Monday, February 24, 2014

A trip into Mathare Slum

We took a short drive from our comfortable guest house in a leafy suburb of Nairobi to visit the work of "Tushinde" in the slum of Mathare. The contrast could not have been greater as we drove along a new four lane highway built by the Chinese taking buses spewing with smoke and laden with people in and out of town every day. We turned off into a busy dusty road leading to Tushinde's modest offices. Here we were met by Marie, dedicated Director working hard to get Tushinde on a good and sustainable development path and by Beth and Rose, two social workers who form the backbone of Tushinde's work in this enormous sprawling slum. Later Marie gave us the following information about Mathare: -One of the largest informal settlements (slums) in East Africa and the oldest in Kenya. -On a former rock quarry that resembles a shallow bowl, 600,000 people live without running water, sewage systems, electricity, roads, or adequate housing. -Imagine the population of boston squeezed into a space 1/30 its size. -There are just 3 government schools. -1 in 3 people are HIV+ and just 1 in 10 have stable employment. They took us to visit the day care centre, a pilot project established by Tushinde which is now run independently by four women who look after around 20-25 six month to three year olds a day, six days a week. The mothers leave their children as early as 6.30 in the morning to make the journey on foot to the nearby neighbourhood of Eastleigh to try to find a day's work... cleaning houses or washing laundry. If lucky they might earn 100 Kenyan Shillings (less than one pound) per day. Of that they pay Ksh30 (£0.30/US$0.45) to the day care centre for taking care of their children, providing them with some breakfast porridge and a good lunch (which is provided free by Tushinde). We arrived at nap time and as a mother of two I was impressed that the ladies actually managed to get all 22 children to sleep at the same time...lying like sardines, one next to the other on thin mats on the floor of a room not bigger than 4m by 2m, covered by thin kangas and sheets. The children had had a good lunch, the only remaining financial support Tushinde provides to the day care centre, and so with full tummies were able to sleep well for about 1.5 hours. They have few toys or materials for the children but are lucky to have a big, safe open space outside where they can play next to a plot cultivated mainly with Sukuma, the local green veg ubiquitous in every meal. The land is provided for free by the local community women's organisation, but the rest of the costs (salaries, utencils, water and electricity) have to be covered by the daily fee the mothers pay. To be able to cover its costs the day care centre needs to be able to attract 30 children a day, although the space seems small for the 22 they already have. Thereafter we drove further into the narrow, litter strewn streets of Mathare, lined with small shacks made of corrugated iron sheets housing all manner of small businesses selling fruits, vegetables, second hand clothes, small utencils and electrical appliances and mobile phones. On every street corner you find an MPesa agent, providing the mobile money services which so many of Kenya's population depend upon to do their business and through which Tushinde's beneficiaries receive their weekly cash transfer. We left the car and walked into a muddy back alley behind the German run Hospital, stepping over open sewers, followed by giggling kids shouting "Hallo Mzungu" (white man). We stepped inside a small compound of rooms constructed of bricks with high roofs held up by wooden beams, an important step above the hot and precarious metal shacks we saw elsewhere. Here we visited Margaret*, a 23 year old girl who lost both her parents and at 15 years of age was turned out of home by the aunt that was looking after her and her sister, having sold their family's land. She came to Nairobi having only finished grade 6 at school to try to find work. Eight years later she has fallen prey to the ills of any urban slum, is HIV positive and already has three children, two of whom also have HIV. A year ago Tushinde was made aware of her case and found her emaciated, very sick with the effects of Aids and living in appalling conditions. Now, according to Marie, Tushinde's Director she is unrecognisable. She is a new person. Tushinde managed to find her this safer and more stable housing where she and her 3 children occupy one of the brick rooms. Tushinde pays her rent of Ksh1500 (£11) per month, pay for her older boy to attend school, have got her enrolled in the local nutrition programme and ensure she and her children access the