Mandurah mayor: Africa trip showcases the best and worst of communities

COMMUNITY: City of Mandurah Mayor Rhys Williams surrounded by students from a community school in Kibera, Kenya. The photo was taken during a recent personal trip to East Africa. Photo: Supplied
COMMUNITY: City of Mandurah Mayor Rhys Williams surrounded by students from a community school in Kibera, Kenya. The photo was taken during a recent personal trip to East Africa. Photo: Supplied

I’ve been fascinated by communities for as long as I can remember. As a professional in community development, I’ve experienced examples of communities thriving and communities failing.

As a lover of travel, I’m grateful to have had opportunities to observe communities across different cultures and continents. I believe passionately that strong communities are one of our best weapons for overcoming adversity. Over the Christmas break, however, my definition of what it means to be a ‘strong’ community was challenged.

My partner Skipper and I recently returned from camping our way across East Africa. Over five weeks, we toured across Kenya and Uganda in our 1999 Toyota Prado hire car, complete with roof top tent (much harder for the hippos to run through a rooftop tent), appreciating the kindness of these beautiful people, and having plenty of those new life experiences.

While there, we spent time volunteering at a community school in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum. Anyone who has travelled to this part of the world knows you’d have to have your eyes firmly shut to not contemplate the complexities of these communities. But what we found in Kibera, underneath the total dysfunction, was a fearless strength that was nothing short of inspirational.

Covering a landmass of about 2.5sqkm, Kibera is home to anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million people. Less than 20 per cent of the slum has electricity, there is very little running water, and one toilet per 50 shacks. In the school we were working at, staff predict one in six students has AIDS. Drug and alcohol issues are rife, 50 per cent of the population are unemployed and the average daily income is $1 per day. People ask ‘was it confronting?’. Actually, it was nothing short of heartbreaking.

Our glimpse into their daily struggles shocked us, and had us questioning, with all the ignorance of someone who has had the fortune of growing up in the West, how, in 2019, with all of our advancements and achievements as a race, can this possibly be the reality for so many?

The perseverance of these kids, their kindness and resilience, their gratitude for their education or for a few pairs of second hand soccer boots, the commitment of their families to keep them in school, the unwavering, selfless dedication of community members who, despite their own struggles, give their all to help build a sense of hope for the future.

The circumstances these human beings find themselves struggling through daily are some of the worst on the planet, and yet despite this, what we experienced in Kibera was community at it's very best.

Rhys Williams is City of Mandurah mayor.