Kibera Slum, Nairobi, Kenya

Kibera is a slum area outside Nairobi, Kenya and is the same size as New York City's Central Park, about 1.5 square miles, but with a population density 30 times that of New York City...

I’m here in Nairobi with a free day before heading out to Juba Sudan, the back here to Garissa Kenya, to shoot an assignment for Education Development Center (EDC), so today I spent the day photographing Kabira slum. Kibera is a slum (sorry there is no euphemism for it) in Nairobi, Kenya. Kibira is roughtly  the same size as New York City’s Central Park, about 1.5 square miles. At over 1 million people, the population density is in Kibira 30 times that of New York City, and Kibera does not have multi-level housing. Most people living in Kibera have little or no access to basic necessities, such as electricity, clean water, toilet facility and sewage disposal. The combination of poor nutrition and lack of sanitation accounts for many illnesses and deaths.  According to authorities, there are over 50,000 AIDS orphans surviving in Kibera, often cared for by grandparents, over crowded orphanages, or completely unattended. For these and all children in Kibera, schooling is rare and dependent on the ebb and flow of family finances, trapping them in a cycle of poverty.  The slum originated in 1920 as a soldiers’ settlement. The British colonial government of the time allowed them to squat on a hillside outside Nairobi. After Kenyan independence in 1963, however, various forms of housing were made illegal by the government, rendering Kibera unauthorized on the basis of land tenure.  Diseases such as malaria, cholera, and typhoid afflict large proportions of Kibera residents. These diseases are caused by a lack of sanitation facilities in the slum, and often  in the case of communicable disease, sickness is spread across large portions of the populace.  Sanitation in Kibera is non existent, open sewers carrying fetid water are everywhere. Cholera and Typhoid cases in Kibera are a direct result of the lack of proper sewage control and disposal. Both Cholera and Typhoid are very debhilitating, and can last for weeks at a time, and without treatment  can cause death. As residents of Kibera live in structures without any plumbing facilities, clean water must be accessed from pre-filled water tanks (AKA water points), which are often controlled by landlords, and expensive for residents to use.  Since clean water is difficult to obtain, residents are often unable to wash their hands before preparing food or doing other things that can cause diseases to enter their bodies.  Malaria is a severe problem in Kibera, and is particularly damaging to the community because it often causes a person to be so sick that they are unable to work, which may precipitate the loss of a job or business revenue that is vital to their family’s survival.  Malaria is also especially deadly in children and the elderly. The Malaria parasite is transmitted from person to person through the bite of female mosquitos, which requires blood to nurture her eggs.  There are at least 300 million acute cases of malaria each year globally, resulting in more than a million deaths. Around 90% of these deaths occur in Africa, mostly in young children.  Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds. Many children who survive an episode of severe malaria may suffer from learning impairments or brain damage. Pregnant women and their unborn children are also particularly vulnerable to malaria, which is a major cause of prenatal mortality, low birth weight and maternal anemia
One of the primary factors in Malaria spread in Kibera is ineffective wastewater drainages that run thru the slum.  In many parts of Kibera, drainages are simply channels dug in the dirt, and they quickly become muddy and clogged with waste.  Residents use thedrainages to remove waste water and solids from their household area.  As the drainages are simply made of dirt they do not flow very effectively; pools of water and waste form in these channels once they are clogged, and this is where mosquitoes lay their eggs. As drainages collect waste, they also become breeding grounds for cholera and typhoid, as well as other diseases, and since these drainages are unprotected from human contact, transmission can occur very easily, especially in children who play nearby. (above text courtesy of Kibera Slum Foundation)

During my time in Kibera, I met a elderly woman who was living alone. Her name is Helen but  everyone just calls her “grammy”.  She’s not sur of her age but thinks she’s about 80. Helen told me that a boy in the local community brings her food and firewood.  Her face was in total darkness, but her hands were so expressive that I photographed them instead of asking here to move forward  into the light, so that I could see her face.

Another woman, I met, named Wanza lost both hands in a burn accident.  Now she produces bead jewelry and sells it. Here you can see her manipulating the small beads with her damaged hands. An NGO has been helping her, and now she even trains other disabled people in here community in the art of bead making. It’s not much, but sales of the beads help her, and those that she trains, to earn a bit of money. After photographing her, she insisted on giving me a small neclace as a gift. Kibera and its residents lack many things, but generosity, is apparently not one of them.

