According to the Oxford dictionary a slum is a squalid and overcrowded urban street or district inhabited by very poor people. Slums originate as a less than formal or planned settlement of people in a given area. They exist all over the world from Mumbai to Lagos; however, some are more deteriorated than others. A slum can be seen as a reflection of the chasm that exists in society. It is also an indication of a nation’s inability to cope with population increase, changing economic times and urban migration.
Upgrading the slums and its dwellers is a monumental task and a topic for another day. However, I must state that it would make no difference in the long run if the slums are changed, but deeper economic issues such as corruption and government fund mismanagement are ignored. The following article on a Nigerian slum and the lessons we can find in unexpected places was written by a dear friend Bukola T. Odu. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
In the last six months, I’ve had to visit Makoko at least once every week. A slum in Lagos Nigeria, the community exists right on top of the Lagos Lagoon somewhere in the hidden corners of Yaba. Home to an estimated 86,000 people, yet most folks don’t even know they exist. And those who know about it don’t fully appreciate the degradation that exists in there.
Regardless of its numerous drawback, Makoko taught me a few life lessons ….
HAPPINESS IS NOT A FUNCTION OF LUXURY: Makoko is a slum of slums. Somewhat sealed away from the outside, they share space with their own trash. They poop, pee, bathe and dump refuse right into the same water they navigate daily to move around competing with the canoes for road space. Words cannot accurately describe my feeling of dismay, watching someone enter one of the tiny wooden baths, squat and drop poop (my colleague calls it caramel droppings…ewww) into the water as my canoe passed by. If you’re lucky the ‘caramel dropping’ might cause a splash you would be wise not to shrink away too fast from it else you topple your canoe, placing you in the deep end up of fetid poop and trash.
In December, we had a ‘cover up’ project, handing out clothing and other items to them. I was certain they wouldn’t appreciate used clothes, to my surprise, over five-hundred packages disappeared in less than an hour. By physical standards, these people live in poverty but here’s the twist, they are not poor at heart by any measure. Until you offer and even explain why you are offering to give them something, the people of Makoko could care less for what you have. Their contentment is great and I can’t explain the reason for it. They are happy living right on top of their smelly water.
Lesson: Happiness is a child of contentment which is best friends with a grateful heart.
THERE’S A SOURCE RIGHT WITHIN YOUR TERRITORY: most Makoko residents don’t go out for work. They find work right within their community, making an income from the same water that houses them. You don’t see a lot of the men at home during the day, usually, they go off into the heart of the lagoon to fish. In the morning, there’s a huge fish market where the women sell all kinds of fish I have never seen before. Some of them are artisans, a few are educationalists.
Lesson: We are often too ready to believe that all the good chances are in the ‘high places’, but God has put opportunities and sources of survival in every place He causes us to be. Look around, you just might be missing yours.
KEEP YOUR INVESTMENTS CLOSE TO HOME: we started our first school building project in Makoko late last year. It was all our money but they insisted that we use their own builder. Rarely will you find an individual who doesn’t live in Makoko employed or put in charged of a project for which a resident is skilled and capable of handling. They look within their community first, for whatever they need before venturing out; essentially circulating and maximizing the resources available to them. Appreciating value,indeed charity should begin at home.
Lesson: The people closest to us deserve our best (financially and otherwise). A large percentage of American Billionaires are Jews and it is a ‘common secret’ that Jews prefer to deal with other Jews before branching out. The same is also seen with employment processes in most western countries; an indigene by heritage and race is given priority over indigenes by any other method and definitely over foreigners. Unfortunately, blacks have the off idea that westerners are the go-to guys when on any topic, an appalling and vexing situation. We invest in others and bring the leftovers back home, yet we wonder at the lack of growth and self-belief in the general populace. It is wisdom to empower our own.
You can take the man out of a slum, but you can’t take the slum out of the man. But I say to you that it depends on the man and how you handle him.
There are slum dwellers living in palaces; poor in spirit bereft of mind with bodies overcrowded by greed.
Some people are trapped in slums because they can’t seem to catch a break. Others are there because it seems like a step higher than where they were before … at least, they are closer to the city, to success. And some others are there because the slum provides them with the only kingdom they will ever be able to exploit.
Regardless of how they got there or what keeps them there; a single truth abounds a corrupt and inhumane government ensures they stand no chance of escaping.
Do not tar everyone with the same brush.
Bukola is a lawyer, working with L.I.F.E foundation (Literacy Integration and Formal Education Foundation) as a Project Coordinator. L.I.F.E is a Non-governmental organization registered and operating in the service of orphaned and vulnerable children with a major focus on social integration and literacy promotion.