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In February and March 2000 I was invited to give some lectures on creative writing at different colleges and universities in Kenya. I went together with Italian painter and illustrator Linda Wolfsgruber, who did some illustration projects with Kenyan children at the same time. When visiting Cheleta Primary School at the outskirts of Nairobi where Linda was holding a workshop, we were invited by the schools headmaster to have a look at the village where most of the pupils lived.
Linda working with pupils from Cheleta Primary School
That is how I first came to Mji wa Huruma village. Mr. Mwaura, the headmaster, and Mr. Kamau, the chairman of the village committee took us on a tour through the village and introduced us to the teachers at the nursery school.
A guided tour
When asked, Linda immediately agreed to hold a workshop right there in the village nursery school, a corrugated plastic shack with two partitions, one for the smaller and one for the bigger children. I accompanied Linda to the workshop to help with translating.
At the nursery school Linda painted masks with the children
While Linda was painting together with the children, a young man looked in to see if the teachers maybe needed some help. I got to talking with him and he told me about Matumaini Youth Group, of which he was joint coordinator. I found my mini-disc recorder and held the microphone under his nose.
Linda took this photograph of Christopher and me
So Christopher Njoroge told me his story and that of Mji wa Huruma village. My first impulse was to come back more often, make a lot of interviews with members of the community and write a book about them. But while talking to Christopher I thought, wouldn't it be better if these people could speak out for themselves? The Internet is a very effective and cheap medium to publish worldwide. I asked Christopher to call a meeting so I could propose the idea of setting up a web site to the group. Well, they all liked the idea and so we started.
Our first meeting at Maurice Ng'ang'a's house.
My main contribution was a list of questions, questions of an outsider who doesn't know a thing about life in the slum. I also lent the youths my digital camera to take photographs. (Some photographs I took myself also). Linda helped them develop a style for the drawings you can see on the village map. I sent an e-mail to my friend Gustav Freudmann, who owns a small Internet business in Vienna. He immedately agreed to let us have the necessary web space. I had hoped the nearby German School, where I had been teaching for a week, would let us use their computer room, but unfortunately this was not possible. (The situation has changed now, Matumaini Youth Group can use the German Schools computers two hours a week now. Thanks!) So we had to fall back on the computers in the CLEAN office which lies at the other end of town. We could work there outside office hours. That meant on weekends, as the youths didn't think it advisable to travel through town after dark. So we had only three weekends for computer training. We really worked hard, and the members of the group mastered some basic skills in this very short time. But of course they would need some more training after I would leave.
A friend of mine, an Austrian student who was in Kenya for teaching practice and who was planning to stay until June was willing to continue the project together with Matumaini Youth Group. His name was Wolfang Zimmermann. It was very sad to hear that Wolfgang was killed in the terrible bus accident on April 20 on his way to the coast. He had planned to go to Lamu for a few days together with his girl friend who had come to visit him. She was also killed in the accident. So here is a small tribute to Wolfgang.
By the middle of march we already had the site up. Of course, a site like this is always "under construction". We are still working together on it, Matumaini Group form Nairobi, I from wherever I happen to be in the world. That's the Internet for you. The greatest moment for me was when I had the honour to present the web site to a committee of village elders in the cyberstore at Village Market.
Maurice and I explain about the Internet
The village elders view our work on the screen.
The camera was indispensable for continuing the work,
so I left it with Matumaini Youth Group
I hope this web site will help to create some understanding for living conditions in the slum. I also hope it will help Matumaini Youth Group to find friends and supporters all over the world to help them with their struggle for bettering the life of their community, and that it will also help the worldwide struggle for justice and equality among peoples.