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Discovering Talent in the Kibera Slums

September 10, 2015

Kibera is the largest slum in Africa with a population estimated at over 1,000,000, 60% of the population of Nairobi crammed onto just 6% of the land. Yesterday, I visited one of the industrial areas within the slums to meet with Ishmael and Ouma, bone and horn carvers.


Stepping into the narrow corridors between the mud and corrugated iron shacks the air was thick with dust and the stench of bone. Rubbish littered the floor in mud soaked puddles (it rained heavily last night). Despite this I witnessed an extraordinary level of productivity. People were busy hammering steel or filing bone, sat around small fires where pots bubbled with hot chai.


Ouma sat in his small workshop polishing olive-wood beads on an electric sander surrounded by piles of bone, everything covered with a fine white dust. We discussed some ideas and I could tell by his polite and friendly manner that he was keen to take on more work. Next stop was Ishmael, a big personality who excitedly led us to his small office and displayed his designs with pride. I was amazed by the vivid colours of the brightly dyed bone necklaces and the finish of his horn chain and rings was very high. 


Feeling suitably inspired I left with plenty of jokes from Ishmael about the promise of ugali on our return a traditional Kenyan staple made from water and maize. I'll return in a week to sample some designs but think I'll pass on the ugali!





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