A Voice For the Voiceless


The Advocacy Project (AP) recruits students to help marginalized communities tell their story and claim their rights.

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Posts tagged expansion

The Railway Dwellers: Jared and St. Juliet Educational Center

Kristen Maryn | Posted July 28th, 2011 | Africa

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The children can be heard as soon as you step out of the car.  The pure joy of kids on a playground sounds the same in any country.  It’s the appearance of the playground that changes.  The kids at St. Juliet Educational Center play on an uneven plot of dirt, about 100 square feet, encircled by buildings.

Kibera: St. Juliet Educational Center
Kibera: St. Juliet Educational Center

The school was established in 2000, and it serves 875 children.  310 of these students are orphans, and a great many more have only a single parent.  The school offers baby class, which is like kindergarten, and first grade to eighth grade.  With only about a quarter of an acre for land, the children manage to find space, either hanging over the railings of the buildings or on the dirt in the middle.

Eric, my community guide, finds the head teacher, Jared, but he is wrapping up a meeting with some parents.  We wait in the back of the classroom, which looks more like a tiny church.  The classroom is rectangular, longer than it is wide, and there is a podium and short stage in the front.  The desks are rows of benches with narrow counters attached, and the children file into them, with a complicated method as to who sits where.  A man wearing a black blazer with a gold lapel breezes in, and shakes each of our hands before heading up to the front of the class.  He has one of the most sincere smiles I have seen, even though he is missing teeth, and the kids stop paying so much attention to me once he reaches the front.

Kibera: Jared
Kibera: Jared

At this moment, Jared has finished his meeting and welcomes us into his office.  It is tiny, about 6 feet by 6 feet, packed to the brim with things, and completely built of corrugated metal.  He obviously never gets a quiet moment, as the walls rattle like thunder, and every word from the classroom and the playground can be heard.  He has stacks and stacks of bundled papers on his desk, but he, too, has a method to his (seeming) disorder.

He briefly introduces me to the issues of his school.  In short, he has no idea what will happen to it.  He has not been informed if the school will be relocated or if his students will be moved to formal schools.  His is a non-formal school, which means that the government does not support it, financially, at least.  The students pay about 200 shillings a year in school fees, and most live in the immediate area.

The issues of institutions, the schools, churches, clinics, seems the most distressing.  The Relocation Action Plan calls to have the students “infill” the other schools existing outside of the reserve.  The RAP has decided that these schools have empty classrooms, which can accommodate the students.  If there aren’t empty classrooms, then the schools have land in which to build additional classrooms.

Kibera: St. Juliet Educational Center
Kibera: St. Juliet Educational Center

The first issue: There are disputes about whether this is actually true.  Any passerby of the schools in Kibera can see the walls are teeming with students.  No space goes unused, and the administration strives to keep the student to teacher ratio at 50:1.  These suggested infill schools are formal schools, that is, they are supported by the government.  They are saying they are filled to capacity, and in addition, the creation of the non-formal schools can be traced directly back to a lack of space in the formal sector.  When the government announced that primary education would be free (or nearly free), students flocked to schools like Olympic Primary.  Only the schools did not have room for the students, and so they returned to their nearby neighborhoods, filling up the non-formal schools along the way.  So this situation begs the question: How does the government, in its ivory tower, find the space that the children, on the doorstep, couldn’t?

The second issue: The RAP states that right around 5,000 students can be accommodated by infill.  But over 7,000 project-affected students (in Kibera alone) have been counted.  There is no solution for the other 2,000.

The third issue: Timing, timing, timing.  To the best of my knowledge, construction hasn’t started yet.  But just like the questions about the interim period for residences and businesses, how long will these kids be displaced?  How long will they be without a classroom?  And how much moving around will they have to do?  Will it disrupt their studies?  Their behavior?  How far will they have to travel to get to school after this?

The fourth issue: Teachers.  St. Juliet employs 20 teachers.  Some of them are retired teachers who went back to work.  Some are not accredited or licensed.  Some are social workers.  Nothing has been said about their futures.  They don’t know if they will be jobless, if they will get to fill the teaching positions that will be needed at the other schools.

