Tag Archives: humanitarian

Going Inside Kibera Slum (Part 3)

The conclusion to my 3-part story of  inside Kenya’s biggest slum, Kibera, and travels into other slum areas around Nairobi:

After listening to these courageous HIV-positive women, I buy about a dozen of the blue, green, yellow and red beaded pins the women make and sell to raise money for their public education campaigns. They put some of the money in a fund for medical expenses when one of them develops full-blown AIDS. They smile, grateful for the donation, and I thank them for letting me into their inner circle.

Once outside and in the light, Brother Cleo and I are surrounded by children. It’s as if smoke signals announcing the arrival of a priest and an American woman had gone out while we had sat indoors for a little while. Like the women I just met, the children all stare at my camera; the easiest way to end any awkwardness, I think, is to offer an impromptu photo session. Indeed, the laughing begins as the camera lens clicks. Only a few (more self-conscious, teen girls) walk away, camera-shy.

The laughter of children. It’s the same joyful sound no matter where you are.


Brother Cleo and I leave to go higher up the hill to visit with one of the families Brother Cleo has been ministering to. The parents and their young children live in a lean-to, made of plywood and scraps of tin. A pot of water boils on tabletop gas burner.

According to The Slum Project, water mains cross underneath the 1 million people living in Kibera Slum to carry water to surrounding golf courses and estates, yet the utility companies do not provide access directly. Instead, Kiberans must either purchase water by the liter from water brokers, at prices that can be upwards of 20 times the price paid for metered water in the city. Many who can’t afford that walk to locations outside Kibera with cheaper water and haul it back to their living quarters.

A pile of lettuce sits on a table. The family offers us lunch. Brother Cleo whispers to me, “We’ll eat later, back at McCauley House.”

Taking Brother Cleo’s cue, we smile and politely decline, saying we have plans later for lunch.

With visitors, sharing what you have — however little that may be — is part of the Kenyan culture here. But in Kibera there is very little food to go around. According to The Slum Project, Oxfam, Concern Worldwide, and other aid agencies, Kibera is in a state of prolonged food crisis.

Spotting my camera, the family is eager for me to take their picture, and ask to send it back to them after it’s developed. They have never had a family portrait before. They stand proudly outside the back of their home, near a kiln that backs up to other shacks.

After the photo shoot, I thank them for inviting me into their home. Brother Cleo and I keep going up – into the commercial center of Kibera. Even after being here a few hours, I find myself, still, unprepared for the rivulets of sewage that flow down crevices in the hillside. Again, I clutch my trousers at my hips to save the bottoms from soaking up the wetness.  Just a half-mile away, where I’m staying inside the Holly Cross seminary, restrooms with clean, flushing toilets work perfectly. So much could be done to extend the city water and sewer lines here, but it doesn’t happen.

Instead, malaria and cholera and typhoid spread through the community. Diseases that don’t have to exist.

We step into the courtyard of one of the schools the late Mother Teresa set up decades ago, then walk along the railway at the “top” of the slum, where we see the farm animals, the garbage heaps, and the makeshift shops with boom-box music drowning out other shops’ boom-box music. They sell car parts and underwear and everything else in between.

After snapping at least a hundred photos, I’m officially overwhelmed.


Before we leave Kibera, we stop and visit a family who has received seed money from the McCauley House priests to start and run their own businesses. They live at the bottom of the massive Kibera hill, where the open sewers drain into the field and form a kind of moat around Kibera. This family tells me that their small snack cart near downtown Nairobi, purchased with the grant money, is doing well. They introduce me to their 20-year-old son, who has just begun studying at Nairobi University. His parents beam with pride as he talks about college.

Much of his success – and his parents’ newfound success as well – can be traced back to a teen center that the McCauley brothers run near the seminary. This is where young people from Kibera can just be teens; some, in time, end up introducing their  families to the priests. The teen center is our last stop for the day. It’s a plain building painted yellow on the outside and containing big open hall inside where teens can play music, dance and support each other. A priest is always nearby to talk. It’s a simple concept, but a powerful one.

