They run pre-schools and kindergartens. They run libraries. They run a free internet café, they run "health education" clinics for pubescent boys and girls, they run a soccer team to build a sense of community, they run a recycling center, and they run a car wash.
When we were told we were visiting a car wash, I pictured an establishment in Alexandria, Virginia where you get out of your car and guys vacuum, do the tires, then send your care though with waves of felt strips tickling the dirt off aided by colored soap being driven by water being sprayed through high-pressure nozzles.
The car wash is one of the "Slums Information Development and Resource Centers" - the name of the NGO - principal money makers. People pay about 200 Kenyan Shillings ($2.50 USD) and the young men doing the washing keep the lion's share, a piece goes to the NGO to help pay for the other programs.
There is nothing pretty about the car wash in Kibera. It is just a small area off the main road. The water comes from a well into which they take turns dipping a large yellow bucket. On a good day they might wash 18 cars.
That and the recycling center along with a few grants from abroad, helps them help upwards of three hundred young African children a year. They've been at it for 15 years.
I don't know if they're making a dent or not. But I do know that in the midst of a vast, dusty, hot, garbage-strewn slum, they give a few children some hope.
It's ugly, but they're working on making it less so; one young African child at a time.
That's the good, the bad, and the ugly. The lesson? The veneer of civilization is very thin, indeed. But for every beltway sniper or Arizona assassin, there are thousands of people like Col. Rizzo and the grownups in Kibera working every day to help keep that veneer which does defines civilization, stay as polished and beautiful as they can.
God bless them.
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