It’s hard to miss the water and pollution issues that exist in Africa. From the moment we arrived in Kenya’s capital Nairobi 12 days ago, we knew we would have to purchase bottled water, take our malaria pills and be thankful for the vaccinations we were fortunate enough to afford prior to our trip.
On our first day in Africa, we were escorted through the second largest slum in the world, where no trees grow, children play in fecal matter atop layers of trash. In Kibera, there are only small glimmers of hope that shine in the eyes of the people with whom we spoke and yet there was so much pride in what little they do have.
It was absolutely and utterly disturbing to my western senses. I tried everything in my power to hold back the tears, especially when I realized my feet were sinking into human and animal feces as I was tickling sick and dirty children and talking with the residents about their water problems. No wonder there is crap everywhere; around 60 families must share five “pit toilets” or so. And there are more than 1.7 million people in Kibera doing the same.
Corrupt governments, little or no environmental regulation and ambivalence toward human welfare have been standard operating procedure everywhere we go. It’s hard to breath the polluted air, food prices have skyrocketed, the landscape is littered and there is burning trash everywhere. Dust-covered children play with trash, while the flies buzz around their head, and the insides of their stomachs get torn apart from disease and hunger. Sure, there are fortunate people in Africa who have electricity and water, but the majority of people rely on unsubsidized government water supplies and don’t ever assume the lights will stay on, if they even have electricity.
People tell us that they pray to God to bring them what they need, someday or maybe the mzungus (the Swahili word for white people) will help.
People here cannot even fathom flushing a toilet regularly, especially not a toilet full of perfectly clean water like we have in America. We watched a man collect water in two five-gallon buckets that weigh 45 pounds when full. He carried them down a hill, over a filthy river choked with trash, through barbed wire, back up the opposite bank, then through the labyrinthean alleys of the slum. While the average shower in the U.S. wastes that much water in minutes, the man’s family will share the 10 gallons for cooking and bathing.
We waste so much without thinking twice.
It feels voyeuristic to be here getting a small glimpse into the lives of the slum dwellers, but seeing how they live affirms the mission we have set out to do. It feels excessively decadent now to sit down to a nice meal and realize the people here could have clean water for a whole month.
Seeing all of these has made me long to meet the people we’ll be helping in Uganda. We are so excited to meet the children at the St. Charles school on Wednesday — each and every single one of them. The global water problem (access to safe drinking water) is beyond comprehension. The one thing WE have the power to do is to not allow these children to be just another stastic in the 1.1 billion people who do not have access to safe drinking water.
These kids can have a better shot at the green grass on the other side, where better health can create more opportunities and a better quality of life.
And as we learned from our Masi Mara friends in Kenya, grass means water and water means life for all.