Graffiti Art in Kibera

*Click on a photo to scroll through the gallery.

Kibera may be one of the world’s largest slums, but there is always abundant beauty to be found in unexpected places. Recently, I opened my eyes to the graffiti art around my neighborhood and I have become enthralled by its expression of creativity. Last week I set out with my camera to capture as much as I could, resulting in the images above.

As you can see, much of the art incorporates a message of peace which is likely born out of the horrific 2007 and 2008 post-election violence that crippled Kibera and the nation of Kenya as a whole. In fact, I found most of the graffiti in and around old structures that were burned down during this time and never rebuilt. My neighborhood saw the worst of the post-election violence. After capturing these photos, I did a little digging in order to find out more about Kibera’s most prominent graffiti artists whose tags I found. Some of them include Solo 7, Bank Slave, Gomba, and two guys that call themselves Maasai Mbili. These young men are establishing art camps for children, running art galleries inside the slum, speaking at conferences, and even traveling the world to share their talents. They were all born and raised in Kibera, and have lived through the community’s best and worst times. To them, it seems, graffiti art is not a form of vandalism or simply a hobby, but rather an expression of peace, justice, and a way to share their message with the whole world.

To learn more about Kibera’s graffiti art, visit: www.StreetArtOnTheRun.org and click on “Kibera.”

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University in the Slum??

The reason I came to Kenya was to pursue a Masters in Transformational Urban Leadership (MATUL) through a partnership between Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles and Carlile College/St. Paul’s University in Nairobi. The MATUL degree is focused on community transformation within urban informal settlements (slums) around the world. When I tell people I am a master’s degree student, they usually imagine me sitting in a fancy university classroom discussing theoretical ideas about how people in slums might improve their lives, or writing papers about hypothetical solutions to pressing economic issues. But this is far from the truth. Each class I take involves working right alongside the members of my community as I learn from and with them.  And in fact, Carlile College has taken this concept to the next level by placing their classrooms right in the heart of Kibera slum.

In 2003, Carlile College opened the Tafakari Centre for Urban Mission in Kibera where many of its local trainings and university courses are facilitated. I strongly believe that this is exactly where we are supposed to be as MATUL students. After all, how can we possibly learn about slums (and from those who have the most knowledge about them – the residents) if we never spend any time there? To get to the Tafakari Centre for class each week, we walk through the lively streets of Kibera surrounded by small homes made of iron sheets or mud as far as the eye can see. As we sit in the classroom, we can hear children laughing and playing, women washing clothes, roosters crowing, and men arguing over who-knows-what. We are delighted with the scent of samosas cooking and assaulted by the smell of sewage and garbage. Much of the time the electricity doesn’t work in our classroom, but we make do, just like everyone else.

My local MATUL class is comprised of NGO workers, pastors and professionals who all desire to see change in Kibera. Some of the students were born and raised in informal settlements themselves, while others come from middle income backgrounds. We grapple with difficult social, physical, and spiritual issues, all while surrounded by the vast expanse of Kibera. Our professors are local experts in their fields with years of experience as doctors, microfinance facilitators, and pastors who can guide you through every nook and cranny of Kibera and who have more knowledge to share than could ever be absorbed in one semester.  Even though I may be met with puzzled looks when I answer the question, “Where is your school?,” I could not be more grateful for the learning experiences I have had there and for Carlile College’s bold move to have a “university in the slum.”