ChildFund’s Kathy McKay visited one of the largest slums in Nairobi, Kenya where she met a beautiful little girl and a truly devoted and caring ChildFund worker. Slums are euphemistically known as’ informal settlements’. Generations may have grown up here but it’s not a place to feel settled, it’s not a good place to raise children.

Mathare Slum
Over 500,000 people live here in Mathare slum, one of the toughest and poorest in Nairobi. There is high infant mortality rate, with a significant number of children suffering from childhood diseases like rickets and chest infections. Typhoid, TB and HIV are also prevalent. Less than three months ago there was a cholera outbreak.
Mathare Slum, Nairobi
Clean water and sanitation are a serious issue in Mathare. Piped water is available but because of the terrible drainage system, this water is dirty. In times of cholera a water guard is needed to make the water safe, however, a water guard only lasts a week so many people cannot afford this simple protection to keep them safe.

I’m not sure what hits you first on entering Mathare, the piles of rubbish by the side of the road, the smell, the sewage or the sheer scale of this informal settlement. As we walk to meet some of the families here everything is dank and muddy underfoot.

Diana still smiling“I want to fly high in the sky…”
Diana is eight years old. She lives with her little brother and sister and parents in a low tower block. Their one room home would fit inside my kitchen. Diana is a bright girl who is eager to practise her English.

On the surface the family home appears to be better than the surrounding corrugated iron roofed shacks next to open sewers. But in Diana’s building there is no running water or electricity. Forty people share an overflowing toilet and perhaps, worst of all for Diana, there is nowhere to play her favourite game of hide and seek.

Life here is a constant struggle. Her family’s income is uncertain, sometimes they fall behind in their rent and eviction is always a threat. Often it’s an achievement to provide just one meal a day – supper.

In spite of all this, Diana is a little girl with a wonderful smile and full of dreams. She wants to be a pilot when she grows up. The resilience and hope for her future is amazing and inspiring to see.

Making a difference every day
Florence is a Community Health Worker. She has been serving the children and women of Mathare for 20 years. Her warmth is obvious as soon as Florence greets us. Her work for the community is tireless.
Florence helping mums and babies
Florence spends most of her day visiting people in their homes. She sits and talks with mums about their health and the health of their children. She gives advice, weighs and monitors the growth of babies, provides de-worming pills and makes referrals to the health clinic for treatment and supplementary feeding. Florence also gives talks on health issues such as HIV prevention and she trains the volunteer Community Health Workers.

The area that Florence covers is enormous. Once a week she has a vehicle to use – the rest of the time she travels on foot. During the rainy season it is simply too muddy to get around. On an average day Florence will visit 15 homes and then speak to a further 50 people about the health of their community.

Florence on her roundsShe is always kind and patient when she is talking to these families. Florence listens and when a woman is suffering, she puts herself in that woman’s shoes to understand her plight and help find solutions.

Even after all this time and everything she has seen, Florence still feels sad when she meets a family with no food or clothes. Some days it is too difficult for Florence to cope with seeing so many innocent suffering children but she continues to want to make a difference every day.

“I feel there are more people to reach and I want to continue to help for a long time,” she says.

I am in awe of Florence who helps to save lives every day. If I can achieve even a little of what she does I will be very proud indeed.

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