“Upgrading” Mukuru Slum: Hope or Cover Up?
By Sarah Kutahi @sarahanupi, Kenya
In the middle of the disorder accompanied by musty scents that came with informal settlements, lies a condescended environment. The honorable oasis that renewed the hope of the inhabitants of Mukuru Kayaba, sending most minds and bodies reeling at its sight.
The year 2007 was the year that saw the flimsy structure that had for a long time supported what was called a school for the longest time get dismantled by hammers and indignant glances from users who were fed up.
Since 1985 Mukuru primary school had served as the only source of formal education for both adults and children of parents from “humble backgrounds” in Mukuru slums. This is the haven that worked diligently and tirelessly to ensure the boisterous and contemptuous souls in the slum learned manners and what it took to be civil citizens. As imposing as it was, it managed to nurture some of the best this country has seen. But the noisy iron sheet full of holes that inspired hard work must come to an end.
By the time the school was receiving a facelift it had given refuge to the children of women who had to move from home to home looking for casual jobs. It had become a feeding programme for children whose both parents were engulfed in the partaking of the illicit brew. The school had become an asylum where children from tough homes had their anger mollified through child play and the tales of Aladdin and the genie. Mukuru Primary school became the safe haven from social evils such as drug abuse, sexual abuse, early child marriages, and robbery. For the first time in a long time, the residents of Mukuru had felt a connection with the rest of the world, they had a reason to live. Thanks to the power of education.
Now it has a new face, storey buildings neatly arranged to allow for the brief playing ground that could only be utilized for catching the 10am sunshine. Hoarding untold stories from both students who represented their parents’ view of the whole matter and the teachers who did not have the slightest idea of how it got there.
During one of my visits to the school, I had an encounter with John who stood in a corner outside his classroom as the other pupils engaged in delicate and balletic play– well not really. John was a class eight pupil and at his age, he ought to have been engaging in the same manner of play. The thought of a bright future crossed his mind, evidenced by a microscopic smile that would be dismissed the moment it tried to mess with his intelligence. His hand strayed to a plastic Rosary given to him by his mum. The only parent he and his siblings have ever known.
When I asked John why he chose to isolate himself, he explained that a lot was at stake for him to pretend he needed to play for the mere reason of being a child. John being in class eight was thinking of making a team that would benefit from the now few slots of scholarships to join high school in pursuit of a different life for him and his family. The scholarships were not a guarantee and therefore one had to be really deserving to get them. By deserving I mean, apart from the glut of poverty hovering over the pupils, they had to rise above pugnacious neighborhoods, feral families that shared unimaginable squashed spaces to give mind-boggling KCPE results.
Despite the efforts of these children to perform, very few transitioned to the next level of education. The stone building had turned well-wishers against them. To an outsider, the school was now a state of the art and therefore its inhabitants or rather users had changed with the changing times as well. The truth of the matter is these pupils still had to put up with the darkness that came with poverty.
The reduced number of scholarships was one of the cases. Diarrhea from water-borne diseases and the poorly managed solid waste has made the stone building in the middle of Mukuru Kayaba a mockery.
As much as education is important, its quality is not improved by a new building. Pupils need books, teachers need trainings. An environment that does not uphold standards fit for education does not count for much.
Image via NYS