When we arrive, we’re greeted by a few young men hanging out in front.

“Brother Cleo!”

They offer hugs, high-fives. This young priest is a trusted friend.

“Hey there!,” Brother Cleo answers, smiling.

Brother Cleo pats them on the back, asks how they’re doing. The priest on duty at the center comes out and waves, then goes back inside. A few girls watch me peek through the open doorway, giggle, and return to getting the space ready for a dance party they’ve scheduled for later that evening.


Over the coming days, we would travel all over Nairobi to visit more projects run or supported by the priests. I got the sense that Brother Cleo walked with me as if he were trying to see this place with fresh eyes, like mine. We visit a boarding school for impoverished girls and spoke with the headmaster and a few students; we go inside a health clinic crammed with patients who would be seen regardless of their ability to pay.

All of these places receive money that the priests raise, and everyone asks if I would kindly tell my friends back home to donate, too. Brother Cleo never pressured me to give any money, or make any promises to anyone here. He just wanted me to see it from the inside. With Brother Cleo gently leading me forward, I could scratch off the ugly surfaces of the slums. And in doing so — in facing the hard realities — find a greater sense that, yes, something could be done in the slums.

This would not be my last experience in a slum. It was only the beginning.


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Filed under Philanthropic Travel, Travel

Good Journeys: a beginning

WELCOME to my new blog, Good Journeys. I’m happy you’re here!  As a writer by nature (and chosen profession), I decided it was time to carve out a little corner of the Internet for my words and pictures, a place I hope my readers will want to journey to again and again. At least weekly, I’ll be showcasing my most passionate and personal writing and photographs in this space. Watch my header photo. It will always be one of my own shots, changing with each new post, and sync with what I’m writing about.

In Good Journeys, you’ll read about my journeys to impoverished communities around the globe, places I’ve journeyed in a purposeful effort to create positive change. My post “locales” will shift often — from the eastern lowlands of Bolivia to a slum in southern India to the rural highlands of Ethiopia — places I’ve built houses as a team-leader for Habitat for Humanity International over the last decade.

The header photo up now previews my next post. The wonderful smile belongs to a new friend of mine. Her name is Tedibaba, a brand-new Habitat for Humanity homeowner in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia. Tedibaba cooked amazing meals and brewed delicious coffee for my volunteer team as we worked together for two weeks hauling rocks, digging foundations, and slopping mud on eucalyptus walls to build her and others’ homes. In our off-time, we met Tedibaba’s children, visited her old, one-room mud home, spent time with her and her friends. On the workdays, we came to love seeing her infectious smile day after day. More about Tedibaba — and volunteering in Ethiopia — in my next post.

I’ll also be writing about my other purposeful journeys. Examples include traveling to see humanitarians-in-action in Honduras, or embarking on a cross-country bicycle tour of Tanzania in support of eco-friendly development there. I might even throw in a few posts about planning and enjoying the inevitable bumps of an off-the-beaten path honeymoon around the world. For those of you that already know me, I managed to plan such a thing four years ago — and yes, my husband and I indeed had a rather adventurous start to our life together. An adventure that continues today. 🙂

Along with regular posts, I’ll provide links to organizations that I feel are doing good work and could use a plug or two.

Good Journeys is about more than traveling, it’s about connection to people and places and finding what connects us all.  Good in my view is not an elusive concept; we can all help create a better world (near and far), as long as we consciously embark on the journey to do so. It’s not a perfect process, one that’s often simultaneously frustrating, humorous, sad, beautiful and anger-inducing all at once. Sometimes finding connection means seeing things we don’t necessarily want to see. When we truly take in reality and do what we can to change it regardless of our initial reaction — that, for me, is where the real good journey begins.

Thanks for visiting Good Journeys, and I hope you’ll come again. Please don’t hesitate to comment on my posts if you like.

Colleen Kaleda is a freelance journalist focused on culture, nature, and global humanitarian need and solutions. She has journeyed in 45 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. Learn more about her on the “About” page.


Filed under Background/Philosophy