My Work in Kibera

It occurred to me today that many of you probably have no idea what I am doing in Kenya, so I thought I’d share a bit about the work I am doing here.

To start, I am interning for a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI). You can learn a lot more about them and what they do on their website, but in brief, they build Productive Public Spaces. These public spaces are places that can address the many needs of slum-dwellers: economic development, sanitation, clean water, playgrounds for children, schools, clinics, and even simply spaces for people to mingle. So they are spaces that the entire community can use and enjoy, but they are also productive in that they provide many needed services to residents.

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Toilet facilities at Kibera Public Space Project Site 02

KDI partners with local community groups in the informal settlement of Kibera (aka, slum) to work on projects that improve quality of life and help to alleviate poverty. They provide funding and technical support (from engineers, architects, landscape architects, and planners, like me) through a process called community-driven design. The community itself provides all the necessary feedback and information in designing the site, and they assume responsibility for running and maintaining the project when it is complete. KDI has built two productive public spaces in Kibera, a third is in construction, and three more are in the works.

My role here is (mostly) two-fold.

1: I will be planning for, designing, and running public meetings to gather input from the community for a new public space project – Site 04. These community workshops will focus both on the physical design – architecture, landscape architecture, and engineering (ie, how they want the site to look and what structures they want there) – and the programmatic details of generating income for the site, maintaining it, managing it, etc.

2: I will be designing and implementing a watershed education program. The goal is to educate and empower the local community to reclaim the river and sustain environmental integrity.

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Dumping site along a river in Kibera

I have several other smaller tasks to accomplish, but that’s the quick and dirty of what I am doing here. I am working with 5 other interns who all have various roles in the process and a team of Kenyan staff who are helping to teach us the ropes. I share a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with Margaret, an architecture intern who just graduated from Cornell. We have cleaning service twice a week (which includes our laundry), and they change our sheets once a week. I am feeling really spoiled in that regard.

So, to end this post, I will leave you with a couple videos:

really nice apartments look out over Kibera:

school children ask how I am doing:

the river runs black in Kibera:

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