Group on mission to beat squalor in Mathare slums

By , People Daily Digital
Tuesday, April 6th, 2021 00:00 | 4 mins read
Tushinde Trust’s social worker Elizabeth Muuna visits a family in Mathare slums. Photo/PD/Patrick Njoroge

Patrick Njoroge

A large pig carcass floats downstream towards a metal pedestrian bridge that links Nairobi River with one of Eastern Africa’s largest slums.

Elizabeth Auma loudly jokes that the pig must have been overpowered by her toxic urine while trying to quench its thirst.

Children in tattered clothes play with raw waste flowing from a burst sewage pipe.

Some tell us they dropped out of school because of lack of uniform or fees.

In a nearby alley, crowded with tin-and-wood shanties, a food kiosk filled with people eating smoked fish stands on a burst pipe.

A few metres away, a woman fries chopped potatoes on an open fire.

Before we venture into Mathare, a sprawling slum in Nairobi, my guide Elizabeth Muuna of Tushinde Children’s Trust tells me to summon the guts to power me through alleys teeming with filth and humanity.

She also warns against any form of photography that is likely to suggest we are out to trade on the residents plight with donors. 

Morbidity burden

Such attempts can trigger attacks from gangs of youth. The camera or mobile phone is also “donated” to the kamjesh or local militia, she tells me.

We are visiting as a follow-up to another tour in 2018 to witness how the Trust is assisting slum dwellers improve their lives by assisting pay school fees for children and supplying sanitary pads to girls.

Poor services, overcrowding, scarce resources and poor sanitation facilities is worsened by a high disease and morbidity burden.

High levels of malnutrition among children and the aged, high rate of communicable diseases like typhoid, malaria, dysentery and tuberculosis means majority of families are unable to afford basic medical care.

“Here we share everything because nobody can afford anything of his own. We share latrines… people selling food near latrines have no space to build kiosks,” says Paul Odero, 27.

“We have no place to dispose garbage and we throw it anywhere. At times, you find children playing with used sanitary pads. The children get diarrhoea and many die,” he says.

At least three children died of electrocution in three months in 2012 as they played with illegally connected power lines.

In the same year, an illegal electricity connection caused a fire that destroyed some 300 houses, leaving thousands without shelter.

Community health worker Janet Kairu, says open dumpsites and fumes from the sites  trigger respiratory infections for many residents.

“The risks associated with poor waste disposal means children are constantly suffering from respiratory infections,” she says.

Many women in slums are unable to work because they are constantly looking after sick children. 

“Such mothers are trapped in poverty because of lack of income,” she adds.

In 2010, the global health charity, Medicines Sans Frontiers reported that pneumonia and respiratory tract infections accounted for 40 per cent of all consultations in its heath facilities in Kibera slum.

An estimated 53 per cent of scavengers at a dumpsite in Dandora, another slum, have respiratory tract infections, coughs and asthma, according Concern Worldwide.

The few toilets available in Mathare are privatised, and residents pay Sh5 to use them. Many cannot afford the daily charge. This means people living in slums such as Mathare are forced to compromise long-term well-being to meet short-term needs.

This forces some of them to pull children from school and engage in transactional sex, says Mary Maiko of UNICEF.

About a billion residents of the world’s cities are surviving in deprived areas, such as Mathare, with no basic amenities.

The World Health Organization says children in Nairobi slums are two and half times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than in other areas of the city.

District medical officer of health in Mathare George Owino says nutrition and access to healthcare is a challenge in urban slums.

Unable to feed families or pay for basic services such as healthcare, rent or school fees, many often turn to crime to make ends meet.

A resident, Peter Ochieng, 25, says he last saw clean water supply more than 20 years.

But Muuna says because of Tushinde’s programmes, Mathare is becoming a better neighbourhood. Tushinde is also rekindling hope for many children.

Many children living here rarely get any education unless they are supported by charitable institutions and well-wishers, says Muuna.

Laurie Bidwell and Andrew Wright and a host of volunteers in UK have been funding Tushinde’s programmes that have brought hope to thousands of children directly or indirectly supported through community-based projects.

The group has set up schools, clinics and community groups that support children and families who would otherwise be tossed out of the safety net of available care.

More than 1,200 children are receiving education and a meal daily while their parents have been enrolled in micro-savings groups. The membership allows them to pay for daily needs and build better homes. The scholarship includes a healthy lunch each day. This lowers the burden on parents.

For Pamela Munguti, 13, Tushinde’s scholarship has allowed her to dream again. Her mother died while she was an infant. She and four siblings were raised by an aunt. Pamela struggles with chronic illnesses but still does much of the cooking for the family.

Dream again

Through the scholarship, she can attend school daily and enjoy learning. Tushinde’s scholarship has also allowed her to learn to play basketball at Mathare Primary School.

Tushinde Children’s Trust was set up in March 2010 after British philanthropist Megan Wright visited a project working in the Mathare slums. Wright was moved by the deplorable conditions at the slum. There were no sanitation, electricity services or running water.

One of Wright’s beneficiaries Tito Kilemi, 18, dreams of becoming a civil engineer. In their small, dark home in the slum with no running water or plumbing, he fetches water for his mother when he arrives from school in the evening.

Another beneficiary, Juliet Akinyi, once dreamed of becoming a nurse but was married at the age of 16. Tushinde’s assistance with rent, food and medical services has given her and her family a new lease of life.

The organisation’s social workers ensure a modest allowance for families surviving in poverty to cover basic needs, including food, rent and clothing. 

During times of crisis, such as the Covid-19, Tushinde supplies food parcels to families, settles rent and other needs.

The families also receive basic medical care through referrals and financial support as well as counselling, training and awareness-raising activities though case management and regular family visits.

Tushinde also has a programme where families are assisted to become financially independent through vocational training or grants that allow them to venture into income generating activities.