I am perhaps the only smiling garbage man in all of Mathare slums in Nairobi, or for that matter in all of Kenya. But there are great reasons to smile. Those young folks who were trailing the garbage "truck" are part of the Giving Hope youth program that is supported by CWS in Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. In Africa the percentage of population under 20 years of age is above 65% and many find themselves in situations where the likely choice is to join a gang. In conversation with the 20+ young men and women who are part of the Mathare area in Nairobi, I came to understand that hope is not an intangible.
Hope is realized when there is work to be done that gives meaning and money. In this case, the CWS Mathare Giving Hope youth group have a garbage business as their primary source of money. They use this money to finance arts, education, health and hygiene, and other small business start-ups. The team organizes itself with leaders for the different areas and send them into the community to engage other youth, to make a difference in their own community.
This community is one of the largest "slums" in Nairobi, and for those of us who think of what the word slum means, I had a revelation about the word. Yes, it is a place you and I in the U.S. may not understand. But here are in this slum families who have dreams, parents who care for their children, young men and women who, given the opportunity, will be the backbone and muscle for all of our futures.
I don't think I will be a long-term garbage man in Mathare, but for one brief interlude, I was pleased and proud to be part of those in this group.
James Landis, Vice President of Program Operations