OnSafari: Nairobi Jam

OnSafari: Nairobi Jam

david putting bracelot on 4h kidMy little group of two couples, close friends, arrived Nairobi at night from London and by 9 a.m. the next morning they were braving the city’s challenging traffic for a very special visit.

One of my clients, David Epstein, is on the governing council and a passionate supporter of 4H, having grown up in it ever since he was a kid in rural Wisconsin. He visits other 4H clubs around the world in his travels, and so our first day on safari was visiting the burgeoning 4H Club of Kenya.

It was a very emotional day. Kenya is busting at the seams, and development is happening at such breakneck speed that some basics, like growing food, are falling by the wayside. David explained that 4H’s focus today, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) could be a good foundation for helping Kenya return to the basics.

The executive director of Kenya 4H met us and we spent much of the day visiting Nairobi’s most prestigious public primary school with an active club and then meeting with three outstanding 4H students from a primary school serving the Mathare slum.

The kids at St. George’s primary school seemed motivated and enthused with our visit. They took great pride in showing us their gardens and animal stables. White bunnies were obviously the favorite!

But it was the three outstanding 4Hers from Mathare which was so emotional. There are thousands of students poorly served in Mathare, which is riddled by gun running, gangs and drugs. (See the Nairobi films, “1st Grader” and “Nairobi Half Life.”)

These kids wrote a rap poem they performed for us, contrasting 4H’s high moral “pledge” with the alternatives of descending into Mathare’s potholes. Their story, and the background from their incredibly dedicated teacher, brought tears to us all.

David and Paula then presented the Kenyan 4H with a grand donation.

Like everything in Nairobi, today, getting down to business is mostly getting to the business. We traveled a total of 26 kilometers in the course of the day, and that meant almost 2½ hours in a hot van just before the rains start so muggy and humid as well.

Locals call it the “Jam,” a rush hour that never ceases. The highways were at a full halt when we wanted to use them, so we had to navigate the edges and outskirts of several slums weaving our way back to our luxury hotel, in horrible stop-and-go traffic.

It was an intense, concentrated day that raised thousands of questions in just the contrasts between what we were seeing out our windows and the positive, hopeful and truly optimistic spirit of the kids and teachers.

Still, it seems overwhelming and by the end of the day David like so many of my clients and friends, like myself, asked regarding his notable generosity, “Is it making any difference at all?”

Tomorrow we head into the bush. Stay tuned!