Kibera Returns

In summer 2012, I had the opportunity to pursue a civil engineering internship in Kibera with Kounkuey Design Initiative. KDI is a non-profit design firm of architects, planners, engineers and community workers that collaborates with slum communities to develop ‘productive public spaces’ mainly in Kenya, Haiti and the US. The last days of June, I returned to KDI in Nairobi for a visit and some quick project tasks. Catching up with the KDI team was awesome fun, including dinner parties at Soiree Gardens and Habesha. The KDI office at Kenyatta market has expanded three-fold, now has space for more than 5 people and has reliable internet (when there is electricity)! Unlike summer 2012, it was possible to jump right into work with KDI during this short excursion. It was a highly rewarding visit!


The multi-purpose and surrounding outdoor spaces at site 1 are enjoyed by the surrounding community. The well maintained public space is a relief after trekking through the narrow, uncertain alleys of Kibera. What was once the downstream garbage dump of Kibera is now a spacious green oasis.



Surveying Site 1 to help KDI prepare to design the sanitation system treatment layout, which may include constructed wetlands.



Tom’s shoes distribution during surveying.



Community members at site 1.



Da playground had no shortage of kids playing.



Surveying the potential site of the constructed wetlands behind the multi-purpose structure at site 1. Pearl, KDI 2013 intern, was a good sport about being directed from spot to spot. Never forget the walkie-talkie while surveying a large site!






So that is what the ledge is for.



The apartment complex nearing completion at the toe of the Nairobi Dam, an earth embankment dam at the downstream side of Kibera. During construction of the foundation, the contractor dug into the toe dam toe by 10 m in depth and 20 m in width, contributing to collapse of the embankment dam downstream face during rainy seasons of winter 2011 and spring 2012. I hope they’ve reconstructed the dam face well.



Site 1 multi-purpose space and children enjoying play time.



Kids at site 1 taking in the shade provided by trees along the Ngong River. The trees are coming in nicely!



Amazing that this used to be a garbage dump, now a school, church, garden, community center, play ground and water/sanitation point!



Nesta, site 1 garden manager and composting enthusiast, is a close friend of KDI. He’s taken a big role in turning site 1 from dump to park and garden. Nesta is enthusiastic about the potential for dry composting toilets, which would provide rich fertilizer for his plants.



The river channel at site 1, eroded severely by rains over the last year, is now wider and deeper than before the floods, which should help prevent future flooding at the site.


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On Saturday June 29th, KDI facilitated a community sanitation design workshop. In the workshop, we demonstrated options for sanitation technologies including urine-dirverting dry toilet (UDDT), mixed composting toilet and wet flush/septic. The top choices from the community groups included mixed composting (due to reduced usage barrier) and wet flush/septic (due to reduced maintenance barrier). The KDI team will be working with the communities over the coming weeks to further define the optimal sanitation solution.


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After the presentation of sanitation options, we split into smaller groups to discuss the pros and cons of each sanitation option. During the discussion the community members asked many questions. The group members in this discussion preferred either wet flush/septic or dry composting.



On to KDI site 5, the newest of the 5 productive public space projects in Kibera. The project has been in planning for about one year and under construction for a couple months now. The drainage canal along the walkway is half constructed, and the multi-purpose structure foundation is near completion. The interlocking stabilized soil bricks (ISSB) have been prepared on site and the walls they’ll define are going up quickly.



The uphill view from site 5 along the trail leading to central Kibera.



Walls going up at site 5, no mortar necessary making for a locally replicable and affordable construction method.



We surveyed site 5 using the dumpy level to determine elevation changes between selected points on the site in order to design the water distribution system. It was a breeze surveying with the dumpy, especially after having surveyed site 4 in summer 2012 with two meter sticks, a measuring tape and an abney level! A spring at the back of site 5 with flow rate of 4 L/minute will source water for a laundry washing point and sanitation service.



All KDI sites in Kibera are located along the river that runs through the expansive settlement.



A spring at site 5 has provided a relatively clean water source, though not drinkable, for construction and washing.



July 2012, upstream view before site 4 construction.



July 2013, upstream view after site 4 construction.



July 2012, downstream view during early ground work at site 4.



July 2013, downstream view following construction at site 4, with overshadowing Forex exchange building in the distance.



Usalama Bridge Youth Reform group is building bridges alright. Here is their Bridge Way to Heaven (aka bridge to Usalama’s south bank garden).



Usalama Youth Group constructed the South Bank on their own from local materials without an engineered plan. They’re growing corn, bananas, mango and other plants along the bank, adding much appreciated greenery to the site, though taking away some potential floodway space from the river. Patch, recycling guru and manager of the Usalama South Bank, has taken on responsibility for maintaining the area.



Along with visiting KDI in Kibera, I was also in Kenya to attend the Water, Engineering, Development Centre conference in Nakuru, Kenya. The conference put on display 3 full days of interesting presentations on water and sanitation research and solutions from around the world. I was fortunately to have the chance to present master’s thesis research from India.



Robert convened a meeting on Community-Led Total Sanitation planning over the lunch hour. With 2.6 billion people lacking access to hygienic sanitation, there is no time to relax when the CLTS crowd is in the house.



Andrés and Naomi from the Institute of Development Studies CLTS team before I took off for a meeting in Nairobi with Kamal Kar, Kenya’s Chief Officer of Public Health and sanitation leaders from various INGOS such as UNICEF and SNV.