21 August 2006
In the company of two young Kenyan guides I spent a total of six days walking the alleyways of Kibera and visiting people (mainly women) living with the HIV/AIDS infection.
Kibera is the largest urban slum in Nairobi. It is home to an estimated 750,000 –1,000,000 people crammed together in mud and wattle, tin roofed shanties. The alleyways are unpaved, steep and often running beside, or over, open sewers and drains. Few of the dwellings are owned by those living in them – rather they are rented. Rent for a very basic single room in Kibera is around 600 Shillings per month. One Australian Dollar is about 50 Kenyan Shillings (Ksh)
Most of the residents we met were too ill to work and hence were in arrears with their rent and facing eviction. Frequently a woman on her own was attempting to raise her children. Often she was also caring for the children of a sibling who had died – sometimes this meant up to ten children living with the woman in a one-roomed house. Providing food and an opportunity for education as well as paying the rent was a near impossible task. Some we met had not eaten for more than a day.
Prostitution is widespread, being the last resort of desperate women to place food on the table for their children. The common rate for servicing a 'client' is 20Ksh. By comparison the cost of 300ml of paraffin cooking oil is 10Ksh; a kilo of flour costs 35Ksh; 18 litres of water costs 3Ksh and the cost of a visit to a toilet is 2Ksh.
I experienced a range of reactions and emotions in Kibera. In turn I was overwhelmed by the affront to human dignity I witnessed, I felt consumed by guilt when I reflected on the extravagance of my own western lifestyle and I was inspired and uplifted by the faith, resilience and generosity of welcome I encountered everywhere I went.
How to respond? On each visit we brought gifts of food purchased from our own pockets. It helped some individuals for a day or two, but obviously it could not possibly begin to address the immensity of the need. There are many charities working in Kibera and other similar places, but more than charity is needed.
We could of course just decide it is all too hard, close our eyes, go home and try and ignore the issue.
Or we could continue to live with the challenge of trying to respond in some way whilst fully realizing that our response is always inadequate and full of contradictions.
This bulletin is founded on the conviction that if enough of us truly believe that a different world is possible and are prepared to work together for change then together we can make a real and lasting difference.
What has been the return on the vast sums spent on military expenditure? Is the world any more secure as a result? Or do violent solutions just create greater violence?
In Kenya I met with a leader of Chemchemi Ya Ukweli - an inter-faith peace movement initiated by a small group of religious leaders in 1997 who were concerned with the growing violence in Kenya. Their desire was to bring about justice and peace through active non-violent means. Active Non-Violence (ANV) embraces the spirituality of non-violence for conflict prevention and transformation in order to achieve a sustainable culture of peace and reconciliation.
The goal of ANV is not to win or prevail over the other but to arrive at the truth of the situation. It aims to destroy enmity rather than the enemy. It assumes that both the victim and the aggressor share a common humanity and seeks friendship and reconciliation rather than defeat or humiliation of an opponent. It is based on a belief that the exercise of power depends on the consent of the ruled and asserts that one must maintain faith in the future and faith that the universe is on the side of justice.
Perhaps western leaders, some of whom claim to be Christian, could look again at the teachings of Jesus whom they profess to follow and perhaps something could be learnt from groups such as Chemchemi Ya Ukweli or Pax Christi
The legislation was withdrawn by the government to avoid the embarrassment of its being defeated in the Senate, where some members of the government had signaled their intention to vote against it.
Bishop Grech, who is the Bishops’ delegate on immigration and refugee matters, recently commended those Senators who at great personal cost to themselves had indicated that they would not support the bill, either by crossing the floor or by abstaining from the vote.
“I congratulate all of those politicians, from both Houses of Parliament, who registered their opposition to the bill, particularly those Senators whose voting intentions precipitated the prime minister’s withdrawal of the bill,” Bishop Grech said.
“Their personal strength and integrity in dealing with this legislation in the face of enormous pressure has had a powerful impact and I commend them for the stance they took.”
There is no doubt that the widespread concern expressed by ordinary Australians, including many who subscribe to this bulletin, encouraged parliamentarians to take the stand they did and demonstrates once again that together we do have the power to make a difference.
The recent edition of Ozspirit urges its readers to write to thank and congratulate those who took the courageous and principled stand to ensure the defeat of this pernicious piece of legislation.
The defeat of the bill is timely given that Australian Churches are about to celebrate Refugee and Migrant Sunday on Aug 27th.
The site gives some background information to the new initiative, articles on eco-spirituality and the Earth Charter as well as an opportunity for online discussion for members of the Edmund Rice Network who have an interest in this issue.