It’s true that poverty in Africa is overwhelming, and can even leave one dumbstruck. And it’s growing. We must act. Vicente Ferrer said that poverty must not only be understood, but also solved. That is why I made trying to understand why poverty is so concentrated on the same continent the first goal for our trip, as I was fully aware that nowadays “the more we learn the less we know” (Albert Einstein).
The purpose of the trip to Nairobi was to participate in the second international cooperation micro-project under the Kuwa Project initiative carried out by Universidad Europea in collaboration with the NGO Volunteers to Kenya. This project aims to support education in order to improve living conditions for the people there and to break the cycle of poverty that begins in childhood.
Our group of volunteers came from Valencia and Madrid with their bags full of enthusiasm as well as school supplies, sports equipment, and other materials that our students purchased thanks to a crowdfunding campaign and a fundraising event. After a 20-hour journey, we finally arrived at the Dagoretti Corner Rehabilitation Centre (DCRC) orphanage. This first (unexpected) encounter/show was truly an abrupt entrance into a harsh reality.
The orphanage was located in one of the city’s slums with shanties built out of sheet metal and other insalubrious materials that barely covered the most basic human needs as expressed in Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs (physiological needs). In this space, almost 500 orphaned children who had been abandoned in the street, former prisoners, and drug addicts in recovery were surviving.
That first day was the most difficult on all levels: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I personally went through a deep phase of denial, full mental impasse, and total apprehension when I saw children appear in subhuman conditions to give a warm welcome with seemingly endless music and dancing. Day after day, little by little, we got used to the place’s unspeakable smell that contrasted with their philosophy of “Hakuna matata, it means no worries for the rest of your days” and the sad culture of knowing one lives in poverty.
Given this situation, we focused on the most pressing tasks: accompanying children with serious health problems to the hospital, giving Spanish classes with simple expressions like: “necesito ayuda; tengo hambre y sed; quiero pan y agua; etc.” [I need help, I am hungry and thirsty; I would like some bread and water; etc.], teaching the older children to prepare a CV in the hope that they could find a job, and field trips so they could have some leisure time. We also had to quantify the children’s basic needs, both for medical supplies and food to cover their meals. We bought 25kilo sacks of flour, rice, beans, and even two goats to prepare them a meal with meat and vegetables, without forgetting that it was winter there and they also needed mattresses, sheets, and blankets to address the overcrowding they faced. Naturally, we provided textbooks to meet our trip’s goal to support education as the only way out of destitution.
The feelings that accompanied each task were difficult to describe and we learned many lessons, but the most unforgettable of all is undoubtedly a lesson in humanity that reveals the need for solidarity to alleviate growing poverty, a poverty whose only answer is action. We must be aware of other realities and be able to contribute to positive change. As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And that is the path we have chosen.