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.”