From the backseat of a beat-up Toyota taxi, Thomas Taha Rassam Culhane points out the passing sights. Fraying sacks of charcoal cut from nearby forests wait beside makeshift shops. Corrugated metal, cardboard and other scrap make up the ramshackle huts. A stream of dirty water, stained red by runoff from a nearby factory, runs down the alley. Garbage is everywhere. The ingredients of life here in Mukuru, one of Nairobi’s largest slums, are raw. Yet Culhane leans forward in his seat, excited by the possibilities they present.
The taxi stops at the Mukuru Skills Training Center, an art and vocational school. A guard emerges from a small concrete shack to open the front gate. The Mukuru neighborhood is dirty and chaotic, but inside the compound, tidy bits of improvisation are everywhere: An art studio opens onto a small garden filled with herbs and saplings. Three composting toilets turn waste into fertilizer. And outside a bare-bones kitchen, a 500-gallon tank full of old beans and banana peels is slowly generating cooking gas.