Friday, June 4, 2010

But I thought I was in the Slums

It was our second day in Kenya, on my first trip there in 2006. We had visited the WEEP women living in Mathare Slum and had seen their project - sewing uniforms for the school children.

Then Mary, the social worker working with these women, said, “Let’s go into the slums. I want to show you one more home.” I looked at my partners and we all thought the same thing - aren’t we already in the slums! The next place we visited made the first ones look pretty chic, so I am sure that by some standards we were finally truly in the “slums”.

As we turned a corner, the concrete buildings suddenly faded away. Instead we were surrounded by sheets of plywood and pieces of corrugated tin, leaning together to form haphazard structures.

One young mother was brand-new to the WEEP program. Like the other women, she was trying desperately to raise her children on her own while she was battling AIDS. Her home, like the others, was perhaps ten foot by ten foot square. She had the customary Jiko stove near the door. There were two worn tattered chairs, with crocheted doilies on the arms and across the backs. A crate turned on its side served as a coffee table, another doily centered in the middle. The only other furnishing in the room was a bare mattress behind a thin sheet.

What made this home different was that the interior walls were lined in plastic. Because the outside walls were pieced together sheets of plywood with large holes scattered throughout.

The young mother was obviously proud of her home. She also was devoted to her children with the unyielding love only a mother can give. She had one concern though.

Many people who have AIDS also have tuberculosis. The two diseases often go hand in hand, especially in those living in poverty. This woman was in that class. She knew that at night when her coughing was the worst that she shouldn’t be sleeping with her children. However, if they weren’t sleeping with her up on the bed, they had to sleep on the floor, where, with the many holes in the walls, rats would run through the house and over the tops of her children as they slept.

She didn’t tell us this so we would sorry for her or that we would be shocked, or even that she wanted anything done about it. She just wanted to know if it was better for her to cough on her kids at night or let the rats run over them.

We all looked at Vickie to see her response. Again, she told the woman what a nice home she had, and how pleased she was of her efforts. Then she turned to Mary and said, “Can you find her a new place to live by tomorrow?”

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