Companionship

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The Mathare Valley is Kenya's largest informal settlement, better known as a slum. It is "informal" because many of the estimated one-half million people who live there do so illegally, squatting on land that is technically not theirs. Mathare is an old rock quarry that flourished in Kenya's colonial and early post-colonial days. Now it is a wasteland of tin shacks snaking along the contour of the Mathare River, a mile or so in length and about a quarter- to a half-mile wide in most places.

Today I will visit Mathare for the first time. My guide and companion is Peter, a thirteen-year-old boy from the community center where I intern this year as a social worker. Peter and I have just dashed across Juja Road, the busy street separating my home in Eastliegh and Peter's in Mathare. Nothing I have seen in Eastleigh thus far, no matter how impoverished the people there, no matter how dilapidated the area's streets and buildings, could have prepared me for our trek into Mathare.

Peter hobbles in front of me as he leads me through the narrow corridors and muddy pathways toward his home deep in Mathare. He hobbles because of the wound on his leg, just below his knee. The wound, along with a similar one on his forearm, came three years ago when he fell while playing here in the slum. Left untreated for these past three years, it has festered and rotted its way to the bone in both his arm and his leg. But it is with a joyful limp that Peter takes me to his home, almost skipping at times, darting around corners of buildings, ducking below clotheslines and between shacks into unseen corridors. It is all I can do to keep up with him and his excitement.

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Jack Brace is a Charter Class Krista Colleague (1999). During his term of service in Kenya he partnered with the Presbyterian Church (USA) Young Adult Volunteer Program, working with homeless and street involved youth in the Mathare Valley slum settlement of Nairobi and near the town of Chuka on the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya. Jack is a veteran youth worker who has gained experience with a wide array of young people over the past 18 years, including outreach to homeless youth in Seattle through New Horizons Ministries as well as mentoring of inner-city youth through Tacoma Area Young Life. Jack is currently serving as the Associate Pastor for Mission & Outreach at First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem, PA where he lives with his wife Elisabeth and their children Maren and Eliot.


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