On Wednesday 22nd of June 2011 while on my East African pre-Big Journey tour, I visited the United Nations World Food Programme‘s School Meals project in Mathare, a slum or shanty town in Nairobi (Kenya) with a population of approximately 500,000 people.
(Photograph by indymedia.ie)
Rose Ogola, public information officer at WFP Kenya took me to Mathare Outreach, a school that provides free education to hundreds of children who reside in the slum.
A little background of Mathare is in order, to better understand the importance of the crucial role played by Mathare Outreach and the United Nations World Food Programme:
The population of Nairobi, the capital city city of Kenya is estimated at 4million people of which approximately 55% live in the informal settlement (slums).
People in Mathare live in abject poverty with no functional utilities; no clean water , no sewage system and limited access to electricity. They live in shacks made of mud, bits and cardboard and rusty corrugated iron.
Over 90% of the household are headed by single women, many of whom have been in abusive relationships. While mathare valley is often associated with a community rife with violent crime, prostitution, illegal alcohol and drugs, it is also a community of people struggling to improve their lives, educate their children, and live with dignity.
Source: Mathare Outreach
You can imagine that Mathare Outreach is a beacon of hope for the hundreds of children who attend the school as education is what will allow them to break out of the poverty cycle thanks partly to WFP’s meals.
(I am not the greatest cook but I can stir. It felt as if I was a captain and was rowing a large ship!)
The United Nations World Food Programme provides one hot, balanced and yummy meal every school day to every child at the school. This directly impacts the community in a big way:
1) Hungry children are fed (sometimes this is the only meal of the day that they will have since their parents may not have the means to feed them. I even heard of a story of some children hiding their school meal to take home to share with non-schooled siblings).
2) Children get an education that will allow them to have a future out of the slums.
3) Girls are sent to school instead of staying at home working which gives them an equal chance with boys.
I was very curious to taste the lunch which is a “meal of bulgar wheat, peas, vegetable oil fortified with vitamins and cooked in iodised salt” (source).
I can attest that the meal is yummy and filling! I only had half a cup at lunchtime with the kids but until dinner time, my stomach was still full.
I always fear that the food given to people in distress or in extreme poverty may be not so appetizing but I really enjoyed it and even was caught scooping in one little girl’s plate as the food was so yummy!
(I pulled the sneaky stunt — that I have perfected all these years on my lovely sisters — of asking if her food was as good as mine while helping myself — Note the amusement on the security detail’s faces in the background.
Yes, those are machine guns. I know nothing about firearms so cannot tell you which models they’re packing but I would not want to know in the first place!)
I was able to meet some children and speak with them and even did the obligatory “ask children a — what did you learn today? — question” but I chose the wrong topic: Mathematics, a subject I am useless at. I asked a child to solve a division and when he did, I could not tell if he was right or wrong because I don’t remember how to that manually.
Luckily, my iPhone’s calculator came to the rescue!
While having lunch, I also spoke to two individuals whose stories were very important to me.
Millicent Awuor Odhiambo and Michael Kyalo are two Mathare Outreach graduates who eventually came back to the school as teachers. I asked them (separately) how important the school meals were to them and they both said that it had played a great role in their education as they were able to focus and do well at school (think about it: have you ever tried to do anything on an empty stomach?).
Here’s a short video of Millicent explaining the School Meals in her life shot while I was visiting Mathare Outreach:
Then I asked them why they came back to the school given the fact that with the education they’d had they could have gone on to work for big corporations and make tons of money. Again the answer was unanimous: they wanted to give back to the school that helped them break out of the poverty cycle but they also wanted to help their community.
I also asked them if they were on Facebook, a question I cheekily ask everyone I meet on my travels. Judging by their reactions they did not expect that one (they get many international visitors and I noticed that some of their answers were nicely rehearsed to please these donors which is why in situations like these, I like to throw some curveballs to get the real answers ) as I told them that I genuinely wanted to keep in touch.
While at Mathare Outreach, I also got to answer questions and pose for photographs as Billy Muiruri, a journalist and Anthony Njoroge, a photojournalist for Nation, Kenya’s largest newspaper were preparing a feature about me set to appear in the Saturday edition, one of the widely circulated edition.
(Full article: A taste of a DJ’s epic journey to feed world)
At the end of the trip, I took home my red cup that I had my lunch in as visual souvenir of my fascinating tour but also as a visual symbol that I will use on my 7 year journey around the world as I ask the world to fill the cup to fight child hunger worldwide. You may read about my personal adventures in Ethiopia and Kenya.
(My friend and I were chatting about the usual stuff guys chat about while enjoying our delicious lunch when the camera lady surprised us and took a photo of us when we least expected it hence the “caught-0ff-guard/mouth-full-of-food” stare)
A great thank you to:
- Julie Marshall from WFP Canada who organised the tour a week prior (I am the king of last minute requests!). I needed to see things with my very own eyes to better tell the world the importance of your agency’s wonderful work worldwide as I circumnavigate the globe for 7 years.
- Rose Ogola from WFP Kenya to take me on the tour and share the photographs of the afternoon with me (all images except for the first one are copyright Rose Ogola/WFP Kenya). Since I am the world’s most unprofessional person, I made her “blush” when I asked her rather personal questions. Sorry about that but hey, that’s what you get with us Monteralers
- The staff at Mathare Outreach for patiently answering my billions of questions and politely smiling and laughing at my jokes
- The children at Mathare Outreach for the warm welcome, the lovely songs and for allowing me to hang out with you all. When I drive by you will be all grown up so hope you remember me! Keep that inner joy and those happy faces. I tell you the honest truth: kids in North America are not as full of life as you are…
- The Nation team for the great feature in your newspaper. I appreciate the kind words. But! Did we have to advertise to the world that I am a skinny, err… slender, person?
- The security detail for watching over us. You guys never added me on Facebook! What’s up with that?
- Last and foremost to YOU dear reader, friend or supporter who will be so kind as to donate as little as 25 cents to support the World Food Programme and I in our joint fight against child hunger worldwide. Please, help fill the cup! Oh by the way, please feel free to share the link on your Facebook wall! Thanks