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Recent Field Visits
Kieran O'Brien reports back from Kenya, November 2009
Say goodbye to the world you thought you lived in
It’s boiling hot, we’ve travelled overnight, we’re four strangers brought together by UNICEF, we’re in Kenya, we’re off to see the world’s largest urban slum, we have two armed vehicles following us and we’re discussing if aid really works.
Julie, our very pleasant guide, informed us about the cash transfer programme which is run in partnership with UNICEF and the Kenyan Government. The concept is simple. Give people money. Not food, not school books, not blankets, not shelter - just money. The family we’re due to visit are benefitting from this programme, along with one-hundred-thousand other Kenyan families.
Kibera, the world’s largest urban slum, is home to over 1 million people. Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of what we were about to see, I asked the group not to take photos. I didn’t want these poor, poor people to feel like they lived in a zoo and that we were just passing through to take a few photos. It is a shocking image. The shacks are made of mud and sticks and are all about six feet long. As we make our way deep into the slum along a narrow dirt track the stench of sewage is unbearable.
The view out of our window is tiny shack after tiny shack with people crammed in. Some appear to be shops, some are packed just with children, some look like homes - but they all look like hell. Thirty seconds into our journey children were waving at our jeep, smiling ear to ear, shouting ‘How Are You!’ (in a football chant kind-of-way) and demanding their photos to be taken. Their joy is luminous and after a short while we’re all smiling, waving and frantically taking pictures.
Jackson is 17 years of age and lives with Damaris his 13 year old sister. Until recently Jackson also cared for his five-year-old brother who died of an AIDS related illness following the death of his mother three-years-ago. We have waded through open sewers and shacks made of mud to find the place that Jackson calls home or ‘the place he belongs’ - he tells me with palpable pride.
Whilst Jackson’s spirit must be broken, the distant stare which provided a window into his pain only lasted a few seconds whilst talking about his mother. He moved swiftly on to tell us about his dreams to be a football player. Jackson has never left Kibera. He has spent all his life in an urban slum. Residents are un-documented and risk being arrested in Nairobi. This is his life – all happening within a three mile radius – School – Home – Football - Hope.
As part of the cash transfer programme Jackson receives a monthly allowance of 2,500 Kenyan shillings (€23). This pays the rent, brings in some food and pays for Damaris’s school fees. Damaris, who stayed dutifully by her brother’s side for the entire visit, wants to be a nurse. Families receiving cash transfers are selected by the community. At public meetings officials from the Kenyan government discuss with the entire communities which families are most at need.
Community liaison officers are then appointed to administer the service and report how the funds are being spent. The money can be spent or saved. It can be used to pay school-fees, provide welfare or generate income – however the family chooses to spend it. The programme aims to give families, such as Jackson and Damaris, more options and thus more opportunities to get out of the poverty cycle. The programme is only in its early stages but it’s hard to imagine how families would cope with out it. The reality for Jackson is that they would no longer have a home, Damaris would not be going to school and it’s unlikely that he would allow himself to dream of life as a football player.
As we were preparing to leave Kibera, with our armed vehicles in toe, I asked Jackson how the cash transfer programme had improved his situation and he replied simply ‘I feel safe here now’. These words have stayed with me. If a small cash transfer can result in Jackson and Damaris feeling safe and having hopes and dreams - then it is working.
Lisa-Nicole Dunne reports back from Johannesburg, South Africa…
I recently got my first opportunity to see UNICEF’s work. The purpose of my field trip was twofold; to find out more about UNICEF’s programmes and to show our new Ambassador, Irish rugby player Donncha O’Callaghan UNICEF’s work on the ground in South Africa.
The recent political and economic instability in Zimbabwe has led to a dramatic increase in migration to South Africa. It is now estimated that between one to three million Zimbabweans are currently living there. The most vulnerable of those on the move from Zimbabwe are the unaccompanied or separated children who travel to South Africa on their own.
As the education system has broken down in Zimbabwe, the main reason many of these children undertake such a long and dangerous journey is their burning desire to receive an education. We wanted to find out what UNICEF was doing to help these very vulnerable children, who are at a very real risk of abuse and trafficking.
The Central Methodist School in Johannesburg is a school I will never forget. It was set up just over a year ago to cater for the needs of migrant children living in central Johannesburg, who did not have access to schools in South Africa. Today, the school has over 500 students. With support from UNICEF, the school provides these children with an education, washing and cleaning facilities and three good meals every day. Although many of the students are from Zimbabwe, there are also students at the school from Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and South Africa.
The children at the school were incredible - so friendly and enthusiastic! We dropped in on one classroom, where over seventy students, were crammed in, studying away. Each one of them determined to complete their studies and are so grateful for the opportunity they are getting.
As part of our visit, the children put on a show for us. The smallest students sang a song “I go to school to speak English”, others children danced, and the older students read poetry they had prepared. The core messages of the poems were of thanks to the school, and of hope for other children to also get these opportunities. We were all amazed by the ambition and hopes of the older students at the school - many of whom are determined to go on to third level study.
The children that Donncha met that day really made an impression on him: “It's very hard to come to terms with how these children live, away from their home, and who knows if they will ever be able to return. At the same time, it's amazing how resilient they are, how happy and ready to play and talk with us and how determined they are to continue with their studies. They're amazing children."
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