. Most often he answers "no" and I ask myself: where are they all? Of course, Kibera is huge, and many of the organizations are also quite small, but I still didn't expect that.
One organization I stumble across, startsomewhere.eu, was to become very important later. For Sammy, however, only SHOFCO is really present at this point. The organisation's founder, Kennedy Odede, came from the worst abysses of Kibera. Together with his American wife, he wrote the book about his life "Find me unafraid" that I bought, read - and I did shed some tears. At the same time, I am again impressed by so much willpower and courage to face life. There are such and such people everywhere, but Kibera has, by necessity, produced some of the strongest and most dedicated. I learn two things in particular from the book and Sammy's statements. First: real change needs strong roots in the corresponding society itself. Western arrogance must have no place here. But secondly and on the other hand: Without the help of his American wife, Odede would have come a long way and achieved an incredible amount, but decisive steps such as the construction of hospitals and schools were then made possible mainly through American funding and the attention of Western institutions and media.
SHOFCO helps the kids a lot indirectly (hospitals etc.), but unfortunately not directly. We don't get our sponsorship here either. I am frustrated and transfer the school fees for Henton, Daniel and Derrick for a trimester directly to their schools, from the private money that we were able to quickly pool with friends and acquaintances. But I also know that we cannot go on like this in the long run. We don't have anyone objective on site who really is familiar with the local structures and knows what to do. And here in Germany we don't have a structure that can collect the necessary funds in the long term. We also don't want to give anyone hopes that we cannot fulfill. I can't do a lot out of my own pocket and if my donation is no longer available, where does it come from to give the children the stability in their educational path that they need?
This is not a game!
Children getting a meal with ETCO This is not a game that you can simply get out of again if it no longer suits you, e.g. if your private money becomes scarcer due to Corona or your own time after the lockdown. Here, it is too easy to simply forget everything and go about your cozy, comfortable busy life, especially when you have no real personal contact with the people of Kibera. But it is about the life of real people! I now have a lot more personal contact than I would have ever thought. And from Sammy I know that many “Westerners” first come generously, boast of their selflessness and then leave indifferently. I don't want to be like that. This behaviour frustrates people and creates suspicion and a mentality for some of them to exploit Westerners, because they'll be gone soon anyway. Sammy doesn't want to be like that. I am immensely grateful to him for telling me these things too and I know that I can trust him. So we keep thinking together: we need larger, united forces, a supporting network and, above all, real skills. And to anticipate that: if we hadn't founded the association here - with our skills - I would probably also be one of those Westerners who came, wanted to do something and then disappeared again. I try to explain that to the people in Kibera: that there is not always a feasible path for a specific case, that there is often no lack of goodwill. I remain determined to find a viable path. First thoughts arise, if necessary, to create it ourselves. So I ask myself: where are my competencies? I am not a person who sacrifices herself. So, realistically, how much strength and time have I that I can still bring up for the people in Kibera? They have already grown very dear to me with their sunny vibes inspite of it all and in many ways I am really looking up to them.
My answer to myself is: I'm not a millionaire, but I have maybe 2 hours a week for work. I have friends and acquaintances who are there. And I'm a musician and music teacher. That is my real competence. I have a lot to give in this area - even from here, from Germany. It was through music that I first got to know Kibera. And everyone I met there draws strength from music and culture and is committed to them in one way or another. By working on the song, Henton, Derrick and Daniel were able to gain a little more courage and self-confidence, they were able to send their message into the world. That’s better than nothing. In fact, that's pretty important. I was able to do that for them with my possibilities - also thanks to the work of KiCA.
Philip and KiCA
Philip of KiCA (left) in a workshop with youths Back to the time of the song recordings. I ask Mari how Henton, Derrick and Daniel can actually make recordings in the middle of the slum - and how I can get hold of the recordings. Mari gives me the facebook contact of a certain Philip Oyoo. Have I understood that right – he has a recording studio in Kibera? Indeed! He recorded the boys' rap and gives me the files. I learn more about the non-profit organization behind the studio, which was built with the help of Carmen and an organization from Spain - KiCA, Kibera Creative Arts. Philip is one of the organizers, and the one who is knowledgeable about music production. A lively exchange follows with Philip. I want to know more about him and the organization. The stories he tells me are very similar to Sammy's. From the personal negative experience, Philips brother Geoffrey, together with his buddy Simon, Philip and a few others, decided to take their luck into their own hands. They too use their skills as artists to make a difference for everyone and work their way forward with KiCA. Against all odds, they have already managed to show the world that Kibera is not only misery, but also huge human strength, competence and friendliness. They change the narrative in and about the slum and thus also the slum itself. The lyrics of their songs call for peace and humanity, speak against violence and drug abuse.
