Introductory Thoughts and a Short Post on Mukuru

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Anyone who wishes to be considered humane has ample cause to consider what it means to be sick and poor in the era of globalization and scientific advancement"

-Paul Farmer

Before I delve into actually documenting my experiences, I think that it will be useful to explain my goals for this trip and the purpose of this online journal.

I decided to travel to Africa this fall for a variety of reasons: I wanted to gain an understanding of global health care issues, I wanted to get solidly outside of my comfort zone (it is my experience that true growth only happens when you venture into something that is profoundly uncomfortable), and I wanted to travel while I still had the chance. However, as I reflect on my first week in Kenya, I find that there is one central issue that I hope to address through my time on this continent. Simply, I would like to understand my obligation to the poor and what influence that relationship should have on my future.

I think that it is essential to take an active role in determining the moral guidelines by which one shapes their life. Compassion for and service to the poor have always been things that I have believed to be important. However up to this point, I have been very passive about my involvement with the truly destitute. It is too easy to consider oneself ethical or empathetic without actually traveling to the areas of the world that suffer from a fundamental lack of effective health care, proper housing, sanitation, or education (to name just a few of the essential social services we take for granted in the first world). Additionally, it would be useless to simply witness the struggles of others without taking some responsibility for the inequity of resources that ultimately causes poverty.

Sorting out my place in the struggle against global poverty is why I am here. In the end I hope to gain some moral clarity from this trip. However, I know that any understanding that I gain will be completely personal and not necessarily relevant to anyone else.

I plan to use this journal not only as a means to document my trip for friends and relatives, but more importantly to provide an outlet to analyze my experiences. I will shape most of my posts around the issues that I believe to be significant. There will be no specific format for my postings and I imagine that some of them will be expository in nature. Feel free to comment or send me feedback on what I write.

It is important to note that there will be some limitations to what I will “publish.” I have already witnessed some incredible things in the week I have been in Kenya, but I am going to try to be as conscientious as possible with how I share these experiences. While there may be a different definition of privacy with regard to the truly destitute, I want to be careful about avoiding “poverty pornography” (especially with regard to an issue as private as health). I certainly don't want to fall into the trap of exploiting other people’s suffering in order to make my trip sound more adventurous or noble. Consequently, while I expect to recount personal stories from my trip, these accounts will serve a specific purpose: to make what is usually easier to deal with in the abstract (things like HIV/AIDS, hunger, and homelessness) tangible and relatable.

I hope you enjoy my posts.

Short Introduction and Information on Mukuru Kwa Njenga

I will be working with African Impact in Limuru, Kenya until March 14th. Limuru is a small agricultural town about 20 km outside of Nairobi. My time with this organization will be spent among a variety of projects in the surrounding areas. Although I will be spending most of my time providing Home Based Care (HBC) in local village called Kawainda, I will also be traveling into Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum once a week.

Currently about 2 million people live in the slum areas surrounding Nairobi, (about half the population of the city). Although these regions are informally structured there are 5 large recognized sections (Kibera is the largest of these and houses about a million residents in a space of 550 acres). African Impact is involved in a variety of projects in the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum. These projects include assistance with two local schools, the Imara health care clinic and an economic empowerment program targeted towards a group of women infected with HIV.

I will provide more details on my experience in the slums soon (I’m going there tomorrow), but I just wanted to provide some pictures and a little explanation with my initial post. I promise I will post more soon.

In the meantime if you are interested in the living conditions within the slums you can take a look at this article published by Amnesty International.
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Mark Battin on

You pose very interesting questions for yourself, David. Most people would not even consider such questions. Good luck and keep posting. Your photos reveal a great challenge and disparity.

Lee Tannen on

Wow, David Archibald Cheever, you never cease to amaze me. Your intellect, compassion and discretion leave me speechless(not an easy feat for me!). Keep us posted as we keep you in our thoughts and prayers for the incredible journey ahead. Snowing like crazy here in NYC. Lots of love, LFT

Alec Smythe on

Bon voyage, in every sense. Laura and Brendan should be moving to Nairobi any day now, but I suspect you will be gone by the time they get there.

George Alt. on

David-- your desire to do some tangible for the less fortunate beyond intellectualizing strikes a chord with me. I look forward to following your blog!

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