The library stands out. You cannot actually easily tell it is one. It is a re-purposed bus shell. A compromise that reflects the overriding philosophy here.
Sammy, one of the thirty members, tells me that whenever a need arises, they make do with what they have. So, when they felt the need for library, they planned for shipping containers, but their resources fell short. They went for a bus shell.
We are at Pine Breeze, an open access youth centre in Kariobangi South. Starting off as a carwash, the place has grown into a space that is not only safe for children but is also designed to appeal and nurture their creativity. It is organised around, and draws strength from, the community. So far, it has thirty members who grew up in, and live in, or around, the area.
We visited the centre as part of the Dandora Hip Hop City tour organized by Startup Grind Nairobi in conjunction with Juliani. Our first port of call is the library. As we get in, a young boy, probably five or six years pushes past us and heads straight for the far end. He sits on a bench that is located between rows of bookshelves, and pulls out a miniature guitar. He starts getting it out of the bag. We stand expectantly, waiting for him to jam.
Well, all we got was an anticlimax. He got it out, looked at it, and then put it back. Ignoring our incessant cajoling to get him to play. Then he walked out, followed by two other little ones.
The library arose out of the need to provide a conducive place for the neighbourhood school going segment. The nearest library is at Buru Buru and is run by Kenya National Library Services, whose access fee, though minimal by most standards, locks out many kids, especially from areas like those that surround Pine Breeze.
The centre stands on community land and is mainly run on the members’ resources, well wishers and the proceeds from their carwash. It provides a sanctuary where school going kids can come and study or engage in artistic pursuits away from the pressure of a home in the slum.
The artistic endeavours grew out of the need to provide more for the children. With time, the centre’s members came to realize that education/reading was not enough for the young minds. So they extended into arts and improvised a live performance stage. They run monthly music and art performances like Write Flow, a monthly Hip Hop, Poetry and Spoken Word showcase, and Music for the People for Musicians and bands.
The responsibilities of running the place rotates amongst the 30 members. They have however organized themselves into a system that has a chairperson, spokesperson and secretary to take care of the main issues.
The centre is popular and sees users from as young as four years to university students, especially during the holidays. A big factor that influences their well handling of the space is having called the place home. With their knowledge of the area, they understand most of the people who live there as they know most of them by name. They have seen some transform, as a result of being shown an alternative way of life.They hope to grow in terms of facilities and make the centre cater for the secondary needs of the neighbourhood’s kids.