Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cleaning Day

Toilets in the slums are a messy business to tend to. However, today was the day that we finally got together to take care of the mess that was the restroom situation at Raila Education Centre. I had been working through a group at the school called Christian Union to encourage some of the students to organize for a Saturday community service day. The student leader, Benson, became my point man in the effort to try and make this happen. Benson amazed me in his ability to spread the word and encourage students to get involved. We had over 30 students show up after classes on Saturday for a job that had to be the least appealing thing anybody could be doing to start off their weekend. What started as a task of simply pouring disinfectant and scrubbing quickly turned into several tasks. We had to form teams of students that could fetch water (which became even more difficult when the school ran out of water and we had to send people to the nearest pump to buy more), scrub walls, brush the roofs off, clear jiggers out of the latrines, pick up trash, fix the gravel outside the latrines, and replace stones around the walkway.
At the end of it, the latrines were much cleaner and the rancid smell had been greatly reduced. Aesthetically, some aspects were hard to fix. Weather damage, stains, and writing on walls were impossible to get off in some areas. There is still plenty that can be done to fix these problems, but funding wasn’t exactly present for this project so my limited personal budget could only take care of so much. After the work, we provided lunch for the students who helped. I felt bad because all we were able to get for them was juice and sandwiches. They seemed very appreciative of that, because many of them may not be eating anything else until school on Monday anyway. But I still kept thinking to myself that they deserved a feast for the kind of work they put in voluntarily on their weekend. It’s difficult because I’m limited in what I can provide for them too. On my long matatu ride back through the dense Nairobi traffic I just felt a heavy weight of empathy on my shoulders. My time here is limited now and I feel like so much good is coming along, but I also feel like I have a lot more to learn if I am going to be able to fully give in a manner that benefits the people here.
The following Monday, I worked with one of the deputy principals to get some people to come out to lower the waste in the latrines by using some chemicals. It was cheaper and supposedly would take care of the “wadudu”, or bugs as well. The problem was that I didn’t know these people that were called up and the head principal didn’t either. A lot of Kenyan businessmen are pretty corrupt, and as these men began to lay down prices and feed us their fake empathy, I began to question whether they were even qualified to do the job. Their request for a down payment before any work had even been done was my first indicator that we needed to be pretty firm with them. To make a long story short, however, things worked out well in this area. The school finally paid for the job, which was something they were responsible for, and the job got done in a timely manner at a good price once we talked firmly and explained what was needed. So I guess some good has come to the school through this.

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