Jared has no idea if he has any job security anymore.  He cannot tell his teaching staff anything absolute, either.  Or the parents or the kids.  He would love to see his institution relocated, rather than destroyed.  But no one has been by to talk to him or consult with him.  In talking to the ED of Pamoja, this option of relocation hasn’t really been considered seriously yet, and definitely no additional land has been secured.  **Kibera is being treated very differently from Mukuru.

These issues that plague the schools also follow the churches and clinics in the area.  What will happen to them?  What if there is no room at other congregations or other clinics?  There is no room in the 10 meters of the reserve left for the community to build anything to accommodate 7,000 students (43 schools).  There is not enough room to accommodate the 260 institutions that will be demolished.  The population density of an area like Kibera is astounding already.  The process of squeezing 30 meters of tightly packed structures into 10 meters is not likely to succeed.  And the people are not willing to sign onto this project without the guarantee that they won’t be tossed aside.

Sad Day in Kibera

Kristen Maryn | Posted July 28th, 2011 | Africa

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I have been busy trying to write a comprehensive and critical analysis of the opportunities within the Relocation Action Plan and within the community response to it.  I had almost forgotten about the Ngazi ya Chini election that was held yesterday in Kibera.  Until my director came in and asked if I had heard about it yet.  Rival groups started arguing, things escalated, police were called in.  One man was killed by police fire, and others were treated for various injuries.  Hakijamii’s Program Director suffered minor injuries.

I’m glad I didn’t ask to go.

A survey of the main news sources in Nairobi didn’t report much.  Scratch that…they didn’t report anything.  I found this one article on it, but the article is vague as to the issues leading up to this election.  What about why they had called an election?  What about the seven years of anxiety leading up to this November’s evictions?  What about the serious strain and life-changing decisions Kenya Railways and the Government are forcing on 10,000 people?

More attention needs to be given to this.  More thought should be given to the obvious social and psychological strains this is causing.  With reporting like this, no wonder the Government isn’t be held accountable to the Constitution.

The Railway Dwellers: Mary

Kristen Maryn | Posted July 25th, 2011 | Africa

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On Thursday, July 21st, I went to Kisumu Ndogo for a second time to meet with Ngazi ya Chini.  Kisumu Ndogo is an area in Kibera that functions on its proximity to the railroad.

Kibera: Kisumu Ndogo
Kibera: Kisumu Ndogo

People work off the line; they live off the line. It is a mainstay of their livelihoods.  Yet, this thriving community is set to be fractured.  Everyone on 100 feet of either side of the railroad will be displaced.  Large metal poles mark the 100-foot (or 30 meter) point.  These poles are signs of certain doom for people living on one side, and they are handy fixtures for drying clothing for people lucky enough to be living on the other side.

Kibera: Boundary
Kibera: Boundary

I was taken around to speak to some of the affected people.  I asked them each for permission to film the interview, but many were skeptical of me and insisted I didn’t.  I tried a different tactic of asking my questions first, and then requesting again that I could at least take a photo.  They all obliged to the photo after the fact.

Many times I have tried to imagine what this would mean to me.  If the US government came by one evening, with a piece of paper, which dictated that, my home/business/school/church was in the way of a new highway system.  The thought of moving makes my head hurt already.

Then I try adding in factors.  I have lived in the same home for 20 years.  I have built it with my bare hands, and it is the source of my income.  I am a widow with two children, and I also support my sister’s three children.  My income feeds us, clothes us, pays the rent, and pays the school fees.  I live in a community built on habits and conveniences.  I have no reliable means of travel, and a matter of kilometers is a barrier to movement and business.  One customer is the difference between eating that night and not.  I can’t afford to live anywhere else in the city, which has left me behind.  A city that has a cost of living greater than that of my entire neighborhood’s monthly income.  I am receiving promises from a government that is not concerned with living up to them.

But even then I can’t imagine the feelings of insecurity or apprehension that these people know.

