Brittany Ammerman, a junior on the Wisconsin women's hockey team, is taking part in a one-month trip to Kenya, where she will work with a women's health education program called Health by Motorbike. Over the next month, she will send updates to UWBadgers.com about the once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make sure to check back often to follow her progress!
We arrived in Nairobi late Tuesday night. Then around midnight Nairobi time, we arrived at the Kibera Community Self Help Program (KICOSHEP). This is where we have been staying for the past few days. We are just outside the slum of Kibera, which is the second largest slum in all of Africa, inhabiting over one million people.
At KICOSHEP we have been helping communities cope with HIV/AIDS in prevention and care. Today, a group of women community sex workers came to the KICOSHEP clinic to learn from us and allow us to share our knowledge with them. These women have mostly resorted to sex work to make money to support their families. Luckily, they were very open with us about their hobby and asked many questions while also sharing their own stories. I believe they were so open with us because we were very welcoming towards them and non-judgmental. We were able to teach them about maternal, sexual, and reproductive health, as well as the signs and symptoms of HIV, how HIV is transmitted, and how to most effectively protect themselves from infection of HIV.
The women were so happy to learn from us and interact with us. One of the women, Stella, came up to me and said, "I am just so happy that you are here! I will not sleep tonight because of my happiness from you". It is so unbelievably touching to here such remarks from these women as we work with them and attempt to better their lives. I was also wearing a Wisconsin hockey hat and about six of them asked if they could keep my hat as a way to remember me.
Later in the day we traveled to Kibera to see the slums and see one of the health clinics, as well as KICOSHEP's school within the slum. The walk through was very difficult. There was trash, feces, sewage, and more right outside the small shack-like houses of the people who live there. It is very unsanitary and hard to believe that over one million people live like this every day.
But what was so surprising was the level of happiness of the people who we interacted with in the slum. The children are so very happy and excited to see "white" people. I think they loved interacting with us especially because we did not take photos of them. They are not zoo animals, but rather human beings just like us. My only explanation for them being so happy is because they do not know life outside the slum, they do not recognize the rights they have as humans to lead better lives, and they do not realize how much better it can be in terms of health and quality of life.
The kids were so cute; whenever they saw us, they would wave and yell "How are youuu??" in a little Swahili accent. Many of them loved to fist bump with me and play with a volleyball. They also loved to read in their school and loved to lie on the floor of the tiny classroom to read and do work. It was nice to see that the KICOSHEP school was clean on the inside and offered a sanctuary of sorts for the children.
It's helpful to know that they are receiving an education and there is hope for their future. It is just a matter of self-will for those children in terms of who goes out of the Kibera slum to pursue their dream of becoming a doctor, accountant, or whatever.
We are all still digesting what we witnessed today in the Kibera slum and are mostly speechless. It is hard to put into words everything we witnessed and felt today. It was definitely a sobering experience and allows us all to realize just how privileged and lucky we are to lead the lives we lead. But that is not the reason we went to tour the slum. We went there to provoke thoughts of how to make a healthier life for these people.
It is important to understand, I believe, that just giving money to these communities will not work. We must invest money, but also develop a community approach and educate the people so they can change their ways of life. I hope in the near future that the slum of Kibera begins to shrink and becomes a healthier place to live
I will try to write again in the next couple days, but the Internet is very stubborn here. We are in Kibera and Nairobi until tomorrow night, when we take an 11-hour long train ride east to the Lunga Lunga community to educate women for two weeks. Until next time....Hakuna Matata!