The June 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

From Prison to Priesthood

Interview with Father James Tramel

Protest Demands Housing for Poor Families

Oakland Judge Blocks Evictions

Fresno Police Demolish Tent Encampment

Extremists Call for Attacks on Immigrants

Unjust Senate Bill on Immigration

World Bank and IMF Face Crisis

Corporate Media Fail to Address Global Hunger

Raise Minimum Wage for All

The Journey of Charlotte Tall Mountain

Dying for Nixon, Dying for Bush

In Santa Cruz Dreams Come True

Tourists Ignore Kenya's Poverty

June Poetry of the Streets


May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Tourists Fail to See Kenya's Extreme Poverty

Rather than taking a luxury tourist safari, Mark Jenner volunteers to help Kenya's poor

by Nooshin Shabani

Global Volunteer Network members help out in villages, schools, health clinics and orphanages in Kenya. Photo by Colin Salisbury

As tourists wear their shades to protect their eyes from the beaming sun, their eyes are also protected from seeing the conditions of extreme poverty facing Kenyans. It's been three years since rain had graced Kenya's soil. This has resulted in the worst drought in more than a decade in East Africa and has left millions of Kenyans suffering.

The local people are the biggest victims as they watch their livestock die and their crops wither, making it almost impossible to a make a living.

Mark Jenner, 18, from the United Kingdom, decided to give three months of his time volunteering with the Global Volunteer Network (GVN) in Kenya. Rather than attend an organized cultural dinner evening, which you would normally find on a typical package holiday, he chose to experience the true essence of the Kenyan culture through living and working within the local community. Jenner felt volunteering was much more authentic.

"I wanted to do something helpful and constructive in Africa," he said. "This is a continent which needs the most aid, as each segment of society has its own problems."

The aftermath of the drought had an impact not just on local villagers, but also on area orphanages and schools. Many schools already had a shortage of supplies; but the situation has worsened, leaving local schools at risk of closing due to the conditions and the lack of food needed to supply daily meals for the children.

"Daily survival here is such a struggle, there is no security for anybody," Jenner said. "We all have an obligation to try and make that struggle easier. Volunteering is a fantastic start."

Kenya is also commonly known as a safari holiday destination which receives visits from thousands of tourists each year. As holidaymakers enjoy the running hot water and the luxuries in modern Nairobi resorts, local people in most cases do not reap any of the benefits generated through tourism.

"People who live in rural areas rely on the rain for their livelihood," Jenner said. "They live in tiny mud huts with no ventilation, windows, or electricity."

Many women don't have an opportunity to get an education or a good standard of healthcare, as it's too expensive. This makes diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV more prevalent, thereby contributing to the levels of poverty which most people are not aware of.

Lack of rain meant lack of food, which impacted Kenyans and other East African countries who were victims of the drought. Mark Jenner, along with other volunteers and the staff of Global Volunteer Network had a passion to help. GVN staff sent out a donation appeal for the drought and raised nearly $10,000. GVN staff and volunteers transported two trucks of food to two local schools and local villages, enough to feed the community for at least another month.

"Around 600 people stood waiting for the food for as long as eight hours, some walking many kilometers just to get to the site," he said. "They reacted with a sense of relief and appreciation, as if a weight had been lifted off the whole community."

As Mark and the volunteers helped to distribute 10 tons of beans and ground corn, the people grouped together, standing in line with their empty bags of hope. Despite the poverty conditions and the risk of starvation, together they united as a community.

"Many people carried two bags for food -- one for their family, and another for a neighbor or friend," Jenner said. "The Maasai chef told me many people were sick and could not walk the distance and so neighbors collected a bag for them. Even when people live in poverty, they still have a sense of community and look out for not just themselves but others also."

Ironically, on the day the food arrived, the rain came with it. But the miracle of rainfall soon turned into mayhem for other parts of Kenya. Heavy rains have now resulted in poor transportation conditions and flooding, making it difficult for aid distribution to reach the villages and compounding the problems.

"The main issues facing the Kenyan people are finding enough money to eat, go to school, and have a decent standard of healthcare," Jenner said. "Malnutrition is a major issue."

According to the International Development Research Centre, the local Kenyan people do not reap the benefits of the income generated from international tourists. For example, less than 2 percent of the money spent at the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve benefits local Maasai people. Instead, most of the money goes to luxury lodges, transport costs, and foreign package tour operators. Even revenue from park entry fees, as high as $27 per day, goes straight into the central government's treasury.

However, according to UNICEF, one out of every five children under the age of five in Kenya is malnourished.

One of the shocking realities Mark and other GVN volunteers came to terms with was the impact of tourism. If not directly responsible by itself, the effects of tourism make the rich richer while the poor silently suffer. Mark was happy he chose to volunteer rather than go on holiday.

He said, "One of my most shocking moments was when I visited my fellow volunteer at Kibera slums. The levels of poverty were overwhelming. About five minutes after I walked out of the slums, we came across a huge western supermarket which has everything you would typically find in a market. Kibera was shocking but the contrast between the slums and the supermarket was unbelievable. It spoke a lot about how drastically wealth is polarized in Kenya."

Although Kenya is very dependent on money generated from international tourists, the local people do not feel nor see the benefits in their community; instead they see holidaymakers swimming in pools while they work all day waiting for rainfall to grow their crops.

Many developing countries suffer the same imbalance of rich and poor people. With the help of volunteers like Mark who trade in a summer package holiday for volunteering with the local community, the dreams of change can some day become a reality.

He said, "Numerous Kenyan people have said to me, 'Give Kenya five years and it will be a fantastic country.' Even in Kibera, a huge slum, there is a sense of development and a sense of community."

The Global Volunteer Network, a non-government organization based in New Zealand, connects people to communities in need. For information please see

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

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