Carolina for Kibera Honored as 'Hero of Global Health'

Carolina for Kibera Inc. began when a Carolina undergraduate looked at the issues of ethnic violence and youth development in Africa and saw hope and opportunity – and then decided to try to make a difference.

The organization Rye Barcott ’01 founded in 2001 is one of 10 “heroes of global health” honored this month at the Time Global Health Summit in New York for innovative global health initiatives that can serve as models for others. Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Time magazine summit is convening leaders within medicine, government, business, public policy and the arts to develop actions and solutions to health crises.

Global health heroes were recognized throughout the three-day summit, with actress Glenn Close introducing each honoree.

Carolina for Kibera, or CFK, is a nonprofit international nongovernment organization housed at UNC’s University Center for International Studies and serving a community believed to be East Africa’s largest urban slum. Kibera, located near Nairobi, Kenya, has a population of about 700,000, of whom half are estimated to be below age 15. A lack of basic government services and clashes among ethnic groups have defined day-to-day life within the slum, which is about the size of New York’s Central Park. Barcott and the program were the subject of an in-depth feature article in the Carolina Alumni Review in May/June 2004.

“The secret to CFK’s success is participatory development and the understanding that residents of Kibera have the solutions to solve their own problems,” Barcott said. “All projects are led by Kenyans, many of them residents of Kenya.”

CFK, which runs on a budget of less than $100,000 a year, administers four main projects:

  • A youth sports organization, CFK’s flagship program, which has grown from 10 soccer teams in the first year to 200 teams and involves 5,000 young people who play organized soccer tournaments in return for community service;
  • The Tabitha Clinic, a primary care clinic that also deals with obstetric care and pediatric care;
  • Binti Pamoja, “Daughters United” in Swahili, which is a safe space for girls in the community to come together to receive training and speak out about domestic violence, rape, HIV, early marriage, lack of education and other issues some young females face; and
  • Taka ni Pato, or “Trash Is Cash,” a solid waste and recycling program where CFK engages other youth groups to stockpile recyclable materials and organic waste. Recently, one of CFK’s youth groups sold seven tons of compost to a German company.

Barcott, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s degree in peace, war and defense, was unable to attend the summit; he is a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. Kim Chapman, who has been with CFK since its beginning and who leads the organization’s board of directors, accepted the honor on behalf of CFK.

“This is a great moment in the life of Carolina, and I could not be prouder of Rye, Kim and the many student leaders, volunteers and mentors who have made Carolina for Kibera such a success,” said Chancellor James Moeser.

“We seek to create an experience at Carolina where students are encouraged to commit themselves to public service. Carolina for Kibera’s latest recognition will further show our students that an individual can make a difference in the lives of people here at home or a world away.”

Chapman attended UNC on a Morehead Scholarship, receiving her bachelor’s degree in public health in 2000. She now is a master’s degree candidate in health behavior and health education, with a concentration in global health, within UNC’s School of Public Health, where she co-chairs the Student Global Health Committee.

She said she looks forward to the networking opportunities provided by the summit – where U2’s Bono; Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state; Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft Corp. chairman; Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank; and other summit participants discussed possible ways of addressing the top 10 challenges in global health.

Chapman said she hopes to harness the awareness generated by the summit to launch CFK’s next development goal: a $2 million endowment.

She added that one of CFK’s most satisfying accomplishments has been the youth sports program, which not only has grown from 10 to 200 teams but also includes the participation of both boys and girls and receives in-kind support and volunteers from UNC’s women’s and men’s soccer teams.

“Not only are we addressing ethnic cooperation but we are challenging some of the gender dynamics within a lot of African countries by allowing women to play and giving them coaching and skill development.”

Spectators pack the fields to watch both the men and women play, Chapman said.

“I first heard about CFK from a friend,” said Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Time magazine’s sciences editor. “I loved the idea of organizing slum kids into soccer teams and making a day spent picking up garbage a condition of playing.”

Eventually, Elmer-DeWitt visited Kibera, and he recalled the visit as among his most memorable hours of a recent trip to Africa.

CFK’s success and the effects it is having on the lives of Kibera residents have been hard to measure, Chapman said. An anecdote, though, offers some measurement. A year or so ago, scheduling difficulties meant that soccer games were not scheduled during the school break.

“Parents were knocking on the door at our youth center, pleading for soccer games, because their kids had turned to the streets,” Chapman said. “This was a special moment, knowing that the community had come to rely on us for not only our programming but for doing something to combat the idleness youth face by default.”

Each year, Barcott said, CFK selects a few undergraduate and medical student volunteers to work with the organization in Kibera, two of whom receive James and Florence Peacock Fellowships to support travel and project costs.

Chapman said she could see CFK building a model that could be tailored to fit other urban slum environments, particularly the way sports can cultivate leaders and promote service and prevent violence by advancing ethnic and religious cooperation and collaboration at the grassroots level.

“This is one thing that reminds us of our common ground, when it may seem that we don’t have much in common with these kids in Kibera. Kids play all over the world.”

Rye Barcott ’01 was profiled in the May/June 2004 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to GAA members.

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