Anti Retroviral Drugs they need to deal with the HIV virus. "Now", says Margaret, "all I need is to find a job. I have no-one in the world. My parents died, my sister has died, I am all alone. So all I have is these three children, and I must work for them." Without Tushinde, we may not have had the pleasure of meeting Margaret, she may not have survived her 22nd year! Our final stop was the local community school, ambitiously named "Excellence" which does an astounding job to educate more than 500 children every day, from primary up to secondary level. A steep narrow earthen alley led us into a maze of cramped metal shacks in which sat 30-40 children at a time, dressed in red chequered uniforms, five or six to a bench, five or six to a text book being taught the curriculum in English that will allow them to attain their national educational certificates and provide them with the hope of a future. This is one of the partner schools at which Tushinde is able to sponsor children to gain an education, thanks to its generous donors in the United Kingdom. So we make our way back up the winding street, Shakira's "This is Africa" blaring out of a little shop, a far cry from South Africa's shining football stadiums! We meet an older lady selling charcoal, grandmother to three or four children, their mother bedridden with the infections that accompany advanced stages of Aids. Tushinde is doing tremendous work here, for every one of the families they support. The social workers, who are recognised and appreciated by the community, do regular follow ups on all the families supported by Tushinde, providing a lifeline to women like Margaret, who would otherwise be on the streets. But it is a drop in the ocean. The needs are so great and so many and the capacity of the government services simply overwhelmed. Tushinde is working to bring about change in this slum area, one life at a time, one family at a time and is making linkages with other services and organisations and forming safety nets for these very vulnerable families, to allow them to regain some dignity and some hope for them and their children ...., Kenya's future. February 11th 2014 Fiona and Gustavo Trigo, Volunteer supporters of Tushinde, Nairobi, Kenya * (not her real name)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tushinde helps children and communities protect themselves.

Marie: Tushinde’s in-country technical advisor was selected for a secondment to ECPAT where she coordinated and lead the Nairobi workshop. This sensitised 13 organisations and the government department, all of whom work with children in Nairobi. ECPAT is an international organisation that aims to combat child sexual exploitation. It started in Thailand in the early 1990’s after researchers for a tourism consortium first identified the problem of child prostitution in South East Asia. It has since grown and has offices all around the world. Tushinde was pleased to be involved in this as we have encountered many cases of child sexual abuse and also sense a real vulnerability in the children we work with for a multitude of reasons. The main objective of the training was to reinforce the knowledge of community professionals on sexual violence against children. This is a major issue faced by children and their families in Kenya and worldwide, especially in densely populated, low-income areas. It trained the social workers in a ‘’self-protection’’ programme to share directly with children and their families. The programme the trainees learnt to implement aims to help parents and guardians fulfil their protective roles. Of equal importance it also aims to increase awareness in both guardians and children of situations where a child could be at risk of sexual abuse. Along with all the other social workers, child protection officers and community health professionals, Beth and Ann, Tushinde’s social workers, received training certificates and a set of materials such as training manuals, flash cards and brochures. At Tushinde, we have several cases per year of children sexual abuse and we feel that prevention measures are very important. Our children in the community are vulnerable to sexual abuse for a multitude of reasons. We were very glad to be involved in such training and could see its importance. Our social workers also learned more on reaction mechanisms and how to react professionally to a case. Beth and Anne shone in the training; not only were they enthusiastic and eager to learn, but they could also share some of their prior knowledge and experiences. It was a great opportunity for them to skill share and network with other professionals. This kind of training also helps raise Tushinde’s profile in our area of intervention and allows us to improve our networking at the local level. Following the training, we implemented the programme with a first group of 15 children of Tushinde aged between 9 to 12; the sessions took place in Mathare North primary school on 2 days and both Beth and Ann demonstrated their ability to teach children those useful skills. The evaluation showed that the children learned well and overall they were very participative. More groups of children and parents will be organised in 2014.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Finding Faith

