Stawi Youth & Adult Centre - Kibera, Kenya

In January 2007, we had the opportunity to go to Kenya while making a feature length film on the true roots of poverty (ACCESS DENIED).


We've been interviewing experts on poverty, government officials, NGO aid workers and people who live in poverty. We've seen the barrios in Caracas, the favelas in Brazil, El Alto in Bolivia and we've recently returned from Kenya where we visited Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa (over 1 million people) just outside of Nairobi...also recently featured in the movie "The Constant Gardener."


While staying in the colonial splendor of a $100+/nt hotel, I've seen what it means to live on less than $1 usd/day.


Kibera brought me to my knees. After visiting the slum, I found myself in the shower crying. Crying at the senselessness, the inhumanity, the indignity of millions upon millions of people living in informal settlements unnecessarily. And mostly, crying, because I finally understood that the abundance that we have in the US/Europe is due directly and indirectly to the lack that they have.


See the "Access Denied" Video – shot in Kibera and featuring Clarice, age 20, one of the members of Stawi.. To visit the slum, we were connected to a group of women, all HIV+, who live in the slum with their families. These women are not able to find employment because they are tested for HIV when applying for jobs and therefore find it futile. So most of them are only able to find subsistence work. For many of them, when they are able to work, they make between 450 ksh or a little over $6 usd/week...for everything including rent and food. (Poverty experts use the less than $1usd/day as the benchmark for evaluating people living in extreme poverty. )


To visit the slum, we were connected to a group of women, all HIV+, who live in the slum with their families. These women are not able to find employment because they are tested for HIV when applying for jobs and therefore find it futile. So most of them are only able to find subsistence work. For many of them, when they are able to work, they make between 450 ksh or a little over $6 usd/week...for everything including rent and food. (Poverty experts use the less than $1usd/day as the benchmark for evaluating people living in extreme poverty. )


Our host was a lovely woman, Agneta Luta Olouch, whose husband passed away from AIDS related illness in '95 leaving her HIV+ with four children to raise and the stigma of HIV. Agenta is better off than most - she is a drama teacher at a local primary school and lives in an area known as the "Estates" within Kibera - and with her own money she started the Stawi Senior and Junior Youth Orphans Centre to help alleviate the plight of widows, orphans and vulnerable children as well as people living with HIV/Aids in her community.


She and her associates, Antoinine Ohore, Judy Fadamulla and Clarice, took us into their homes and told us what their lives were like.


Most people reside in one-room structures. In most areas of the slum there is no electricity, plumbing, sewage or running water. Cooking is by propane and water must be fetched and carried from central faucets. Ashy smoke hangs in the air from burning garbage, mounds of human debris (aka as the "flying toilets" an area where people toss their plastic bags of excrement because there is no where else to put it) all stew in the oppressive heat of an airless valley. Goats, dogs and chickens add to the mix.


The official prevalence of HIV is 14% although I was told that a 2004 report indicated that OVER 70% of people were HIV+. This is twice the national average. Aids spreads so rapidly for several reasons related to the desperation of poverty...after getting drunk on cheap beer to forget their desperate circumstances, women sell themselves (or are forced) to have sex for 50 ksh, which is about 75 cents. It spreads due to lack of information, lack of money to buy the meds, or condoms, lack of facilities to get tested, etc.


Although Kenya is a modern country, women are second hand citizens and often, when widowed, have their land taken by a male relative on the husband's side. Sexual abuse is highly prevalent and many women are left to fend for the children. Women were given rights to land just ten years ago. The country became independent from British rule in 1963, and the vestiges of colonialism linger.


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PHILLIPE DIAZ

    "While making movies around the world - both features and documentaries - that in their way denounced the plight of the disenfranchised, I was always disturbed that we took more than we gave back. On the one hand, it is crucial that we share
    the stories of the most vulnerable with the world, but in truth, it doesn't do anything
    for them on a short-term basis. They entrust us with their stories; they open their homes and their lives to us with the hope that it will bring them relief and aid. Unfortunately, even if we want to be optimistic and believe that the movie,
    once released, will bring some form of change, they'll probably be dead by the time any changes can be implemented in their slum/barrio/village. I felt that it was time to help on a short-term basis. Filmmakers cannot only take - they have
    to give back."

    Philippe Diaz, founder of Cinema Libre Studio and Director of "Access Denied".



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