Frightening violence and danger in Nairobi slums

Trócaire’s Lenten campaign 2016 is highlighting the challenges people have to face in the developing world because of climate change. One of these challenges is farmers not being able to grow enough food to feed their families. When this happens many have to make the decision to leave their homes and seek work in the cities. Unfortunately some in Kenya end up living in one of Nairobi’s slums because they can’t afford anywhere else. Kangemi is one of these slums…

Trócaire’s Lenten campaign 2016 is highlighting the challenges people have to face in the developing world because of climate change. One of these challenges is farmers not being able to grow enough food to feed their families. When this happens many have to make the decision to leave their homes and seek work in the cities. Unfortunately some in Kenya end up living in one of Nairobi’s slums because they can’t afford anywhere else. Kangemi is one of these slums…

Kangemi slum in Nairobi is a place many call home but few are proud of the fact. 400,000 people are crammed into this small area of the city with no proper roads, electricity, running water, sanitation, hospitals or schools. The slum is a stones throw from the gleaming office blocks of the central business district. There is no greater contrast between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in Kenya. Pope Francis visited this slum last year and the injustice of how the people were living was not lost on him. He praised the values of solidarity and mutual support in deprived neighbourhoods but said such values had been forgotten by ‘an opulent society, anaesthetised by unbridled consumption’ and were ‘not quoted in the stock exchange, are not subject to speculation and have no market price.’

The slum is an incredibly dangerous place. Alcohol and drug abuse are rampant as people look for any escape from reality and this leads to a frightening level of violence and criminality. One of the groups most at risk from this violence is Kangemi’s women. Domestic violence in particular has almost become normalised.

Trócaire is working with the Parish of St. Joseph’s in Kangemi to try to halt this spiral of destruction. Pope Francis visited the parish when he was in Kangemi. Here a dedicated team of workers help and support Kangemi’s women as they face their many challenges. Betty Hamud, or ‘Mama Betty’ as she is known locally, is one of these workers. Courageous and charismatic, she has seen all manner of horror in the slum. ‘I deal regularly with cases where women have been killed, badly mutilated, stabbed or burned,’ she says.

One of those Mama Betty is trying to help is Margaret Abukuse. Margaret’s life has been one of misery at the hands of an abusive husband. ‘He is an opium addict and HIV positive,’ explains Margaret. ‘He is not only violent towards me but also our two children who are only eight and eleven years old. He beats us all. We are living hand to mouth. Any money we have, he spends. I am trying to do odd jobs like laundry work to get enough money to feed the children. It is very difficult.’

Margaret has the added burden of living with HIV. Her husband is also HIV positive but hasn’t accepted his status. ‘I am taking drugs to help me,’ says Margaret. ‘But the drugs only work properly if you have enough food and I only get one meal a day so they are not effective.’

Fr. Angelo Munduni is the parish priest of St. Joseph’s and he says the challenges are daunting. ‘We started the programme here in response to the HIV epidemic. There is huge stigma faced by people living with HIV. We have tried to educate people about the virus and there is now a much greater understanding and people are more resilient. They know they can still live a good life even with HIV.’

‘The programme has evolved to include trying to address the massive poverty in the slum,’ says Fr. Angelo. ‘We are training people in different skills to earn a living. We are working with the youth to ensure they don’t get involved with gangs. It is a constant battle against all of these problems but with Trócaire’s support we are making headway. The continued deterioration of life in rural areas will only result in more and more people having to leave the countryside and head to the cities. This will increase the pressure on slums such as Kangemi and the problems here will get worse. It is essential that the problems in the city and the problems faced by farmers are both addressed if we are to win this battle.’

To find out more about Trócaire’s Lenten campaign log on to www.trocaire.org/lent or call 0800 912 1200. All donations to the campaign by the public in Northern Ireland will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.