James, the taxi driver took me to an overlook point sot that I could photograph Kabira’s expansive footprint on the hills below. This picture represents only a portion of the slum, which actually stretches quite a distance from right to left. Be sure to follow along as I blog about EDC’s SRS (Sudan Radio Service) program in Juba, then about EDC’s G-youth Program in Garissa, Kenya.

Here’s some raw, unedited video footage shot with my D3s showing Kibera

Kibera Slum Nairobi Kenya

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12 Responses to “Kibera Slum, Nairobi, Kenya” Subscribe

  1. Dean Forbes July 18, 2010 at 11:30 am #

    Hi Karl,

    Really enjoying following your assignment here. Gives me a good sense of what clients want and what you see during your visits. I admire that you find time to process images and to update your blog. Are you still using mostly the wide zoom and telezoom?

  2. Louise Grobl July 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Karl, This is a terrible situation . It is a good thing that NGOs are trying to improve these conditions.

  3. Karl Grobl July 19, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    Hi Dean,
    Actually I only have two lenses…a 17-35 f2.8 and a 70-200 f2.8. I do a lot of “environmental portraiture” with the wide.
    Thanks for the comment.

  4. Karl Grobl July 19, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    Yes, despite the terrible situation it is inspiring to see both the residents and the NGOs trying to improve the conditions in Kibira…but there is a long way to go!

  5. Drey July 19, 2010 at 6:03 am #

    Hello Karl,

    I love this assignment! You are truly inspiring! Thanks for the post!

  6. milka August 5, 2010 at 1:27 am #

    hi its encouranging to see whats you are doing am also intrested in kibera and sein it come to standard

  7. Tim Ashton August 6, 2010 at 3:55 am #

    Hi Karl,
    The slum/settlements imo are the tragedy of the developing world.
    I work on Bougainville Island, which requires me to transit Port Moresby.
    After 4 years of hearing how dangerous it is I have taken to hopping on to PMVs (Public Motor Vehicles) and seeing for myself.
    So far so good although my hotel security and our embassy tell me it is a matter of time, but truly, as you so regularly exhibit, a white face behaving well is extraordinarily well accepted, and i have found that if I am moving where I might be at risk there is always someone who will quietly point the way out.
    Basically, as you would have found, where ever whatever their condition, the human spirit is amazing in its generosity
    Love your work


  8. Karl Grobl August 6, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks for your comment. I think you’re correct, often, the danger is over-stated, and when one is actually there, one finds lots of honest hard working people, more than willing to be helpful and kind. Tim, I wish you the best with your work in Papua New Guinea, I’ve always wanted to see the place, but as of yet have not had the opportunity. What type of work do you do there? Take care and good luck to you.

  9. Tim Ashton August 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    with a background of having been a farmer I am not really over endowed with qualifications but I am working with the people of Bougainville to set up a JV company to take on one of the ex-colonial monopolies. Whilst I stagger under the requirements of the Melanesian public service and dodge the backstabbing of the established expatriates I also work with the locals helping them develop the marketing of their produce; vanilla, cardamom, cocoa etc. slow but very rewarding.

    Bougainville, as you probably know could well have been the inspiration for the script of Avatar and as the mine was primarily owned by Australian investors our government got into the act too. Providing helicopters (and pilots) which were flown as gunships against both military and civilians, but to me the worst was Australia’s support for the blockade which went as far to prevent the Red Cross from providing humanitarian aid to the civilian population. 10% of the population died and 100% of their infrastructure was trashed.

    if you should ever head down this way, I do have some really good contacts

    Go well


  10. brits May 9, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    i am learning about kibera for a school project, i was wondering if you could help me with what sort of questions the people that lived there asked and i also have to write an article about my time there even though i havent actually been there for real

    thanks xxx

  11. southen November 23, 2012 at 1:24 am #

    It’s sad to know and see the actual situation of the people in Kibera. Poor little kids, they’re supposed to be nourished, taken care of and well-treated. It’s somehow relieving there’s some people like you Karl that’s making the people around aware of the pityful situation in Kibera. There are other entrepreneurs as well that are helping a foundation for children in Kibera, called Impoverished Children like and cuffntiff.

  12. Carrie Craig Grobl April 20, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    Praise God for the NGO’s providing whatever help that they can to those living in these horrible conditions. I am sure your photos simply scratch the surface of the reality for the residents. It’s tough to realize these places exist as we send texts from our ipads. Our hearts and prayers to all!

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