In my 37 years in the UK, despite being a nurse and working in inner city London, I didn't know personally of a single child who had gone missing for days. I didn't know a family who had had a child murdered. I didn't know of any children who had been raped. We all know it happens in Britain as we read about it in the press, but it doesn't regularly happen on a scale where the children concerned are the sons or daughters of friends or colleagues. Since being in Kenya I have encountered first hand three young girls who have been raped, one family whose daughter had been raped and murdered and three children who have been missing for days. The first of those three had a happy ending; the boy had lost his friends walking back from church. After wandering for a while an old lady took him in and eventually, after five days, he was re-united with his parents. The second child was a ten year old girl, she was abducted by a man who took her to his house, but she managed to escape. Her story is harrowing; she describes body parts of children on shelves in the room she was locked in. They never caught the man who captured her and the family have moved to a different part of Nairobi and want to put the whole disturbing incident behind them. The third child I know who has gone missing disappeared a week ago today. Faith lives in the slums of Mathare. Her parents were murdered in the post election violence in 2008 and since then, she and her five siblings have lived with their Aunt and Uncle in an area of Mathare called Kosovo; notorious for it’s violence and insecurity. Faith’s Aunt has six children of her own and all fourteen of them live in a 10’x10’ room. Rent in Kosovo is low, which is why Faith’s family have to live there. Faith’s uncle is a security guard for a local company. He gets paid 7,000 kshs a month (about £60 or $90). The Aunt looks for small jobs every day; washing clothes or cleaning shop fronts. This week though, they have had to go hungry as she has been wandering everywhere with Faith’s grainy photo asking if anyone has seen her. The background to this story is where the injustice lies. On the 24th of April this year, a woman in the neighbourhood tricked Faith into following her to a room where she was raped by a man. Faith told her Aunt who got the woman arrested, but the man escaped. It is well known that men from wealthier areas come to Kosovo and other slum areas looking for sex with children. Someone paid a bribe at the jail and the woman was set free. She triumphantly told the Aunt ‘I have rich people behind me, you won’t get me’. After being raped, Faith was taken to the clinic where she was given all the correct treatment to lower her risk of getting HIV or any other STD. Her family kept a close eye on her, but they let their guard down for a few minutes last Sunday and she was gone. We have been to the police station where they have recorded the missing child. On the notice board in the reception there were handwritten notes on scraps of paper for six other missing children. Two six year old girls and four boys aged 1,2,3 and 9 years. The disinterest of the officer was unsettling. Since recording Faith’s disappearance last Sunday (the family went to the police station straight away) they have done nothing to follow up the case. They haven’t been to the house, or interviewed neighbours. They haven’t searched anywhere. We are trying our best. We have printed out a flyer and posters. Today the Aunt and I put the poster up at bus stops, inside buses and gave the leaflets out to passers by. I left the Aunt heading to a different side of the slums to do the same. I have printed out more, so she can do the same tomorrow. What more can we do? When the justice system favours the rich instead of the wronged and the paedophile above the innocent child, what hope is there for Faith? We will continue and, who knows, perhaps we will find a policeman who will help us with our plight and actually start searching the area and arresting the right people and keep them in jail. Maybe then, we’ll get our Faith back.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Two days until the election.

