Mathare is one of the oldest slums in Nairobi — home to over half a million people who live in a sea of mud-and-tin shanties, tightly packed into just 2 square miles. Survival is a daily struggle, set against a backdrop of poverty, disease, anarchy and violence, social complexities, and a lack of basic amenities, like sanitation, clean water, electricity and passable roads.
It is hard to imagine what would happen if a fire were to break out here — which is precisely what 20 firefighters and EMTs from the United States considered last November while touring the slum as part of their debriefing with Africa Fire Mission, a nonprofit organization that trains, empowers, supports and encourages fire departments in developing countries.
Among the firefighters was Michael Heller — an active member of the East Hampton Fire Department and a professional photographer whose work regularly appears in the Express News Group publications. He soaked in the atmosphere and conditions, noting the sewers running next to the shacks, the air heavy with the smell of burning and human waste.
“It gave us a sense of, ‘This is what the firefighters are having to deal with,’” he said, adding, “We were educated on what the odds are — and what they’re really dealing with when they try to go to a fire in these situations.”Read More