With KiCA, a formerly dyslexic, underrated little boy with bad school grades has become a hip rapper, known all over Kenya as Stivo Simple Boy. Watch his music video "Vijana Tuache Mihadarati" as an example (embedding it here directly was not possible). Stivo has thousands of fans and followers and also sends this message: Kibera can do something! Kibera is rich - in love, talent and life energy! Kibera counts! KiCA want to broadcast that and make it clear to the kids that they also count when they believe in themselves. KiCA conveys positive values with the help of culture and promotes talent and creativity in itself. And KiCA lifts its head out of the slum and extends its arms towards the world. The only problems, but big ones, are money and educational opportunities.
Your résumé, please!
When I signaled how worthy of support I found KiCA, Philip asked me and my people for a video conference and asked me to provide a résumé or at least an overview of my skills and references. I like that self-confidence. It saves me the stupid feelings that often come with the unequal distribution of opportunities and enables joyful communication at eye level. I'm going to the online meetup with my best friend Kay, a musician and producer.
Philip Philip talks about the organization's problems in developing and constantly supporting itself. “We want to grow! We want to be self-sustainable. And we dream of having a school.” He does not ask about money, but about the know-how to achieve their self-preservation and the structural development of the school. They also want to learn: “Could you imagine giving us lessons in music and music production? We want to get better, but we only do everything autodidactically. I want to know how it really works! And there are a lot of young talents here who also want to know. ” I honestly assure him that “autodidactic” does not always mean “bad”, especially not in their case.
Point of no return
We are aware that there is a point of no return here and now. If we accept, it will be a bond for many years. Anything else would not make sense. However, it does not take me two minutes to say this “yes” in and out of myself and to form this bond. What can be wrong with giving these young people some classes online every week? It only costs me a little time and brings them an educational gain that they could not get anywhere else for free. As far as KiCA's know-how on financial self-preservation is concerned: I am neither a project manager nor particularly well versed in business or development aid. But I am not alone either and the back of my head has been rattling through ideas since then, which I exchange with Philip, who is in turn overflowing with ideas, via WhatsApp. I have the feeling that I am in the right place here and that I am allowed to join in turning a positive cyclone that at least refreshes and lifts the souls of many people. Once again I am deeply impressed by the selflessness, love and devotion of these people, by their positive attitude and irrepressible energy. “Welcome to the KiCA family!” they call out to us.
An organization is needed
Simon of KiCA is the head of the "arts and crafts" department However, my two hours a week have long been exceeded with the lessons alone. I've reached the limit of what I can do on my own. The more I immerse myself, the more I find out that a lot more work is needed in every nook and cranny. If the talented young adults I teach every week are to pass on their know-how to the children in a real regular school structure, they must have the financial means to do so. Because without other jobs they simply have nothing to bite and therefore cannot offer regular classes on a voluntary basis. As much as KiCA wants to be self-supporting - it won't be possible anytime soon. And here in the western world, many people have more than they really need. So why not redistribute some money in the world and create something useful with it? With these thoughts, I know that even my entire circle of friends cannot stimulate this without an official structure. We want to collect donations and issue official donation receipts. For that we need an association. We are still in corona lockdown and we want to use the involuntary free time for all the work that the foundation entails. Said and done. On February 13, 2021, we adopted the official statutes and have been entered in the register of associations of Weimar, Germany, since April, making us an official non-profit organization.
Let's go! Join the journey!
I should also get to know Carmen from Spain, Elena from Switzerland and Esteban from Chile in the course of further contact with KiCA. All three volunteered at KiCA in Kibera. Carmen assures me with a laugh: “What, you haven't even been there yourself and are you supporting them? Good decision! They are even better live!” For KiCA, on the way to growth and independence lies their own building. This would save rents and offer space for all projects, including those that generate income. We decide to join forces and work together on the concept and crowdfunding for the construction of the Kibera Creative Arts Center. And Carmen is even a project manager. Cheers to all the others and the teamwork!
More about our projects
Meanwhile, Sammy has made contact with another organization in his area, also founded from within, in which he is involved: ETCO. We learn later, that they also have a branch devoted to artistic matters. We would like to immediately support ETCO and many other such initiatives, too. Right now in the corona pandemic, all these initiatives are all the more important for the people of Kibera! But we have to do one thing at a time and: