For almost a year we listened to their goals and dreams. As their plans evolved, we heard them become more and more confident about the direction they wanted to take. They wanted to deliver holistic early childhood care & education to families living in informal settlements where there is rampant poverty and limited infrastructure. The questions they grappled with, day in and out, were how they would make this happen, what the business model would look like, where they would find the funding, how they could make this sustainable. Fast forward to September 2014 and Sabrina and Afzal opened their first early childhood care centre in Kibera and, on January 6, 2015, opened their second centre in Kangemi, another slum in Nairobi.
During this trip, after being on this journey with them for over a year, we finally got to see “Kidogo” first hand. Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. Kidogo’s first centre is located in Kibera, which is one of the largest slums in the world with one million people. There are squatters who have laid down stalls on the land and have created an informal settlement. Their stalls, which are also their homes, are piled together, side by side, and are tiny – about 12 feet by 12 feet — built with mud walls and tin roofs. The shacks have dirt or concrete floors and house, on average, 8 people, sleeping on the floor. Only 20 % of people in Kibera have electricity. There are no toilet facilities and one latrine (hole in the ground) is shared by up to 50 shacks. There is about 50% unemployment in Kibera. When they do find work, it’s usually as low-paid, unskilled labourers in the city. Many work in their shacks selling goods and services. Shacks deal in everything from selling bananas and eggs, to renting rooms, to providing medicine services, to hair and beauty parlours. Problems of violence, rape and crime are common in Kibera. 50% of the people living there are either HIV positive or have AIDS. People live in Kibera because they cannot afford to live anywhere else. They survive on about $1 a day. For the first time in my life, I saw what poverty looks and feels like and it made me very uncomfortable.
Getting into Kibera is an experience in itself – narrow roads and lots of people on the street. On the day we visited, they were replacing the sewer pipes in the laneway leading to the Kidogo centre, so you had to very carefully navigate your way through rocks and planks to avoid falling into the sewer and reach the centre.
The first thing you see when you get to Kidogo is a sign that says: “Chanzo cha makubwa ni kidogo” (translation: “all great things start small”).
Once you step inside the Kidogo early childhood centre, it is like an oasis. You see a bustling centre with happy and surprisingly well-dressed children. You see teachers play and take care of the children. You see kids who are engaged and learning through play. Research indicates that 85% of a child’s brain is developed by age 5. The vision of Kidogo is to give kids a fighting chance to save brains and develop their potential so they can come out of abject poverty and change the trajectory of their lives and the lives of their families. This is a long term process and it will take time. Kidogo is attempting to offer that spark of hope.
Kangemi is the newest location of Kidogo. It is a slum in the outskirts of Nairobi and has about a 100,000 residents. The slum has many of the same problems that other slums have. Kangemi has a different feel from Kibera. While people live in poverty, there seems to be a life and spirit about Kangemi. The slum dwellers are an enterprising lot and the tribes that make up Kangemi have chosen to live together in harmony, working collaboratively with each other. Children here are curious and playful. The centre is located within a community centre called “Kangemi Resource Centre”, which has a library, a computer lab, sewing rooms, a store where women can display and sell their handmade goods, and even a basketball court. Kidogo at Kangemi officially opened on January 6th, 2015, and attracted almost 30 parents and 100 children at the Open Day (an open house)on Saturday, January 10th.
Seeing Kidogo first-hand in both locations has been an eye-opening experience. We saw kids playing, eating, sleeping, sharing and arguing over toys. We saw curious kids running around exploring and kids who sat quietly observing. We saw kids with runny noses and big smiles, and a few kids cried when they saw us because we were “mzungus” (white people) and not familiar to them. I saw one kid trying to remove his pullover and I helped him to do this. Next thing I know I had 6 kids waiting in line for me to remove their pullovers! At one point, I kissed one kid on the cheek and a few kids around said to me, “mimi pia!” (me too!).
I had not realized the sheer magnitude of the work that Sabrina, Afzal – and their team – have undertaken to make this happen. It takes bold vision and an unwavering passion. It takes courage and faith. It has come with personal and financial sacrifices. And yet when I hear them talk, I am struck by how fulfilled they are about the work they are doing and their desire to expand Kidogo and unlock the potential of young children across the region. I am so inspired and moved by what I saw that I want to do everything I can to help them succeed!
For more information on Kidogo, check out www.kidogo.co and also friend, follow or subscribe to the following social media sites: