So, I finally watched the above Comic Relief - a two part series filmed in Kibera slum (illegal download - shush..). It made thought provoking and moving viewing. I needed a couple of days after watching to let it sink in - and any comment here will sound horribly belated - however:
I thought the four UK celebrities were fantastic.
The premise for the show was that the celebs' belongings were handed over, they were given a bin bag of mitumba clothes and 200 shillings each. They were separated and spent the first three nights in random locations in Kibera, renting their own rooms. They had to earn money in order to buy food ie to survive. The remainder of the week was spent sharing accommodation with one of four Kibera families; orphans, a prostitute, an HIV positive mother of 6 and a recent arrival to Kibera.
Interestingly the one who coped least well was Lenny Henry who is the personality most experienced in fund raising/raising awareness for Comic Relief - but he had the most extreme emotional reaction. Samantha Womack (Easteenders actress, Ronnie) coped brilliantly with her cockroach incident etc and even managed to make her randomly allocated selection of mitumba clothes look glamorous (how did she wash her hair and is that collagen in her top lip?) - Angela Rippon was marvellously tough and 'can do' about all the challenges thrown at her. She was determinedly cheerful throughout - even though her hair got so progressively dirty and greasy as the week went on that the camera man tactfully tried to film from her eyebrows down. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/8355348/Angela-Rippon-Viewers-dont-care-about-a-presenters-age-or-sex.html Reggie Yates was incredible. He blew his first 200 shillings on watching a footie match in a communal bar then bought chips on the way home. After two hours sleep he found himself doing a stint valiently emptying overflowing latrine pits throughout his first night - and he kept smiling. He earned 700 bob and said 'this is tons of money!' Talk about culture shock!
The whole project was organised by a mzungu NGO worker and a 3rd generation Kiberan. The latter acted as long suffering counsellor to the 4 celebs. Suffice to say, there were a lot of tears (but well done - no tantrums) all connected with the dilemma of celebs being thrown into an extreme environment by the BBC. I had to wonder, what were the celebs eating (we saw them with the odd bag of tomatoes and bananas - they also managed to blag a few free meals from the families they met) and what were they drinking? Did the 200/- really run to mineral water every day?
I think that anyone coming from England would find Kibera or any slum a huge shock to the system, let alone celebrities. Friends in England said they cried watching the footage. I've been to Kibera a handful of times and while I don't claim to be any sort of an expert (am sure that I couldn't survive in the slum for a week by any means as well as the celebrities did), the funny thing is (and a point made in the film) is that you od quite quickly get hardened to the dirt, squalor, the smell etc.
On the first visit it is all surprising - you are shocked and swear you will do anything in your power to 'help' or make it go away, but by the second visit you accept a lot more - that this is a buzzing community. Accompanying first time visitors (Kenyan, Asian or European), you watch their horrified reaction and find yourself thinking, 'oh just shut up and get on with it.'
What came through strongly in the film was the nobility of the people who live in Kibera. They are dealing with an utterly hand-to-mouth existence on a daily basis, incredible odds stacked against them - (most notably the lack of any welfare system) - and yet many still have hope that things will get better by some miracle - however remote. A funny bit was when the samosa seller told the camera that he felt sorry for Lenny Henry when he spotted the outsider the day before buying bits of food. Also there were lots of Kenyan style honest commentary about how Lenny was fat. An orphan found it hard to imagine that Lenny would be able to ride a horse.
Today, times must be deteriorating even more rapidly in the slum since food and fuel prices have rocketed in past weeks. On the news today there was announcement saying that it's not even possible to buy maize flour because of a current shortage - another badly handled government planning issue.
On the upside:
I was impressed to see that most people had bed/mosquito nets.
I wasn't shocked by the mitumba clothes and didn't see that wearing second hand was any kind of hardship - after all, I and many others routinely shop there too.
HIV positive people do have access to ARVs
There are various health clinics and NGOs operating in the slum
On the downside - things that angered me:
Primary school aged children are required to pay school fees in spite of the much publicised free primary education.
The pit latrines were beyond horrific and the general lack of infrastructure (a workable sewage system) and utilities (at the very least, clean water) unforgivable.
I felt seriously angry that the 16 year old orphan who lost his father to 2007 post election violence (his mother had died earlier) - still has not had issues addressed by Kenyan politicians who continue to try and sweep the whole horrific period of political unrest under the carpet and are probably never going to be answerable for their crimes.
The improved (as in; away from an overflowing pit latrine that they were formerly living next door to) 3 room accommodation that Lenny Henry generously bought for the orphan family still cost 800 UK pounds for not much more than an informal mud and sticks, a structure on illegal land, paid to goodness knows who. I assumed that with any luck the eldest boy would immediately rent out two of the rooms and thus build some revenue for himself so that he (and his siblings) could pursue his goal and get to school regularly.
In spite of the huge hype that surrounds Kibera (as opposed to any other of Nairobi's slums) and the huge fund raising that goes on - inexplicably, life for the Kiberan never, but never seems to change.
Sadly, I guess this program will never be aired on Kenya TV
There has been some local newspaper coverage on the program. Nation columnist Rasna Warah makes a point about 'slum tourism' being on the rise, how she is angered by this new trend of foreigners rubber necking poverty - but I think that in the article she misses the point - I don't think she watched the show.
'Poverty as entertainment: Please put to an end Kibera slum tours'
'For many Kenyans, the film is the worst form of slum tourism because it turns poverty into entertainment in the name of charity.
Kennedy Odede, a former Kibera resident who is currently a student at Wesleyan University in the United States, says that while he understands the need among foreigners to witness poverty, he believes that slum tourism is largely a one-way street: “They get the photos; we lose a piece of our dignity”.'
I actually think that everyone should watch this program - above all (wealthier) voting Kenyans who should be outraged by the poor performance of their government. Contrary to what foreign press reports would have you believe - not everyone in Kenya is poor. Victorian London had slums during the industrial revolution, remember this problem was tackled by the government implementing reform, using tax payers money - not handouts.
So the Kenyan government has failed but, let's remember that there is more than enough foreign aid money flowing into this country to more than adequately address slum issues in Kenya. Fixing Kibera should certainly not be the concern of the UK tax payer who is being guilted into texting 5 pounds to the Comic Relief fund (enough UK taxpayers money is already going to Africa - sent by the Government in the form of overseas aid).
May I venture to suggest that all overseas aid consultants based in Kenya should also spend a week living in a slum (with no more than 200 shillings in their pocket) as a sort of 'rite of passage' or initiation into their aid giving jobs. What do you think? This might focus the mind better than the trend for ten day 'alleviating poverty - focussing on those who survive on less than a dollar-a-day' workshops held at all inclusive Mombasa beach hotels? How many are employed at the UN/UNEP Nairobi these days, was it 6,000 or 9,000?