Last election, Mathare was one of the hotspots of violence. Maps of the area prior to the election and after it bear testimony: Whole neighbourhoods disappeared. The fighting was along tribal lines, many lives were lost. The authorities came in and restored calm but not without further loss of life. Many people lost their homes. Others went missing in that hot and dusty January and were never seen again. Children witnessed disturbing, violent crimes, sometimes against someone they knew. Women and children were sexually assaulted. Matharians refer to the period as ‘The Chaos’. As an NGO working in Kenya, Tushinde has been advised not to say anything about the coming election on the 4th that could be seen as political. The papers have many stories about ‘peace camps’ and peace meetings’. People are really trying. Kenya is still awaiting the trial at the International Criminal Court of those accused of organising the post election violence in 2008, the same people who are running for government on Monday. All we can say is that we work with 65 families, supporting almost four hundred children in the area. Many have left and gone to stay with relatives, at a considerable cost that they can’t afford, whilst also losing their earnings over the period. Others have moved within Mathare to areas that are dominated by their own tribe. We are left with six families we are worried about; families that are the ‘wrong’ tribe in the ‘wrong’ area. These families are too sick, too poor or too old to move. One Mama has fallen on hard times these past few months and in very behind on rent, if she tried to move the landlord would confiscate all her belongings. She has six children, the youngest is five months old. Two other grandmothers both lost their homes in the chaos last time. One had to get her home back using the chief, the other eventually got her one-roomed shack back but it had been gutted. They both have insisted that they want to stay, for them it’s a matter of principal. We have told all these families not to worry about their furniture, if they sense trouble, get out. For the sick ones; get in a taxi, we’ll pay whatever he charges at the other end. We have organised a safe point where we will be there to meet them. We can send money if needed through the mpesa system. If there is no food in Mathare, we will be giving out food parcels to our families at the safe point. In the meantime, spare a thought for our families and hope or pray that the coming week is peaceful.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sorry for the quiet in the past few months. We have been crazy doing all the boring but necessary things that are needed to do things properly: Trips downtown to get the revenue PIN number, numerous trips to the bank and the NGO Bureau to add signatories, hours writing employment manuals, policies, standards for practice, trying to recruit a country director (post is still vacant, if anyone is interested) editing memorandums of understanding etcetera etcetera. None of it makes interesting reading for a blog! However I am pleased to say that our Day Care venture has started. We are into week three and have high hopes that it will be a great support for mothers in the slums who have to work to feed their families. For those of you who haven't read the previous blog; malnutrition in the slums is rising as food prices rise. One group of children that are really suffering is the six months to three year age group. This is because the mothers have to go to look for work to feed their family and often leave their pre-school child or children in woefully inadequate situations. This can either be in 'daycare' which is often just a tiny room with one woman watching as many as 20 children or sometimes they just lock their babies in the houses alone. The venture is in partnership with three other groups: There has always been a day care facility at this site and it has been run by Mathare Mothers Development Centre (MMDC) which is supported by the umbrella organisation GROOTS ( The third group is two highly motivated women who have founded 'Tiny Totos' an organisation whose ultimate aim is to open low cost, standardised child care for families growing up in informal settlements ( 'Toto' is slang swahili for 'child'). GROOTS and Tiny Totos are very keen for the project to be sustainable, so the mamas have to pay something small. If they don’t, they might just drop the kids off at day care and go back to bed…. Tempting I’m sure for all of us, but doesn’t really encourage these families to stand on their own two feet. We are running the venture as a pilot to see what works and what doesn’t. We all hope that offering good quality day care with supplemented nutrition will appeal to mothers and they will send their babies to Tiny Totos and avoid the danger and neglect of informal day care. But with the slum community it is always hard to know. Our first days have had a few hiccups: In the middle of our food hygiene lesson we were visited by a rat, just happily walking around on a ledge in the kitchen. The fortified porridge still hasn't arrived from the government, water has been scarce in the area and therefor jerry cans are expensive...... All part of the learning experience. Before Tushinde and the partnership became involved the children had only one day care worker, no food and no activities. Now, there is fortified porridge every morning four childcare workers and different activities every day. We are aware that there is a lot more work to be done with training of staff, setting up of procedures and standards for good practice, but just go into the centre with two tables, a pile of office scrap paper and some half used crayons creates a great response from the children.
