On set in Dandora – capturing life and leadership in the slum

Imagine this scene:

Dandora, nicknamed “the dark side of Nairobi”, one of the Kenyan capital’s most notorious slums. The largest dumping site in Kenya with a size comparable to Hyde Park in London. Pigs, street dogs, storks and even humans wade through the trash looking for eatable leftovers. The toxic waste pollutes the ground, water and air. Half of the children living here suffer from asthma.

Dandora dumping site

Dandora dumping site

Unofficial HIV prevalence rates are around 9% and the average age of first time mums is below 20.

Gangs run the streets and murders take place daily. We meet the local Chief of Police, who explains that all her police officers work undercover. The gangs employ women who spy on the police and inform the gang members of their location so they can carry out their business undisturbed.

Looking for responsible leaders in Dandora – really?

We are here to create a film about leadership and hope. Sounds contradicting? Actually – no.

Acrobatics in action - practise take place on a concrete floor...

Acrobatics in action – practise takes place on a concrete floor…

In 2012 I went to Dandora to run a leadership workshop with youth. I was lucky to meet the most inspirational people. Dandora Uprising is a youth group with around 30 members. Their purpose is to organise activities such as acrobatics, arts and various sports to keep the young off the streets and out of trouble. 

Dandora Youth Group perform a leadership song they have written to me. I was in tears!

Dandora Youth Group perform a song they have written about leadership. I was moved to tears!

The members of Dandora Uprising are remarkable leaders. They have turned the dumping site into an opportunity: by collecting rubbish from the streets they can earn a little money. The proceeds do not go to booze and drugs; they are used to buy street lights and fences to make Dandora safer.

Since the leadership training, the group has partnered with Ministry of Agriculture to turn the most notorious dirt road in Dandora, infamous for daily rape and murders, into an urban farming centre!

Some of the stars in our movie

Some of the leaders starring in our movie

Various other projects, such as bead work and car wash, are underway. Who could be better placed as actors in our film about how to turn hopelessness into prosperity? The group is thrilled and throw themselves into work with more energy, passion and commitment than Usain Bolt in a 100 meter Olympic final. I’m deeply impressed.

Filming in the Dandora youth centre

Actors in action in the local youth centre

A couple of anecdotes from the street…

After an intense week of scripting, casting and rehearsing, the filming is so underway.

Silence on set and... action!

Silence on set and… action!

We are filming outside the local police station. 15 guys, handcuffed to each other, walking on a row, suddenly pass by. Hurried on by three police officers equipped with AK4s and whips, they have been caught with drugs and can look forward to a night in arrest. I watch in disbelief as the gang members are being scuffed into a tiny shed – I thought it was a toilet but it is a prison – thrown a bucket to pee in and locked up for the night. Wives, girlfriends and other relatives are soon gathering outside, pleading the police officers to release their loved ones. The cries fall on deaf ears. I turn to the Dandora Uprising guys with astonishment and despair written all over my face. They shrug and smile: “This is Dandora. This is our life.”

Ken and Peter tell me about the Dandora gangs

Ken and Peter tell me about the local Dandora gangs

Another late afternoon we are shooting a scene in a tiny 20 square meter apartment, where normally a family of 8 people live. There are no walls, curtains act as dividers for the “rooms”. Yet, the owner is so proud and honoured that her apartment will feature in the film that she offers the entire film crew and myself to come as stay next time we are in Dandora! Like an old Swedish saying goes: “If there is space in the heart, there will be space for the bums!” 

We are all together

We are all together!

I suppose that is exactly what it is. Dandora is just one example of how millions of people live every day and their challenges can seem overwhelming. But I leave Dandora with a smile on my face and happiness in my heart. Despite any hardships I am convinced there is definitely hope, and most importantly, love, in every corner of our world.

The bright future of Dandora

The bright future of Dandora

2 thoughts on “On set in Dandora – capturing life and leadership in the slum

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