Poverty is known to many as simply a state of not having or better yet lacking necessities. Lately, I have been enlightened to see it not as a state of being underprivileged but as a virtue. Jesus says in Mathew 5:3, ‘how blessed are the poor in spirit:the kingdom of heaven is theirs ‘. The virtue of poverty is a way of life that keeps us away from chasing after material things and inclines us to be content and stoic. On Saturday 28th January, my perspective was enriched. From Fanusi, a center for university girls, we went to visit the poor in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi. We started our journey to the slum after lunch, I vividly remember…
“Kibera 30! kibera 30!” The tout shouts as we hurriedly board the matatu. The matatu is full and we finally set off. As I look through the window my mind drifts away as I admire the splendid architectural work done on the houses and in that moment I remember a usual Kenyan statement that says ‘behind every rich estate is a slum.’ .”
We alight and gather at the dusty stage. As we head into the slum, the people stare at us and I get the feeling that they are aware that we are not locals. The air is different here, I could smell it’s stale odour mixed with dust from the murram roads, and the drainage system is completely neglected leaving sewerage water flowing freely like a spring forcing us to hip hop on the feeble stones as we sought balance. The houses are mostly made of mabati (corrugated iron sheets). In fact, I was shocked to see a storey building of mabati, so I concluded that they stay outside due to the unbearable heat a mabati roof retains. Others are made of mud and I wondered what becomes of the houses when it rains. This one catches my eye; I see a shop of beautifully designed clothes and I say to myself there is so much untapped talent here.
Finally we meet Diana a social worker ,who was to take us to the homes of the needy. As we are busy getting acquainted with her, we suddenly hear commotion. I look to my left and I see a crowd making its way singing loudly. We promptly move to a corner as we try to make out what the occasion is. As they draw closer, people scatter and the ealier busy road is left empty. In the midst of the rowdy crowd, is an aspiring politician being cheered on.
We are divided into two groups and mine head to the door of a lady, Miriam. We get to know her a little and I gather she is Ugandan, born and bred in Kenya. She tells us that she is hosting seven families in her two roomed house due to a fire whose cause is unknown. Even the poor are charitable I say to myself. Miriam’s face lights up as we give her our donations. The children are playing naked, I look at them intently as we give our donations and the friendly smile plastered on their faces is of true happiness and pure naivety.
Afterwards, we gather and head back home. Later in the night as I meditate, I realize that I should alter my resolution list from “by august I should have this or bought that” to “I am grateful for this”. I will try to practice the virtue of poverty by really trying to recycle this or forgo that. I learnt that it is easy to be willing to work hard to acquire material things but it is hard or rather a task to easily be content. As St. Josemaria says (The Way 631) ‘Detach yourself from the goods of the world, love and practice poverty of spirit. Be content with what enables you to live a simple and sober life .Otherwise ,you will never be an apostle.’