Fall 2006

When one good thing begets another


Carolina for Kibera started the first all-girl soccer league in Kibera. Above, a team warms up with uniforms donated by Hillsborough, N.C.-based Sports Endeavors, Inc. (Photo courtesy of CFK volunteers)

Private giving helped a Carolina student travel to Africa to study ethnic violence. Five years later, the organization he founded was named a leader in global health. If you’ve ever wondered whether private giving truly makes a difference, consider the story of Carolina for Kibera.

Just before marking its fifth anniversary, a small organization housed in UNC’s Center for International Studies was named one of Time magazine’s “Heroes of Global Health.” The magazine called its approach a model for others.

The organization is Carolina for Kibera, Inc., (CFK) founded by Rye Barcott ’01.

The story of CFK is the story of what one inspired UNC undergraduate can do—with the help of supportive faculty and private giving. It’s also the story of how the University has nourished the flame ignited by one of its own.

In 1994, Barcott was in high school in East Greenwich, R.I. He saw the coverage of the genocide in Rwanda on television —and watched neighbors killing neighbors.

“I didn’t understand why it was happening, but I wanted to know,” he said. He wanted to learn how people had been mobilized to kill each other and what could be done to prevent that in the future.

That experience led him to enroll at UNC on a Marine Corps ROTC scholarship; to study Swahili; and to choose Peace, War and Defense as his major. He traveled to Africa as a Burch Fellow during the summer of 2000, but not to Rwanda. War in central Africa, and advice from UNC anthropologist Jennifer Coffman (now an assistant professor at James Madison University), sent him to Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya. Kibera is East Africa’s largest slum and has a history of ethnic tension. Its residents have little access to basic services, such as sewage and waste disposal, health care or education.

“I wanted to learn everything I possibly could,” he said, “and produce a piece of knowledge that could help explain why ethnic conflict was occurring and what role youth were playing in it.”

His research turned up some surprises. Many of his interviewees criticized the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the area. Ostensibly there to help the residents, many NGOs were ineffective or worse. He also met and befriended a community organizer and former street kid named Salim Mohamed. Mohamed made Barcott aware of a soccer league in Mathare, a neighboring slum. The league was unique because the players administered it themselves. One rule was that to play, you had to pick up trash.


VITA VYA TAKATAKA (WAR ON GARBAGE). Carolina for Kibera staff and volunteers during a community cleanup in Kibera in 2006. To participate in CFK sports activities, residents must perform community service. (Photo courtesy of CFK volunteers)

Barcott also met Tabitha Festo, a nurse and a widowed mother of three, who had been laid off from her job. She had no way of supporting herself. She proposed a solution. With a loan equal to 26 U.S. dollars, she could begin selling tomatoes and investing the profit in a cooperative. Barcott gave her the money, never expecting to hear from her again.

He came back to the States long enough to attend Officer Candidate School, graduate and formally register Carolina for Kibera, an NGO that would take a different approach. His colleagues at UNC, including James Peacock, Kenan professor of anthropology; former Provost Richard Richardson; and Kim Chapman ’00, ’06 (MPH) now the International Core Manager at the UNC Center for AIDS Research, helped shape CFK.

“The University was just phenomenal,” Barcott said. “None of this was possible without an institution like UNC to say, ‘Give it a shot.’ That was key, because it was unique: an organization affiliated with a university but also self-governing.” The University Center for International Studies and the Office of the Provost each provided CFK with $3,000 founding grants.

The following summer, Barcott returned to Kibera. He and Mohamed began organizing the soccer league, as well as community cleanups, as CFK’s first programs. Barcott also ran into Festo, who led him through zig-zagging alleyways to a tin hut with a sign on it that read: The Rye Medical Clinic.

“I just kind of stood there, flabbergasted,” he said. “She had taken the small amount of money, sold tomatoes for six months and pursued her dream, which was to start a clinic in her community. She was seeing patients out of her house.”

The clinic became CFK’s second program, and Festo’s experience illustrates participatory development, which is CFK’s guiding principle. Festo knew what she needed (a job) and what her community needed (a clinic). With a little help, she accomplished both things.

CFK has since added two more programs: Taka Ni Pato (“Trash is Cash”), an effort toward community-based solid waste management, and Binti Pamoja (“Daughters United”), a reproductive health and women’s rights center for 13- to 18-year-old girls. In total, CFK serves about 10,000 residents of Kibera each year.

“CFK has evolved into a reputable community-based organization in Kibera with staying power, which really sets us apart from other NGOs operating there,” said Chapman, who chairs CFK’s board of directors.

As exciting as it was to be named a Hero of Global Health, that honor was just one of many developments for CFK in the last year or so.

The clinic is now re-named the Tabitha Clinic, after its founder. Festo died from complications from a burst appendix in December 2004, but her dream continues to grow: A new, 16-room building donated in part by pop musician Sarah McLachlan will allow the clinic to have 20 staff members and be able to treat about 200 people a day.

This past summer, the members of Binti Pamoja created a book, Lightbox: Expressions of Hope from Young Women in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi. It contains photographs and essays by 30 members of Binti Pamoja. All proceeds from sales of the book will go toward scholarships for the young women. (The book is for sale at www.bintipamoja.org.)


Lightbox contains photographs and essays by members of Binti Pamoja, a reproductive health and women’s rights center for 13- to 18-year-old girls. All proceeds from sales of the book will go toward scholarships for the young women.

And Barcott, who has spent much of the past five years as a Marine Corps officer on active duty, is safely back from Iraq.

Now CFK is focused on its own sustainability. It has a small staff in Kenya but continues to be run mostly by volunteers in Kenya and in Chapel Hill.

“As we grow, it is vital to us that we maintain the spirit of exchange and participatory development,” Chapman said. “CFK is not about one person, one philosophy or one approach to development. We are acutely aware of the limitations of our role as outsiders.”

UNC is committed to helping CFK. “We couldn’t be more proud that this fine organization grew from a UNC student and his experiences as a Burch Fellow,” said Matt Kupec, vice chancellor for university advancement. “It’s the best example of what can happen when a student has access to Carolina’s wealth of resources—its people, its academics and its programs funded by private gifts.”

Even with the support of the University, CFK still needs to raise an endowment that will pay its annual operating expenses. “In addition to ensuring financial stability, an endowment will enable us to focus more of our energies on program development, sustainability and establishing best practices for our programs,” Chapman said.

Claire Cusick

Some of Rye Barcott’s quotes were taken from an online interview he did with Dana Roc,

For more information about Carolina for Kibera, visit cfk.unc.edu. To make a gift to CFK: 1) visit
carolinafirst.unc.edu/gift, 2) select "Center for International Studies" as the "University Designation" and 3) select "Carolina For Kibera" as the "University Fund." Or contact Cindy DiCello, associate director of development for international studies, at Cindy_Dicello@unc.edu.