A boy sifts through garbage at the Dandora Dump
My flat mate Emily introduced me to George Ocholla on a trip Villa Teag the other day. Villa Teag is an orphanage in the Dandora area of Nairobi. Remember, that's where I fell into the ocean of sewage in week 46. Anyway, Villa Teag house about 30 kids who have lost their parents to HIV. Unfortunately after the election violence that went on in Kenya last December their founder Melitus Mugabe was murdered. There has been a struggle to keep funding going and the kids together since the loss of their benefactor.
My other flat mate Alessandra has taken it upon herself to keep the lights on, the water running, and secure other funders. She spent 8 months living here while working on a documentary. All the kids here are smart, talented, and hopeful of a better life.
George stands out to me. After both of his parents died from AIDS George found himself in the position of caring for himself and his one year old brother. They began living in the dump in Dandora. He was searching for food and things to sell in the the dump with his brother strapped to his back for months. After eating a meal of refuse from the dump, George noticed his brother, still strapped on his back was not moving. He was dead. As Emily put when he tells this story it's like he's recounting what he had for breakfast it's so matter of fact.
When he retells me this story and how important it is for him to go on and get an education I tell him he's my hero. He just laughs asks me why. Here is a ten year old giving me more insight into the world than most adults. He's suffered more in his ten years than I will probably will the rest of my days yet he is resilliant to the point it almost seems defiant. He makes me laugh with his singing and his imitation of Kenyan President Kibeki. He talks about finishing school and maybe one day being the head boy a Villa Teag. He is thankful for the opportunity given to him despite missing his family.
For me after my sewer incident I swore I would never go back to the dump again. Who really cares I thought. There were a number of people that have done stories on dump sites that become mini recycling industries for the poor. Why bother? I made my way back there the before I left Kenya just to walk a mile in George's shoes and see what he saw every day for months when he was the tender age of five. My sewer swim is nothing more than an anncecdote I'll retell at parties to friends that will laugh at my misadventures. For George it was everyday life navigating the dump which to me is like visiting ninth circle of hell. He not only had to rummage through the garbage but compete with adults, older kids and scavanger birds for the best stuff. Vendors pay 3 Kenyan Schillings for 1KG of plastic bottles after all. George is not only surviving, he's thriving. I look in his eyes and I think that he's one of those people that will probably go on to do great things. Yeah George, you are my hero. Go ahead Laugh if you want to, you've earned it.
Emily's original NPR story on George and Villa Teag is here.