North Carolina or Kibera?

I’ve had the opportunity to see a few different parts of the world, and specifically to see some of the different forms of poverty. We often hear the statistics that a huge chunk of the world lives on less than $2 per day or the other stats on poverty. For instance, in Kenya, something like 70% of the population is considered impoverished. But the reality, at least in Kenya, is that this poverty does not always translate into the starving kids you see on TV. Many Kenyans don’t need more than a few bucks per day for basic expenses because they work their own farms and have other means of sustaining themselves. Sure, they don’t all have electricity or running water, which are basics that most of them do need, but it’s not the jaw dropping poverty I originally expected. However, there are parts of Kenya that do have extremes of poverty that we don’t know in the U.S. I blogged about my initial reactions to walking through Kibera slum.

Last Friday, I accompanied a fellow community member to visit a family that she has been going to visit 2x a week for the last few years, ever since they moved out of our neighborhood. She goes to check up on the kids, and to generally be a light to this “family.” I put family in quotation marks because the family itself is hardly that. The mom of the children lives in one house, usually with a boyfriend, and all the kids live across the street with the father of the first two of the kids. Two of the kids are obviously not his-the mother is white and these kids are half black. When Dad and mom were together (married I think), Dad got mom into stripping and prostitution, which mom did for years after. The oldest girl has traumatic experiences of being in the car during “business” meetings. Mom shot at another boyfriend years later while the kids were in the house. Dad owns the house where Mom now lives, and sometimes they “re-convene” to the dismay of her other live-in boyfriend. Mom is a mess. Dad, who has no job, is racist, and has other issues, has been awarded custody of the kids. Someone thought that “some dad is better than no dad.” Yet, the condition of the house these kids live in is as bad or worse than some places I saw in Kibera.

The house is covered from bottom floor to top with trash. You cannot walk into a room where there are not food stains, dirt, bugs. Cockroaches live there in legions. The upstairs is an absolute pig-sty. The kids often go to school with boils, while the youngest of the kids each have mental disabilities because their mother was on crack when she gave birth to them.

I say all this not to expose the fact that there are some pretty terrible parents and families out there, but really just out of shock at what I saw. It made me weep to think of this being a place kids call home, and that someone somewhere saw what they were living in and who they live with and thought that this was any sort of place for kids to be. My housemate Leah says that she lost all faith in the system while being  around this family. My first reactions in Kibera were numbness, partly because of TV and movies I’d seen. This time, it was pure shock, because nobody talks about this in the U.S. Sure, it’s not that common to live in such conditions, but how many families have the same kinds of brokenness, and how many kids grow up in places just as emotionally and spiritually unhealthy? There are no documentaries about that.


One comment

  1. ric booth · September 12, 2008

    It is sad that such extremes persist in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen. But as I think you’ve mentioned elsewhere, the American church relies on the state to do our job and the state is more concerned with other things right now.

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