Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Returning to the Namatala Slum

Today I returned to the Namatala slum.  I've been sooo excited to go back to this area because the first time I went left a huge impression on me.  My feelings hadn't changed on the second visit.  It takes zero effort on my part to just soak these people up and love them.  They are in by far the most humble circumstances I've ever seen and they're so kind and humble.

I returned joining a team that's working on a water filtration system.  There are currently 20,000 people living in the slum and last year the team was able to get 2 water filter systems donated by Rain Catcher and put in place--they help about 100 people each.  We went back and re-evaluated how they're doing, if they're been kept up, how effective they've been, etc.  We were pleasantly surprised.  The groups of people that have a water filter in their area are using it, cleaning it, the people haven't been sick in these areas and completely dodged the cholera outbreak...which is obviously wonderful!

So today we toured around talking to little groups of people throughout the slum to identify hypothetically how many more we'd need, which adults would be responsible for the filters and would take care of the upkeep, etc.  They could easily use 50 more water filters.  The problem is that they cost 30 pounds to 55 U.S. dollars.

We visited many areas within the slum asking lots of questions.  All of them are bathing in the nearby river--that is really dirty.  The drinking water is purchased for 200 shillings from one of two men selling it within the slum.  The water they're selling is not even clean...just cleaner than the river.  So the people  have been really sick in these areas, lots of diarrhea, etc.  So to give you an idea, each of these "neighborhoods" (they're not separate in any way...just groups within the slum) have about 10 houses/huts and have 50-100 people living in the neighborhood.  They share ONE toilet--which is literally a hole in the ground and when it fills up they dig a new one.  They also share ONE "shower"...which is pictured below.  It's essentially an area that has tarps more or less covering up to your shoulders.  You scoop up a bucket of water from the river and that's your shower.
I love taking pictures...especially in the slum for some reason.  The people are so real.  There's nothing fake about them.  I saw this little boy crouching next to one of the huts watching us during our visit and just found him so beautiful.  The eyes of these people just pull me in.
Here's another little guy that I just came upon.  He was just watching our group but didn't notice me pull out my camera.  It's just so easy for me to photograph within the slum.  And I almost filmed the boda ride out of there for you.  I might do it next time.  There's so much I want you to see that I can't describe with words, nor can they be fit within a snapshot.
There was a little girl in a purple tank top that approached me.  She told me that she wants to go to school.  I directed her to one of the people from Child of Hope that was leading us around the slum.  As we toured the slum for hours, I noticed that she was still following us.  With some translation we found out that her mother died a year ago, she is a twin--but her twin sis died a long time ago, she's 11 years old, when her mother died her father abandoned her in the slum, she's unable to attend school because she doesn't have money to pay the fees.

While her story breaks my heart, what might have been equally hard to swallow was her demeanor.  When the translator would ask her questions, she didn't look at his face once.  She would be looking to the side, but wouldn't look at you in the eyes.  Her arms were crossed across her chest, her fingers playing with her collar bone.  I asked the man if I could give her a hug (feeling completely helpless and not knowing what to do), she seemed nervous about it.  I couldn't help but get the feeling that the only form of physical touch she's familiar with isn't to express love.  We spent the rest of the tour just aching for this girl--Deborah is her name.  I don't know what to do with her, but the feeling she left in our hearts has us wanting some way to fix the horrible things that this little 11 year-old is having to live with.

On a lighter note...I hope my posts are never depressing.  Little things that fascinate me are the things the children do for fun.  A girl in the slum had some long pieces of grass or hay...or something braided together to be a jump rope.  While we were in her part of the slum she's jump through her homemade rope blissfully happy.  Other kids draw in the dirt with a rock and play hopscotch.  Then I ran across these two boys having a handstand contest.  It needed to be photographed.
You can find joy in whatever circumstance you find yourself in.  It may take creativity and your resources might be different, but you can have fun and be happy--and you should.  I love these people. I need to continue to work with them.  They completely inspire me.  A song that I really enjoy by The Paper Kites has a song called Featherstone.  I love a bit of the lyrics that say, "When you go what you leave is a work of art--on my chest, on my heart".  I feel that way at the Namatala slum.  I love it.


  1. Oh those beautiful people and children. I want to give little Deborah a hug too. Her story is so hard. Is there any way to get her to school? Is she living with anyone in the slum or is she entirely on her own? That is such a young age to know so much heartache.
    I'm glad you found a way to do some good in the slum. It seems like a really difficult situation to better, but giving them clean water would be such a blessing and a really vital start. Wish I could help and give out hugs with you.

  2. You have a beautiful way of putting words to these experiences. I'm feeling it Mal! Keep em coming!

  3. Hey Mal - is there an organization that we can contribute to to buy one of these water filters for the people in this area? I would love to help - and I'm guessing there would be others reading your blog that would love it too. Let us know!