Feeding program provides a way out of Kenya’s slums

By March 5, 2013

Kenya (MNN) — All eyes are on Kenya as elections took place Monday.

Millions of Kenyans poured into polling places to cast their votes in a crucial presidential election. The hopes were that the events of 2007's polls would stay in the past. For the most part, that remained true.

Even so, the threat was still palpable, especially in the slums. Six years ago, it was in Kibera–the largest slum community–that riots broke out over evidence of vote rigging. Those ignited ethnic tensions, and the resulting clashes swept across the country and killed more than 1,000 people.

The anatomy of a slum: a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing, squalor. It's often overpopulated, and common problems involve security issues and extreme poverty. Slums are often plagued by substance abuse, violence, and unemployment.

That describes Mathare Valley–Kenya's second-largest slum, home to some 600,000 people within six square miles of Nairobi, Kenya. Although many residents lined up to vote, the daily grind of survival weighed uppermost.

The reality of Mathare: many will enter and leave the world in it, trapped in a vicious cycle of generational poverty and hopelessness. It's a dark place, but Bright Hope International is making a huge difference there.

CH Dyer says Bright Hope has been supporting churches inside the slums for years. "One of the great programs they have is a school that teaches the Gospel and teaches kids to read and write. They've been doing it for close to 20 years now. We've been helping with the food support."

It's a critical element toward getting people out of the slums. Misconceptions and mishandled programs means Bright Hope and the Mathare Community Outreach (MCO) and Outreach Community Church (OCC) have their work cut out for them. Dyer says, "Before people tune out, I want them to know that when you feed a child there, it's not just about giving them nourishment for that day: it's about them coming to school."

Feel like the train just jumped the tracks? They're connected more closely than most people realize, explains Dyer, connecting the dots. "People think ‘food. It's here today, and then it's gone. You're not teaching them anything.' But food is the ‘carrot' that brings the kids. The parents [know]: ‘I don't have to feed you today. Go to school so you can get a nutritious meal.' When the kids are in school, they learn the tough stuff of reading and writing."

Some of the graduates have taken advantage of the scholarships and gone to college. In fact, they recently had one of their first college graduates give back to her community. She and her family had been able to leave the slum, but on Christmas Day, they decided that instead of spending on each other, they would pool their finds and share food and gifts with old friends still living in Mathare. Dyer says, "This is what has me excited about this: that somebody gave back and there is a way out of this [the slums]."

OCC has planted 8 churches throughout the Mathare Valley area, while MCO runs three schools for 1,400 children and an orphanage in Kariobangi. MCO's primary focus is children, whereas OCC focuses on the community at large.

The partnership has proven effective in community change, but it doesn't stop there. The Gospel is in, through, above, behind, and on both sides of the program, says Dyer. "It's about empowering the local church to do the work of the church and to minister to people effectively for today, tomorrow, and eternity. Because it's a high value, the representation of Jesus is all through the program."

Dyer goes on to say that the reputation the school has makes it a desirable commodity for families in the area. "They've had to cap the number at 1400. With Bright Hope's help, it's become one of the best schools in that area. People want to send their kids there if they can."

With so many people crammed into the Mathare Valley area, why limit the size to 1400 students? The school is mainly limited by the physical size of the building and by funds, explains Dyer. He goes on to note that it's the funding that has gone critical as of late. "The food program right now is in a deficit,. We are short about $7,000 of being able to keep this food going next quarter."

An investment of $10 brings hope today, tomorrow, and for eternity, repeats Dyer. "The ‘eternity' piece of that is to share the Gospel and to help disciple them; the ‘today' part is the food; the ‘tomorrow' part is to get an education so that those children have a better chance of getting out of the slum."

To break it down, "It takes about $10 to feed a child for 50 days. What's really great is that we've got the ability to feed that child two meals. So when they come to school, they can get a quick meal and then they can have a great lunch because of a matching grant."

Food + Christ-centered education = Hope. Hope means community transformation just a little at a time. Bringing real peace and real change to Mathare Valley has never looked more possible. "One child + $10 for 50 days = two meals a day. But I need people to give so that we can fully utilize all those matching funds."

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