Their stories are very similar, but each left a lasting impression; each put a human face on this abstract group of railway dwellers.  Each is being told that they cannot sustain the lives they have built up.  And each unknowingly emphasized the lack of consistent information shared between those planning this expansion and those who will be affected by it.


Hard at work, Mary quietly stepped out from behind the glass of her butcher shop to speak to me.  She had been chopping up cubes of steak for a convenient sell, and they were displayed prominently behind her window, enticing the passer-bys with the promise of dinner.  Her hands were stained with blood, and she shyly smiled when she realized she was still clutching the large knife in her hand while she softly spoke.

Kibera: Mary
Kibera: Mary

Kibera: Butcher Shop
Kibera: Butcher Shop

The butcher shop is about 10 meters from the tracks, and her family has run the business since 1991.  600 shillings ($6.64) a day is enough to provide some basics for herself and her 21-month-old child, as well as other family members.  The family depends on this business, and without it, they will suffer.  Mary spoke of her fear of resettlement; the fear that even though she will be taken away from her neighborhood, her home, the customers will stay behind.  She doesn’t just fear it; she knows it will happen.

She seems tired, but not completely without hope.  Since 2005, they have been threatened with eviction, and six years of anxiety is a lot for a 26-year-old breadwinner to handle.  She has seen movement and growth in Kisumu Ndogo since May 2010, the second time the railroad people came by to assign them a number.  But besides that brief contact, no one has been by to speak to her.  No one has made an effort to help her understand.

Mary didn’t speak much English, but as I thanked her and began to walk away, she quietly said, “Please help us.”  That message I understood perfectly.

Speeding Up…

Kristen Maryn | Posted July 22nd, 2011 | Africa

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Meetings are picking up around Nairobi for me, and posts are in the works to explain all of them.  Yesterday, I met with Ngazi ya Chini and was able to speak to some people who will be affected by the relocation (unfortunately they were a bit camera-shy, but I snapped some photos after the interviews - with permission of course!).  Today, I met with a group called Soweto Forum, dedicated to righting the injustices of the government’s slum upgrading program.  After that, I met with the Executive Director of Pamoja Trust and gained a bit of perspective on the entire project, including the Relocation Action Plan and how the railroad expansion is actually going to unfold.

Additionally, my director, Iain Guest, will be on his way to Kenya in ten short days, and I have been getting to know this beautiful country better - including a short safari in the Maasai Mara last week and a day trip into the Rift Valley tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to sharing all of the above.  But in a little bit of time.

Also of note, Pamoja Trust released a progress report on the relocation, which included a timeline for the remainder of the project.  The construction phase (that would be demolition) is set to begin in November OF THIS YEAR.  That’s pretty soon for my scale, but considering the first eviction notices were handed out in 2004, it must feel like the end of the longest waiting game ever to all the railway dwellers.

I leave you with these interesting and related stories.  My flatmate this summer has listened to my railroad jabber all along, and she kindly sent me these two about life along the tracks:

People in Indonesia using the railroad for its healing powers.

This market in Thailand:

And a project I have been obsessed with before Kenya was even a possibility in my mind.  Little did I know this area, Kisumu Ndogo, would become my most familiar area in Kibera, and the remnants of the photo project are still around.  See more here.


Kristen Maryn | Posted July 20th, 2011 | Africa

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The railroad expansion will affect an area much broader than just Kibera.  Kibera gets a lot of attention for various reasons, but it is important to remember the other populations, which will also be displaced.  This includes communities in Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, and Mukuru, a settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi.

On July 14th, the secretary of Ngazi ya Chini picked Sally, the Hakijamii intern, and me up from the office, and we started the drive to Mukuru.  Mukuru is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) outside of Nairobi.  The population estimates for the entire area range, but normally fall around the half million mark.  From what I can gather, Mukuru is Kiswahili for “dumping site,” and that is exactly what Mukuru started as – and to a large extent, still remains.  The area started as a quarry; as Nairobi developed faster than its means, due to the mining, the site was deemed as unfit for development, so instead it became a garbage dump.

