Kibera, Nairobi?s largest slum, is a place where religion is seldom taken lightly. To walk through this sprawling township, constructed predominantly from corrugated scrap metal, is to walk through a sea of churches, each one proudly sporting a flag high above its congregation. One reason religion remains so important in a place like Kibera is because for many of Nairobi?s poorest, it not only provides much needed spiritual guidance, but also a social safety net that would otherwise not exist. A second and much darker reason, for the proliferation of churches in Kibera is that like most things for the poor, religion is a commodity.
During weekdays, after the offerings of one?s congregation run dry, many preachers in Kibera open their churches to private healing sessions. For a fee that can range anywhere between $0.25 to $150, healers claim to be able to do anything from curing the sick and removing curses, to exorcising the devil out of one?s system. It is largely through prayer and the use of special holy waters that this is done.
The healers? methods in Kibera rest largely on Christian beliefs mixed with more traditional tribal customs. The result is a sort of quasi-Christianity, neither Christian or tribal in essence, but rather indicative of that in between world where so many in Kibera live.
Although to many in the West the benefits of such methods of healing are seen as doubtful, if not exploitive, in Kibera there are many who believe very strongly in such practices. As a result, even as Kenya develops and more people lift themselves out of poverty, the healers of Kibera will most likely continue to receive a steady stream of patients who will choose to put their health in the hands of religion rather than Western medicine.
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