By Japheth Oluocho Ogola, Finance and Admin Officer

To those who have never been to any ghetto as slums are commonly called, they hear stories and myths about these  scary no go zones which are  preserved for the poorest,  most desperate, hopeless and lifeless people who have given up their human dignities. However, to over 60% of Nairobians who call these ghettoes home, this is just one dark side of a coin. The brighter side presents an epicentre of lifestyles which tend to compensate for their suffering.  Almost everyone living in a ghetto seems to be always happy about something. Their lifestyles revolve around community and neighborhood organizations, ceremonies and events.

 It is not common for ghetto dwellers to meet over coffee in the evening, host friends for lunch or dinner, and attend birthday party for a neighbor’s baptism anniversary. However, different communities and age sets in ghettoes have their own unique lifestyles. Most of these practices serve dual purposes of entertainment, livelihood empowerment and tools for advocacy and human rights.

Ghetto beauty pageant for example has become a phenomenon which started in Korogocho about ten years ago when inaugural Miss Koch beauty pageant was first organized by a group of youths. The goal of this event was to empower girls in Korogocho to come out and advocate for their rights. Miss Koch later expanded her mandate to include more inclusive human rights and advocacy programmes cutting across different sectors in Korogocho.

 Furthermore, it motivated formation of other initiatives in Korogocho such as Koch Mirror which was a community newsletter, Koch FM which is a community radio station and Kasarani Youth Congress among others. All these initiatives which supplement each other are spearheaded by youths themselves who have made community advocacy and human rights a lifestyle. In deed many youths have been mentored into leadership in various sectors through these activities. Some youths have also accrued social and economic benefits through these initiatives.

Korogocho is just but one of the ghettoes where youths have developed sustainable social and economic lifestyles which have improved their well being. Almost every ghetto in Nairobi today has her own version of beauty pageant, community radio station and community newsletters. Organizations working in slums also have programmes which promote positive lifestyles in urban slums. Kutoka Network, for example airs Sauti Kutoka Ghetto radio programme in Waumini Radio which highlights positive lifestyles and challenges facing slums dwellers together with their copying mechanisms.

Ghetto lifestyles however are not preserve of the youths only. There are several community organizations, cultural groups, neighborhood groups, chamas/merry-go-rounds and social welfare initiatives started by women and men to consolidate their efforts, improve their living standards and prepare them to assist each other during emergencies. It is not surprising that some of the most vibrant welfare organizations in slums are funeral groups. Transporting dead relatives and friends to their rural homes is a nightmare to a majority of slum dwellers while most of their cultural lifestyles condemn burying at city cemeteries.

Cultural, arts and musical groups also form but of ghetto lifestyles. Most youths groups have multi-ethnic composition in terms of membership and items while most women and men groups are formed by members from the same ethnic groups. These cultural groups help different ethnic groups preserve their cultures while at the same time they are income generating activities.

Going to a church is another lifestyle in ghettoes. A lot has been said about religion and ghetto life. Father Alex Zanotteli who lived in Korogocho and Soweto slums for more than 10 years is best remembered for allegation that there are more churches than toilets in Korogocho. This sarcastic claim has been backed up by several other observers who say that religion is a major economic activity not only in urban slums but world over.  Irrespective of an individual slum resident’s justification for going to church, most of slum dwellers go to church as a lifestyle whether they believe or not.

It is therefore worth concluding that life in a ghetto is never easy. However, solidarity and diversity describe ghetto life.

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