The trip back to the car
The trip back to the car

As abandoned resources grew, people scavenged the dump more and more and began building their homes in the area.  The Mukuru settlement was born.  The area is still heavily industrial, and the buildings now center on the railroad, the old quarry, and manufacturing sites.  Large lorries carrying dirt and rocks, apparently for a purpose, frequent the roads, though that purpose remains unseen for the casual visitor.

Land of Industry
Land of Industry

The settlement faces the same issues as the others; tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS are common, life expectancy hovers around 40 years, the population density is something like 50,000 per square mile, and the average income is around $1 a day.

The Walk
The Walk


We were dropped off at a roundabout near the settlement in an industrial area, and there we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Waited long enough for this mzungu to sunburn under a winter sun (granted, that is not new to me).  We eventually realized we had been plopped down on the opposite end of the settlement from the community meeting, so we began to walk.

I followed the lead of the community, using the railroad as a path.  The other options were to walk through standing wastewater or on dirt frequently used as a makeshift toilet, so the threat of moving for a rumbling train was worth it (only two come through a day – a figure the government wants to increase).  The further into Mukuru we walked, the closer the structures crept toward the railroad.  Especially once we made it to one of the market sections of the settlement, the railroad and the market became inextricable.

Market Central
Market Central

More Vendors
More Vendors

I was not as comfortable in Mukuru as I have been in other areas (can you really be comfortable in the settlements, as an outsider?).  Maybe it was because my community liaison is not a member of the community (he is from Kibera), or maybe it was because the slum was so far out of Nairobi, it didn’t seem to be frequented by visitors.  I normally use children as a benchmark, and the children of Mukuru tended to either hide from my gaze or glare at me suspiciously.  It also didn’t help that adults yelled things at me more than I had encountered anywhere else in Kenya, and one woman conveniently tossed her trash into the sewage at my feet.  The community, though, was thriving and lively, and it was easy to see how entrenched the railroad has become as an everyday part of life.

Children of Mukuru
Children of Mukuru

The meeting took place in a community of Mukuru called Sinai, an area where the buildings relax their grip on the railroad.  Within the first ten minutes of the meeting, a bare engine rumbled by, shaking the corrugated metal siding and drowning out the voices of the facilitators.  Just part of the reality of life here.  The participants in the meeting were impassioned and emphatic, and it was obvious this would be one of the livelier meetings I had attended; few people were able to speak uninterrupted.  I received brief translations, and it became apparent that Mukuru had not mobilized behind a single leader, and there was discontent about the current status of organization.

Pamoja Trust plays a murky role in the relocation, as it was a key contributor to the writing of the Relocation Action Plan (read as: they were hired by Kenya Railways), but they also play a key role as rights protectors in the settlements.  Things get even more complicated because certain members of Pamoja have shifted around and created a new organization, charging themselves with responsibilities too cannily similar to be pure coincidence.  Opiata, the ED of Hakijamii, told me afterwards that it would take months to catch up on the intricacies of these organizations’ interplays and roles.  Needless to say, the community seems divided, and my experience at the meeting was cut short as the two groups came to a head and fighting broke out.  Sally was quick to react when the tension started rising and ushered me out of the building.

My overall impression was simply that the community does not seem ready to move at the pace that is necessary to respond to the RAP.  Implementation is imminent, yet they cannot rally behind a figurehead, or even yet, an organization.  Kibera faces similar issues, but not nearly so polarized.  From what I have read on successful inspections on World Bank programs, unity is necessary, and a lot of the settlements’ strength rests in their sheer numbers.  Thousands of people are hard to ignore, especially when they speak with one voice.


**Also of note, due to government cutbacks, Hakijamii is losing a long-time and committed international donor.  They have to restructure and reevaluate programs for the next three years, which could have a terrible ripple effect in the settlements.  If anyone knows any organizations active in securing economic, social, and cultural rights in developing nations, send them our way!

