“Kibera people are bad.”
These are the first words Abbas Hussein heard when he told his fellow Scouts he lived here.
Abbas, 23, remembers the experience vividly. He was 20 years old, and had gone to an event at an upscale private school. His fellow Scouts were talking about the neighbourhoods they came from, and when Abbas began to talk about where he grew up, the discomfort on the faces around him was palpable.
Given how large, and thus diverse, Kibera is, one would assume that his fellow Scouts would see past the stereotypes that paint it as littered with criminals, and therefore a dangerous place to live in.
“I thought to myself - what can I do to change this perception?” Abbas says, reflecting on the reaction he got from his peers.
“We can write a story, or produce something positive so that when they meet people who come from Kibera, they will respect them,” says Abbas, who thinks highly of the community he was raised in; a place where he learned taekwondo and became a Scout. Earlier this year, he found something else to love about his community: Habari Kibra, where he learned journalism.
Launched in October 2016, Habari Kibra trains Kibera youth between 15-24 years in analytical journalism. The media hub specifically focuses on issues to do with development and sustainability – it is the brainchild of Michelle Mulemi, 28, and Thomas Bwire, 37. Thomas lives in Kibera. He and Michelle met while working at Pamoja FM, a community radio station at the slum. The idea was concretised when The Somo Project, which partners with entrepreneurs in low-income urban communities, offered the duo the seed funding and training they needed to start their business. In having Habari Kibra be a for-profit social enterprise, Michelle and Thomas hope that it will be more sustainable than projects funded by NGOs. They intend to generate revenue by selling stories and having sponsored content.
This is how the idea came about:
“My interest was to work with the students, especially young teens from Kibera,” said Thomas, who benefited from a journalism mentorship program in the Netherlands.
But it wasn’t just an interest in working with youth that inspired him to start Habari Kibra – he had also noticed an information gap.
“There used to be a Facebook page, where community members would get information, but at some point, it turned into a political outfit made up of NASA and Jubilee supporters, and we thought – ‘it has lost meaning.’”
Thomas saw an opportunity for the youth here to tell their own community’s stories, while receiving the training to do so. Habari Kibra currently disseminates stories through their website - www.habarikibra.co.ke - and social media. Their office is located at the premises of The Somo Project in Kibera, where the students are trained. The first cohort of students began their training last February, and finished at the end of November this year. Throughout the course of the training, the students are trained in radio, TV, print, photography and online journalism. They are also given the tools to obtain internships and jobs in journalism following the program. To qualify for the pro
gramme, prospective students need to fill out an application form and write a story.
“They don’t need to necessarily be good writers to be accepted,” Michelle explained, “but they have to demonstrate a passion for journalism.”
For her, having young journalists report on Kibera is also an opportunity to challenge stereotypes.
“I’ve worked in slums for a long time, and I see how we journalists represent the slum without really digging into it,” she said.
Michelle spent two years in Europe doing the Mundus Journalism Master’s program, in which she specialised in journalism and media across cultures. Doing so only further galvanised her to return home and work in Kibera, a community she grew to love while working at Pamoja FM. “There’s always a different side to one story, that’s why I came back to join this idea.”
One of the stereotypes that she hopes to break is that Kibera can only thrive on aid.
“Kibera has so many entrepreneurs. It’s not all about the aid we can get from NGOs. It’s about helping people be more independent.”
Another stereotype she hopes to challenge is that Kibera is a political hotspot.
“People here want peace – for instance, there is a group right here called Amani Kibra, dedicated to helping young people participate in peacebuilding and conflict resolution initiatives through sport, cultural and educational projects.
The students at Habari Kibra also want to give back to their communities.
Benedict Okumu, 21, wants to create online journalism projects so that he can show people a different side of his community. “There are many who believe that Kibera is the worst place (to live in). As a resident, I want to show them that good things take place here too; People play sports and are involved in various life-changing social activities.” As for Abbas? He’s excited to finish his training at Habari Kibra this year and eventually work full-time as a journalist.