A slum is defined as a squalid and overcrowded urban street or district inhabited by very poor people. If you’ve never visited such a place, then I’m sure the word “slum” conjures up all sorts of images from noise to filth. While there is merit in those thoughts, it would be ashamed to stop there, because you would be missing the greatest asset that gives life to such a place, and that’s the people.
I recently returned from my third trip to Kenya, a land that I love dearly. Each time I’ve visited Kibera, the third largest slum in the world nestled 5 kilometers from Nairobi’s city center. Two of those visits I actually lived in the slum. It proved to be a rich experience, because it gave me a taste, a glimpse, of what life is like in a place that is so foreign to my upbringing. It’s noisy. It’s dirty. It’s hard, but the people are gold. Their smiles and warmth melt away the rough edges of life in a place marked by hardship.
The inhabitants of this slum used to live in a forested part of Nairobi that was pleasing to the eyes. It was a land with fertile soil and flowing rivers. In 1991 the police came in with bulldozers with the plan to build a railway. These Kenyans were relocated 25 years ago to their current home. They have turned hard ground that looked like a desert overrun with raw sewage into a buzzing community of life and business.
Before you become outraged at the atrocity, let me stop you. You would think these actions would breed bitterness, anger, and hatred, but those feelings simply aren’t there. They are driven by a deep wellspring of joy and thankfulness. As I observed children contentedly playing games with bottle caps they found on the streets or boys happily rolling wheels laughing with excitement as they gained momentum with increased speed or even the groups of girls sitting on steps giggling, as girls do, as they braided each other’s hair, I realized that this joy and thankfulness is a way of life. It’s something that seems to run so deep that it gets passed down to the younger generation like an inheritance.
In my world, we leave money, homes, possessions as an inheritance, but the third largest slum in the world has challenged me to leave an even greater inheritance, one that doesn’t fade with time but one that trickles down through generation after generation…a way of seeing the world through the filters of joy and thankfulness.