A (Brief) History of the Railroad Expansion and Its Woes

Kristen Maryn | Posted July 4th, 2011 | Africa

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The history of the railroad expansion really starts with the history of Nairobi.  It was founded in 1899 in the middle of a swamp.  Breaking the distance between Mombasa (on the coast) and Kampala, Uganda, it was established because of the railroad, founded as a depot.  Six years after its founding, it became the capital of the British protectorate and then the capital of newly independent Kenya in 1963.

Independence increased the boom of urbanization, and the city centers began to swell.  Nairobi’s population more than doubled ten years after independence, and now its population sits at over three million.  The slum creation can be traced back to urbanization; the infrastructure of the city could not handle such a rapid influx of people; the people could not handle the high cost of living.  The general consensus is that there are 183 informal settlements or slums in Nairobi, which hold anywhere from 40 to 60% of the city’s population.  A Shack/Slum Dweller International (SDI) report estimates that 63% of the land dedicated to the settlements sits on public land that has been privatized since the particular slum came into existence.  The rest of the land is public land, either contested or uncontested.  The 60 meters of railway corridor in Kibera and Mukuru count as contested public land.

And that’s what the disputed land is, just a corridor of 60 meters – that’s 100 feet on either side of the railway – that stretch along 11km of track.  But the track has become an everyday part of life for these people; some traders literally sell their wares on the track, simply moving off when a train goes by.  It is a road, a community hub.  And while 60 meters doesn’t sound like a lot, the Relocation Action Plan (RAP) counts that there are over 4,600 homes, 4,300 businesses, 280 institutions (including churches, medical clinics, and schools), and 790 public facilities situated in those 60 meters.  And it seems to treat these figures as trivial.  The people of Ngazi Ya Chini, on the other hand, think those estimates are low.  It seems like not much has changed in a year…

The story behind Ngazi Ya Chini can be found on Christy’s and Louis’ blogs.

Here are the basics of the issues.  The expansion is going to happen, and it is scheduled to conclude in 2012.  The community is now trying to form a resettlement plan that is fair.   Or at least respond to the inaccuracies of the most recent RAP.  The World Bank’s Operating Policy 4.12 governs this. Hands down, no questions…it must be followed.

Ngazi Ya Chini
Ngazi Ya Chini

They want to be consulted.

OP 4.12 requires that those affected by the resettlement are consulted and participate in the planning and implementation.  As far as Ngazi Ya Chini is concerned, this has not happened.

They want equitable resettlement.

OP 4.12 also requires that the people who are involuntarily resettled be returned to a standard of living equal to that of their pre-displacement levels.  This includes their businesses, homes, communities, facilities, etc.  The RAP is vague on a lot of the actual plans, but the community wants the same amount of space for their homes and businesses.  If they had 6 meters for their home previously, it does not seem equitable to cram them into 3 meters.

The resettlement will disrupt markets.

Many of the venders along the routes have been there for years.  And the track is a prime location; it provides easy access, it is easy to find, it is established as a market area with captive consumers.  The traders who will be displaced will have a hard time rebuilding such a market.

The resettlement will disrupt community structures.

This plan will separate families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.  With two large walls planned, as well, it will also effectively sever the neighborhood, making one into two.  Compensation for this sort of loss is hard to measure.

The RAP has holes.

There are many issues left up in the air, such as the actual plan, the amount of space, the available retained land for resettlement, the school issues…the list goes on.  The methodology alone is murky.  And as mentioned, Ngazi Ya Chini questions the actual data.

The government does have some valid reasons for the resettlement.  The trains are dangerous.  At least three derailments have occurred in the past two years.  The tracks are over a hundred years old and easily uprooted, which has turned into a protest tool for some residents.  The trains are running inefficiently, as they can only go around 12 mph through the crowded slums.  The uprooting stops the trains entirely, and capacity is decreasing, rather than increasing.  Maintenance crews have a tough lot, falling sick regularly, as many times the tracks become waste heaps for everything from scraps to human excrement.

That being said, the process needs to adhere to the stated guidelines.  A few solid bargaining points for the government does not excuse a shirking of accountability.  Especially when it comes to the Relocation Action Plan.  Because at a certain point, isn’t this all the Bank is going off of?

Fellow: Kristen Maryn



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