We are currently partnering with the Redeemed Gospel Church in the Mathare Valley slum, Kenya. This community is about as far from Tunbridge Wells as you could get, but we feel that we can make a significant and long-lasting difference here, due to our relationship with a church in the valley, and a charity called Compassion we have become connected with.
Known as the oldest and worst slum in Africa, the Mathare Valley can be found in the vast, urban sprawl of Nairobi, Kenya. A densely populated area, between 600,000 - 800,000 people live an area of around 3 square miles.
Honestly, there are problems in most aspects of life here. The slum has grown as people from rural parts of Kenya arrived in search of jobs and food. Consequently, the infrastructure is very poor.
There is a lack of clean water and toilets (or toilets you have to pay to use), open sewers run between houses. Homes themselves are generally cramped and poor in quality, simple shacks made of tin covering every available space. Inside these homes, large families live, often 8 – 10 people in one room. Things like beds, adequate cooking areas, and places to wash are few and far between.
Despite the large numbers of children in Mathare, there are only a handful of schools. This means that many children end up on the streets, trying to earn some money or keep out of the way of alcoholic parents. Sadly children frequently get involved in alcohol, petty crime, and drugs. Many children become sexually active at an early age, and girls as young as 13 become single parents.
In terms of employment, slum has grown out of its proximity to wealthier surrounding areas, which promise menial jobs - for example cleaning and gardening for a small income. The majority of citizens, however, are forced to stay in the valley, and trying to earn a living there. Some people find work hawking fruit and vegetables; others make charcoal. There is at least one illegal brewery, where unregulated liquor is produced and then sold around. This drink is often dangerously strong, attributed with causing blindness or schizophrenia as well as addiction. It is widely consumed in the valley, even by children.
Interspersed with the criminals are large groups of abandoned orphans and widows. With few employment and education opportunities, many young girls and women resort to prostitution and street children to drugs and gangs as their only options for survival.
There are many amazing and committed people already working hard to transform this community. The local churches are already making a difference, by reaching out with resources, hope, and love to the needy people around them. With more of this kind of support, things can and will change in Mathare.
A group from Christ Church Tunbridge Wells began to visit the Mathare valley in 2009. One of these churches we visited is run by 50-year-old Joel Gitahi.
Pastor Joel has lived the Mathare-lifestyle since his childhood and is well acquainted with the dangers, temptations and struggles it brings with it. As a child, Joel lived in a two-roomed house with 16 siblings and his mother. His father left the family when he was just six years old, and, although his mother remarried, Joel does not speak of any significant male role model in his life.
His mother brewed local alcohol to support the large family and when Joel was old enough he assisted in the family trade. His adolescence was marked by alcohol, drugs and violence. But his conversion to Christianity at the age of 18 changed everything. Joel just happened to be passing a church one evening where there was a revival meeting going on. He felt an urge to join the congregation and gave his life to the Lord during an altar call that very evening. The church in question is the Redeemed Gospel Church that Joel now pastors.
Determined to fashion a life outside the confines of the slum, the young Joel studied hard to qualify as a construction engineer. He even ran his own construction company for a time, whilst volunteering at the church. As a professional he could easily have turned his back on Mathare, however, Joel feels a strong sense of solidarity with the daily struggles felt by those who live in the slum. He has witnessed many childhood friends fall into vices and die early as a result and his heart is to see the community saved.
The Redeemed Gospel Church is active in the local community. With the support of the international NGO Compassion, the church currently supports needy children in the community, providing access to healthcare, education, food, clothing and social and spiritual nurture. Joel and his staff also travel into the community to minister and befriend local people on a daily basis. The church has become a hub for social outreach, but Pastor Joel’s vision is to do even more. His greatest desire, at present, is to expand the church facilities to accommodate more social activities and bring the community into the church.
We see our connection with Mathare as part of what it means to build community and be a Christian church that reaches out to our neighbours and beyond. We are pleased that whilst you are enjoying your coffee, cake, free wifi, and perhaps even a little time out from a hectic world, you are also changing the lives of those living in desperate poverty.
We want to help Joel's church to do more. They are already doing excellent development work through a partnership with the international NGO Compassion. Compassion currently has over a million children in its sponsorship programmes and operates in 26 countries worldwide. You can find our more about Compassion here. At manna see a real opportunity to boost this work and the other development activities the community is engaged with through helping the church to expand their premises. So far we have raised £15,000 towards this goal, but we have a way to go!
By supporting our cafe you are already making a difference. There are other ways to help too, though. Why not
When we first visited Mathare, it was as part of a film project. That film is now finished and it's called 58, after one of the main biblical passages which urges us to fight poverty and injustice. You can see a trailer for 58 here, where you can also find out more about the project, and even join the global campaign.