I have toys (bags and bags of them). But there is a feeling by all the other groups involved that if we drown MMDC in donations, it reduces their sense of ownership and subsequent community involvement. It is more important that we make toys and use local materials. So the children have the crayons, empty bottle shakers, a football made of plastic bags and their voices to keep them entertained. As to Peter, the boy that inspired this whole venture: He is much better; smiling, pulling himself up and slowly putting on weight. He is not quite well enough to start on the ARVs, but it shouldn't be long now and then we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The human face of rocketing food prices

If anyone has read the newsletter, they will have heard of Beth, our community liaison worker. She is dedicated; spending every day in the slums, when she could quite easily make her excuses and spend more time in the office. She has that quiet way of steering you towards the things that matter. One day we had a tight schedule; trying to organise help for a mother who has a spinal tumour, finding uniforms for children who have been sent home for being too scruffy....there was a lot to do. However, Beth suggested that we met the mother of one of our sponsored children as she was back in town after being away for a long time. It didn't strike me as a priority, but I agreed. What Beth hadn't told me was that the mother had reappeared with her youngest child, 11 month old Peter. As soon as we saw him, we knew everything else could wait. He was undoubtedly the skinniest child I have ever seen. He weighed just 5.4 kilos, the average weight of an 8 week old. He had no body fat, so clung to whoever held him for warmth. Yet at the same time you could tell that every movement, even swallowing was painful and he tensed when you tried to move him. He had terrible diarrhoea and his mouth was dry and full of sores. His mother was said to be positive in the past, but she was saying now that she had been cured with a miracle and was not taking any medicines. She was clearly sick and malnourished herself and seemed to have given up on life for both her and the baby. We took the baby to the excellent clinic (run by a German Charity, Arzte fur die Dritte Welt); despite her protestations that they weren't interested. Not surprisingly the doctors started him on intensive feeding, antibiotics and mouth treatment immediately. Seeing such a tragic case has made me ask questions: How many children did the feeding programme see like this? The answer was 40 this month, double what they saw in February. Why is the referral rate going up? No it wasn't just the good reputation of the clinic, all centres were seeing a rise. Food prices rocketed last year and they have stayed up, people have used up their fat and money reserves and now just can't buy enough food. How well do children on the programme respond to treatment? It usually takes three weeks. The success rate is high as long as all the accompanying diseases are treated successfully. It also made me ask more questions. How important is nutrition at this age? For Peter, it was clearly a matter of life and death. But, for many of our children, they are more likely to suffer from chronic underfeeding: if the mother gets work that day, everyone eats, if she doesn't, they sleep hungry. It seems that the first thousand days of a child's life are the most important. This thousand days is from the moment of conception to the child's second birthday. The levels of glucose, stress hormones and micro-nutrients in-utero has an impact on the rest of the child's life. For a girl, the life of her own children is affected, as a girl child is born with her eggs ready to mature. The quality of breast milk continues to have an impact on the child's development and early weaning, with foods with low nutritional value being used, further add to the problem. This, and frequent infections can lead to stunted growth, not only in stature, but in brain development. Stunting usually occurs before age two and its effects are largely irreversible. ( Where can Tushinde help? If the future of a child is determined by a mother’s health during pregnancy and breast-feeding; then how can we help if we are a charity which provides support to children with education and nutrition hand in hand? There is one area that is sorely neglected: Often in Mathare, children are left in ‘daycare’ whilst the mother goes out to look for work. This is completely unregulated and mother’s pay around 15p to leave their child with an unqualified worker who will have up to 20 pre-school children and babies at one time. The babies are kept in a small, unlit room (houses in the slums don't have windows), rarely given anything to substitute their mother’s milk and often just have one portion of water and porridge the whole day. This is where we can help. The first thousand days are not only important with regards to nutrition, but also stimulation and interaction; in other words- early education. We see that no charity or community group is acting on this. When a child is most vulnerable to damage, but also the most receptive to intervention, many in the slums are being locked away in dark rooms.
We are about to embark on an ambitious new project to try and make a difference. In partnership with the feeding programme, some enthusiastic volunteers, and a Nairobi playgroup for the wealthy, we are going to transform a daycare unit into a safe environment where small children can eat well and play. We have very little funding; Tushinde is giving some and two volunteers are reaching in their own pockets. It will only run for three months and this will give us the opportunity to iron out any difficulties and make sure it is right for the community. But we all hope, for the sake of babies like Peter that it will be a success and that we don't just have one day care facility that continues to run, but many. We hope that each child, at the most vulnerable, yet receptive time in their life will be given a better start. If you would like to support this venture or just find out more, then please contact me on

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thank You.

Just a quick entry to say that we raised just enough money (£200) to re-house Collins and his family in a house away from the river and to buy them replacements for the items that were washed away. When everything is settled, We'll post some pictures on facebook. In Mathare, you can't turn up with £150 worth of new stuff in a day or your are asking to be robbed, so we are doing it in installments. A big thank you to Kay, Collins's sponsor. He is so lucky to have you!