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

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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.

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.

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?

Finding My Feet

Kristen Maryn | Posted June 16th, 2011 | Africa

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I am still getting settled into Hakijamii, which is easy and hard at the same time.  As I’ve said before, the staff is great, so growing comfortable with them has been easy.  They have been so welcoming and even let me follow them around like a lost puppy (especially when we venture out of the office).  The bustle of Kenyatta Market has become nice background noise; there is definitely a rhythm to life here.  I still haven’t found my way around the maze of narrow corridors, though, and I’m not sure I ever will.  The market is quite the thriving exchange, even on rainy days.

What has been the most difficult is finalizing my work product goal and figuring out the “system.”  I knew coming into this experience that NGO work can be frustrating on its own; add in a new culture and the challenge is bigger.  Hakijamii is shockingly organized.  Their filing system is all online and is so structured, the day-to-day operation is seamless…what is less apparent is the way Hakijamii operates in the larger system, or I suppose how I can function with them in the larger system.  There are so many active organizations in Kenya, and while the NGO community here is really inclusive, I am having trouble seeing where I can be operational.

I’ve had a continuing dialogue with AP about this and what would be the best takeaway from this fellowship for everyone: Hakijamii, AP, Kenyans, and me.  I will be contacting Ngazi Ya Chini to see what the status is of the railroad expansion and how I can assist, hopefully with their legal team.  Luckily, there aren’t too many railroads cutting through the largest settlement in Nairobi, so I know where they live.  If I can’t get a hold of anyone soon, I can march down to Kibera to talk to some people (that sounds gallant, but really what I mean is, “I will closely follow on the heels of one or two Hakijamii staffers,” like that lost puppy again).

I need to write about my experiences at the past few meetings I’ve attended, but for the sake of brevity, I will save that for another blog.  In the meantime, here are just a few photos of lovely Kenya.  You can click on the photos to be taken to my Flickr album, which has more explanations for each photo.

Plants!
Plants!

What is she doing?
What is she doing?

Hair Salon
Hair Salon

Angel Trumpet
Angel Trumpet

Kenyan Mud
Kenyan Mud

Freccia
Freccia

Fellow: Kristen Maryn

Hakijami


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