Posted by: Suzan | January 27, 2011

Visiting the Siloam Orphanage in Kybera (Nairobi), The World’s Largest Slum


Having recently returned from a profound, life changing journey through Kenya, Tanzania and Egypt; I will share special moments from my journey with you every week. Enjoy!


Kenya, Africa, Part 1 




Visiting the Siloam Orphanage in Kybera (Nairobi), The World’s Largest Slum










 We arrived about 6:30 am at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya after an overnight from Cairo, Egypt. While Jim exchanged money, I looked into the crowd and noticed the man in the African Latitude hat with his wide smile and a sign bearing our names. My weary body flooded with relief. The night before we’d arrived in Cairo after two days of flying from San Diego. The person we’d arranged pick up with did not show up. 

Our guide and driver, Evans, greeted us with a loud, ‘Jambo, Welcome to Kenya,’ as he reached for our bags. He drove us to a viewpoint of the city and pointed out some of the historic and government buildings. He then drove us over to meet Stephen Munyolo, the bishop who runs the Siloam Orphanage, who would walk out to accompany us. It would take us 45 minutes to arrive there – trudging through the world’s largest slum.

 We brought two large duffel bags packed with gifts for the children at the orphanage (approximately 80 children and youth ranging from about 3 to 18). We had something for everyone. A friend of ours, Donna Pinto, had her children and other members of the Kids for Peace make Peace Packs for us. They are small backpacks with the handprint of each child on them. When they place their hand on the bag they say a prayer or make a wish for the other child who will be receiving it in the remote country. The bags are filled with fun stuff like games, books, and toys and also staple items which the kids need, like toothbrushes and toothpaste. 

Evans pulled over and parked near the slum. Masses of people with various items on their heads and on their backs poured out of the area and past our vehicle. He locked it yet one could look inside and see our luggage (essentially everything we brought with us). It did not have a special hidden compartment. Stephen approached us, a man in about his mid-late 40’s with a big smile and a confident step. He assured us that the car would be safe as he’d have someone watch it for us. Upon leaving I turned around and stared at the luggage for a moment. I pushed myself forward because a larger part of me wanted to either drag our backpacks and suitcases with us or not go in at all. I took a long breathe and moved ahead. After all, it is only ‘stuff’ anyway, right. I could really practice detachment now

We sauntered down a makeshift dirt road which some people drive in on. As far as my eyes could see in every direction were tin roofs. Approximately one million people live in this slum and it has now surpassed the size of the slums in India. The air felt heavy and smelled like sour milk as we tromped on trash the entire way. An open sewer ran next to us as there is no running water. Entire families, often extended families, live in a one room mud hut, with mud floors and tin roofs. Trash is used as insulation along the walls.

 Yet children were out playing, families were together, and small businesses were lined up all along our route where they often barter with one another for hair cuts, food items, you name it. Children yelled out to us from all directions, ‘How are you’ to show off their bit of English.

 With every step I felt my curiosity expand. I’d tried to prepare mentally for this journey – to imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by dire poverty beyond anything I’d ever witnessed, including my travels to India. Yet after my 1.5 hour walk through areas of sheer destitution, I learned people are people everywhere. Including here. Who am I to judge? The children seemed happy playing with one another. They didn’t have game boxes or even televisions or computers – yet they had one another. The business owners appeared very proud of what they’d established and eager to share their services with all passersby. Families looked out for one another, and the children go to school and have chores to do.

 We arrived at the orphanage by crossing a mud trench. Children and youth greeted us in the narrow alleyway and crowded around us by Stephen’s improvised office. He shared that more than 20 children were out of town due to the holidays with extended family so he didn’t want us to distribute the gifts. He preferred to wait until the kids were back and school had resumed. I felt my heart sink. I’d envisioned all of the fun we’d have passing out the gifts to the children. Then I surrendered and practiced acceptance (I’d have many opportunities to do this as the trip ensued). Handing out the gifts to see their gratification would satisfy me yet what mattered the most was that all the kids could do this together.

 Stephen and his wife, Esther, manage a school for K-12 which the orphans and hundreds of kids from the slum attend. They have a high success rate for graduates going on to make a difference in their community. We met one young man who had become a teacher and returned to work with Stephen and the other kids.

 We also gave them a digital camera (their first one) and an electronic frame which can hold hundreds of photos. The orphanage is one of the rare places in the slum with electricity and a computer. Children kept jumping around behind us to see what we had in our bags. Stephen allowed us to give them balloons, and soccer balls. Kids of all ages blew up the balloons and tossed them back and forth giggling. The older ones grabbed the soccer balls and ran off to play a game in the alley. We heard lots of yelps and squeals as the balls bounced off the narrow walls. Although we don’t speak Swahili, their engaging smiles and laughter made it very easy to communicate.

 My heart felt full yet also longed to take a number of these children home with me. Their hugs which covered me with dust and dirt were priceless. I’ll never forget them.

 We then returned to where we parked after another 45 minute jaunt, and I realized I hadn’t even thought about the luggage. I’d been so engaged talking with Stephen and one of the teachers on the way back, there wasn’t room for any gnawing, negative thoughts to creep in. We walked up to the car and there it all was – just as we had been promised.    

For more information and if you’d like to help the orphanage (they rely solely on private contributions):



  1. I’m so happy I came across your blog through Google Alerts. I’m going on a field trip to Kenya in a couple of weeks’ time to work on a project to produce educational resources based around issues concerning the pipeline and the people from Kilimanjaro to the flower farms around Lake Navaisha. We’re planning to visit Kimana and the farms around Lake Navaisha while we’re there. I’ll post a link to your blog to our facebook group. I’ve also subscribed to your site.


    • Thank you Claudia. I’d love to hear more about your experiences in India. I’ve been to northern India and only for 2.5 weeks. I can only imagine what you encountered living there. I found it indescribable – an explosive sensory experience in that short amount of time.


  2. Thank you so much for subscribing. I’m thrilled to be able to share my experiences in Africa with you — and look forward to learning more about your project!


  3. Wonderful story! It touched my heart and reminded me of moments I lived when I was in India.



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