Around 6 years ago my good friend Adam was interning at a church in Nairobi, Kenya. Despite all the excitement and lead up to a trip where he was moving halfway across the world, the email I got went in a totally different direction. Adam quickly knew that the internship wasn’t what he was looking for and had crafted a plan which would later become EduKenya. I thought he was crazy. It was extremely ambitious, very costly and seemed like a lot for one person to take on. Luckily Adam never tried to take it on himself.
From the start, EduKenya was built to empower people who would otherwise not get a chance. Starting in a very small village in one of the biggest and poorest slums in the world, EduKenya partnered with a very small, very humble church located within the community. The goal was to build a school. But not a school that would be funded by rich donors. A school that would be run by local Kenyans, serving local Kenyans and, eventually, would be self-sustainable from any outside aid. It was a big goal.
We’ve been hearing about EduKenya for years and this year we finally got a chance to visit. It was amazing. As you will see and hear below, children at the Kwa Watoto school are thriving and show a rare glimmer of hope in a place where hope is hard to come by. The teachers in the school (many of whom grew up and still live in the same slum) have risen from incredible circumstances and are now leading a school with students who are thriving academically.
The school (and the Mathare slum) doesn’t come without challenges though. Big challenges. We saw things that seem unimaginable. The village where most of the students come from has streets (if you call them that) literally lined with trash and human sewage. Entirely families homes are constructed from tin and are smaller than many American bathrooms. Many children are orphans. Many don’t attend school. Many wander the streets barefoot everyday with no supervision. Many have HIV contracted from their parents. As awful as the conditions are, that’s not even the most heartbreaking part.
Amy met a young girl who walked 20 minutes to get to school every day. Her walk should be less than 10 minutes, but it’s dark in the morning and she has to avoid certain streets. That night as we discussed this, I asked why she has to avoid those streets. After all, they’re her people and she’s so young. I won’t repeat the answers I got, but just hearing what could happen to such a small girl brought tears to many of our eyes. But the truth is that even on the “good” streets, we needed two local escorts to be there.
These are just a few of many things you find out by spending a few days in the slum. But luckily there’s hope. Programs like EduKenya and schools like Kwa Watoto give these children hope. They also give them food, shelter, clothing and education. They might not prevent every young boy from joining the gangs, but when you see the hope that exists inside the school walls, you realize that big things are happening.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen many of my friends (like Adam) devote their lives to worthy causes like EduKenya. As a photographer, I’ve struggled to understand how to use my gifts to make a difference. More than anything, the time in Nairobi taught me that sometimes it’s better to stop worrying about doing things for the glory of doing them, but to try to use my gift of storytelling to make myself silent so that others can be heard.
As I mentioned before, EduKenya is in the process of making investments in the community. The return on these properties will help to eventually make the school self-sustainable. They’re teaching skills to adults so they can earn income. But right now the organization and the school badly need support to get to that point. In any given month a shortage of just a few thousand dollars could prevent them from being in school. If you’re interested in the story, I would urge you to check out and share the story of EduKenya. They need your support.
A village called Jangwani resides as a section of the Mathare slum. It is roughly the size of 5 football fields but is home to around 20,000 people.
From this vantage point, three Jangwani homes are easily seen. These shacks make up the entire home for a family to live in. Often times when a tenant hasn’t paid rent, their door is removed, which opens the opportunity for theft and rape.
At the Believer’s Centre church in Jangwani, the bathrooms are marked with chalk. However, most people use the government built community restrooms, which are extremely unsafe at night.
Beans dry outside a home in Jangwani. In a residential area, it is rare to see business initiative. These beans are drying less than 15 feet from the sewage stream.
The street and building where Kwa Watoto school is located. The 4-story building (on left) includes apartments (owned by EduKenya) and parts of the school.
A classroom in Kwa Watoto is roughly 10″x12″, which, although small, is larger than some of the students’ entire homes.
Students in Class 4 search for an answer in their workbook. The natural light is sometimes the only light in the room, as electricity often fails.
A student turns in her test and awaits her scores. Despite the schools limited resources and incredibly difficult circumstances, the students have very high test scores in comparison to many other city schools.
A teacher takes pause during a test. The test questions are written on the board and the students each have a notebook to record answers.
Students in the youngest class take their daily afternoon nap. Remarkably all the students sleep despite the surrounding noise and the teacher’s adjustments to their body positions.
Two students play hide-and-seek in the school courtyard. In the background is the main entrance for the school, a small, open door within the gate.
A kitchen worker prepares a large pot of rice that will feed all 171 students at the school. The small kitchen employs three kitchen staff members.
Students line up on the way to Physical Education. Kenya requires schools to have about 1 acre for P.E. classes, so the students need to walk to the Salvation Army lot (one of the few with enough space).
A boy performs a back bend and finds a camera on his way back.
A student runs from the outhouse to the Salvation Army building where the school talent show is being held.
Class 4 performs a memorized reading of Psalm 139 at the talent show.
One of the staff addresses the students. In Kenyan culture, it’s common for the authority figures to give a formal greeting or talk.
Before we (their visitors) left, the students each said an individual prayer for the departing friends. During the assembly, the students sang for us, danced with us and recited their school song. Then they prayed for us. It sounded like a swarm of bees. A very, wonderful and emotional swarm.
Thanks again for taking the time to read. If you’re interested, you can see more of the photos and our other work here and some photos from the Kenyan countryside here. You can find out more about EduKenya here.
Your images are so inspiring. How you choose to shoot things and your perspective on events is really spectacular. What is your lens (or lenses) of choice in shooting overseas photography?
wow, your style is some of the best i have seen, i am only a novice, but to see such wonderful works is truly inspirational to go further, i love nature shots and have little ability with people, i have a habit of seeing their bad side in the wrong way, but i am learning and need to conquer this milestone, blessings I have enjoyed your work