23 April 2010

Carolina For Kibera

Kibera, Nairobi – 14 April 2010.

Southwest of downtown Nairobi, a 2.5 square kilometer area is home to the second largest slum on the continent of Africa. Kibera is our destination today, and we are wondering how a game – yes, the biggest and best game on the planet – could make an impact here. This is a place where a good day is when your biggest challenge is the odor of raw sewage running through the mud-paths.

How can a two-hour training session make a difference?

Ten years ago, Tabitha Atieno Festo, a registered nurse in Kibera, received a $26 grant from University of North Carolina undergrad Rye Barcott. Her plan was to start a vegetable stand. A year later, Rye founded Carolina for Kibera (CFK) and returned to Kibera to start a youth sports program. He was beyond shocked to find Rye Clinic, a community health clinic created by Tabitha from the profits of her vegetable stand. Today, Rye Clnic is now called Tabitha Medical Clinic (renamed after Tabitha’s death in 2004), and it is a hallmark of the Carolina For Kibera (CFK) initiative.

We arrive at Kibera by matatu, a local bus, and walk into the bowels of the slum to find an impressively clean and modern three-story medical clinic. It’s almost impossible to describe how out-of-place this place seems here. Kibera is house of tin cards; a maze of row huts, make-shift shops, knotted power lines, and people. The muddy, garbage ridden pathways are accessible only on foot, and after a downpour the entire area can be a mysophobe’s worst nightmare. We enter the compound and immediately wonder about security. There are computers, benches, labs, and televisions. Our question is met with a smile from Dr. Henry Njenga Njuguna, one of the chief doctors on site and our guide today. Security is not an issue because the community has embraced and recognized the importance of Tabitha Clinic.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have partnered with CFK in order to research causes of morbidity in Kibera through a consensual surveillance program. In turn, the community receives free healthcare and treatment at Tabitha Clinic. Patients seeking care who do not want to participate are charged a small fee. Each day between 200 and 300 patients are seen, and around 30,000 people are involved in the surveillance program. Though it may seem like a large number of Kibera residents are served by Tabitha clinic, estimates of the total population of the slum vary from 600,000 to 1.2 million inhabitants. Dr. Njuguna knows that he has a huge challenge here in Kibera, where the HIV rate is over 50% higher than the national average.

“You see, there is the stigma attached to HIV. People would simply rather not know.”

CFK’s trained staff goes door to door and engages the families in the privacy of their own homes to provide testing and counseling. Surprisingly, we learn that the highest modes of HIV transmission are through married couples, and it represents 40% of new cases.

“Our main health issues here in Kibera are HIV, abortion related problems, tuberculosis, pneumonia, malaria, and simple hygiene. By far…ignorance is our biggest obstacle.”

We leave a bustling Tabitha Clinic to play a little afternoon football with boys and girls in CFK’s Youth Sports Program. Along with Tabitha Clinic and the sports program, CFK also has the Binti Pamoja (Daughter’s Unite) Center, a reproductive health and women’s rights center for girls ages 11-18, and Taka Ni Pato (Trash is Cash) program, a waste management system that maximizes reusable materials and creates jobs for Kibera youth.

As we hike back up to the matatu stop after a fun football session, we reflect on the inspiration that started CFK and what it means in terms of the bigger picture. Tabitha was a Kibera native with a desire and more importantly, a plan to strengthen her community. She started something that has become community run, and thus community owned. No one knows what Kibera needs better than the people who live there.

With that said, perhaps one of the girls from our session today is the next Tabitha.

Click here to learn more about Carolina For Kibera
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