In 2006, the former US President Barack Obama visited Kibera, Kenya, and told crowds that “Everybody in Kibera needs the same opportunities to go to school, to start businesses, to have enough to eat, to have decent clothes,”. The slum, located at the outskirts of Nairobi, suffers from extreme poverty, poor sanitation, little access to healthcare, clean water scarcity, and widespread malnutrition. One of the focal efforts to uplift the community has been through attempting to improve the education of Kibera’s youth, with the idea that formal education would allow the inhabitants to acquire higher-paying, more skilled jobs, circulating more money back to solve problems within the slum.
Currently, there are both public and ‘private’ schools in Kibera, though neither is entirely without fees. The public schools are run by the government, with support from other nations, and the ‘private’ schools are community startups with the intention of making schools more accessible for those who cannot afford or get into the more expensive and competitive state-run schools. Still, most schools lack proper equipment, qualified teachers, and are geared towards memorization rather than comprehension and application. Memorization is used as a teaching technique in order to meet the requirements of Kenya’s standardized tests. Many schools also have very large class sizes, with some students to teacher ratios being as high as 90 students: 1 teacher. As such, while attendance rates for those ages 6-13 are high, only one-third of Kibera’s youth older than 13 are actively in school. They often have to attend multiple different schools in an academic year, chasing the cheapest prices, changes which often disrupt the students’ learning progress and integration into the school.
Additionally, many households do not have sufficient funds to send all of their children to school, so boys are often prioritized over their female counterparts. Of the already small number of children in school, less than a quarter are girls. Many students drop out of school and fall into crime and drugs, another issue that disproportionately affects girls. Across Kenya, 33% of girls engage in prostitution or human trafficking by the age of 16, but in Kibera, this number is almost doubled. However, the gender imbalances in schools are slowly but steadily decreasing. Eunice Akoth, a native Kiberan who attended school there until Ninth Grade, says that “Over time that mindset has changed,” and more and more families are sending their daughters to school in addition to their sons.
The growth of gender equality in education in Kibera has also been encouraged by initiatives like the Kibera School for Girls, which aims to “operate without cost, and to offer a high-quality formal education that will prepare girls for higher education and skilled jobs and, eventually, a path out of the slum,”. Eunice herself is a testament to the success of this program, which allowed her to come study abroad and begin to give back to her community by founding the organization Muanzo Mpya. “[Kibera School for Girls] supported me throughout, from when I got into the school until I graduated from Eighth Grade,” she says. Other education initiatives in Kibera have also helped uplift the community, such as Kibera In Need (KIN) which funds schools in the slum and provides business skills and vocational learning to its youth. Organizations such as the Ed Colina Foundation, Kibera Children Education, and Mirror of Hope CBO, to name a few, have all joined in the effort to improve education.
However, the most impressive attempts to alleviate the poverty of the slum come from the residents of Kibera themselves. Young people that are able to attend school are known to be hardworking and involved students, who go on to support their community from the inside. “Youth my age, like me, are involving themselves in community development, in community outreach programs,” Eunice says. “They still have hope, they still keep on pushing,”. Kibera comes together to educate the generation of people that will bring them out of poverty, and with the help of people and organizations that really care about the community, the cycle of poverty can and will be broken.