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Funding disparities – Mathare vs. Kibera

The funding landscape is profoundly inequitable. The majority of funding comes West and goes West. African NGOs receive only a modest share of funding on the continent. When we zoom in to Nairobi, we see funding inequality between different communities. ChezaCheza mainly operates in Kibera, which is usually promoted as the largest slum in East Africa and a focus of many international NGOs. This overwhelming focus on Kibera leaves other informal settlements out of critical funding and opportunities. This year we expanded to Mathare and learned more about the organisations working there.

Same Same, but Different

Our story begins in 2019, when we get a call from David, a soft spoken gentleman who runs a community and education centre in Mathare. David and Franco were part of the Metis programme for innovative educators and upon hearing Franco’s story, David reaches out to us. We arranged to visit his school, Furaha Education Centre, in Mathare, and Franco recalls a strange familiarity to Kibera. It was both familiar and new. 

During our visit, Franco sees houses and structures similar to Kibera. The smells and the shops remind him of home, while on the other hand he notices a big difference in the people’s energy when walking down the street. When we dive further into his choice of the word ‘energy’, we figure out what he means. He feels like people are more apprehensive, maybe even guarded and trying to read what is happening. Why is this muzungu walking here? He says that you can feel their thoughts covering us as we walk down the street. People in Kibera are used to the countless organisations that come and go, he says. They have been asked the same questions a million times and don’t look up from a van full of muzungu’s coming in. In Mathare, people do not talk to you right away on the street. Who are you? And what do you want? Are the words not spoken but felt throughout the conversation. Only when they know you they will talk, says Franco. 

When we arrive at Furaha, David warmly greets us. Here we find a universal aspect of our work – Children dancing! As much as in Kibera, they seem to love dancing here in Mathare. During the visit, he proudly tells us about the academic scores of his students and how they are among the top nationwide. Although he seems focused on academic results, he knows there is more to a student’s development than just academic success. David is a firm believer in the arts and the whole child development, which is why he reached out. They have dance classes at Furaha, but could they do more? Could they teach children resilience, meditation and creative thinking through dance to support their development?

Young thieves

We meet Kelvin and Kennedy during the visit, two young men who teach dance at Furaha and in their community. They teach at schools and the children who live around their neighbourhood. They express similar concerns about the fate of children in Mathare as Franco, who grew up in Kibera. Children lack safe spaces, and there is not much to do other than hang around. They tell Franco that children are involved in crime and violence at a young age. It’s not unfamiliar to him, but he is shocked to understand that young children are already on a self-destructive path. 

“Our biggest challenge in Mathare is crime. Kids have been exposed to criminal activities so much that now most of them are thieves and some are being killed at a young age, between 14 to 18. It’s sad to see this is the way our community’s heading, but with such classes, we can be able to keep the child busy and engaged at the same time they learn something new as they do what they love.”

ChezaCheza always looks for role models who want to change their community. Kelvin and Kennedy are precisely those youth we need to make a difference. 

Dreams are universal; opportunities are not

Kennedy and Kelvin have ignited our fire to do more beyond Kibera, and it’s not until 2022 that we can finally expand to Mathare. Kennedy and Kelvin are still interested in joining, and we include them in our Teacher Training. They bring Emmah and Irene, two young women who share the same goals as our other teachers. Irene says, “In the coming years, I wanna see most kids in Mathare be able to express themselves freely without fear. My goal in ChezaCheza is to ensure all kids can get counselling through our life skills program”.

In our research into expanding to other areas, like Mathare, we learn more about the funding landscape. Mathare has fewer sports programs and fewer international organisations focusing on education, health and gender. The organisations in Mathare are mainly community-based organisations that know one another and mainly work as volunteers. Ghetto Evolve, a partner in Mathare, shares with us that volunteers run all their programs because they want to create a better future for the children growing up in Mathare. They were once those children and understand the struggle. They do not seem bitter that Kibera gets all the spotlight. They seem more determined and work with the resources they have to support their community. Their Ubuntu spirit is both contagious and inspiring.

When we ask the children in the Mathare classes what their dreams are, they tell us they want to be lawyers, doctors, and change the world. It becomes apparent that all children have dreams and hopes to do better, however, the opportunities coming their way are not. We cannot create equality until there is equity. 

Even though similar challenges arise in both communities, one is favoured over the other. Is Kibera bigger? Yes. Is it more attractive to mention their name? Perhaps. Can we do more if we share? Absolutely. 

This story is just a tiny example of inequity in funding, and we mainly want to point out that more communities need support. Creating equal opportunities begins with creating more equitable systems, even in funding.

Written by Cherrelle Druppers, co-founder of ChezaCheza

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