The true story that inspired ‘Reporting Lives’

In February 2003, Sun-Times reporter Debra Pickett was assigned to write about a trio of Chicago women who’d decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in order to raise awareness of the impact of the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.  Interviewing Ann Gallagher, Katie Karnick and Phyllis Shadwick, Debra found herself impressed by their passion and mildly concerned for their safety.  Months later, after their climb and their return home, she followed up with them to see if they felt their efforts had made any impact.  They introduced her Tom Derdak, the Executive Director of the charity where they’d donated the funds they raised.  As they talked about where the money had gone, Derdak told Debra that she should go see things with her own eyes.  And so, in January 2004, she did.  That first trip to Kenya and Tanzania was life-changing in many ways; inspiring her to write this book was just one of them.

Mathare Slum Nairobi

June, 2005

View of part of the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya, home to more than 500,000 people.  The homes are built almost entirely by the residents themselves, mostly from salvaged materials.

Land in the Valley Section of the Slum

June, 2005

Land in the Valley section of the slum is particularly unstable and subject to collapse and, without legal title to their homes and plots, residents have little access to resources that might improve things.

Mudslide in Mathare Valley

June, 2005

Mathare Valley residents survey the damage caused by a mudslide, to land they’d cleared for a new building project.  The slum is, essentially, built on a mountain of garbage, so the land is extremely unstable.

June, 2005

Residents had hoped to fill in this plot and use it to expand an animal husbandry program, raising goats, rabbits and chickens in order to bring income to the slum by selling milk, meat and eggs.

Animal Husbandry Program

February, 2004

The site of the slum’s original animal husbandry program, run by the Good Samaritan orphanage, which brought small livestock to the slum in order to provide nutritional support for the many local children orphaned and left vulnerable by the ravages of the AIDS pandemic.

Livestock in Mathare

February, 2004

The introduction of livestock into the slum was a surprisingly simple way to improve life for some of the children there.

Mama Mercy

January, 2005

Mama Mercy, the indefatigable spirit who runs the real-life Good Samaritan Orphanage in Mathare, was an inspiration for one of the characters in REPORTING LIVES.

Debra Pickett holding orphan

December, 2005 Photo by Alice Obermiller

Debra Pickett, on a 2005 visit to Good Samaritan, holds the newly orphaned “Baby Faith.”  A similar scene is described in REPORTING LIVES, when reporter Sara Simone is asked to hold a baby as she walks around the slum.  For Debra, newly married and not yet a mother herself, when this photo was taken, the moment remains an incredibly important one in her life.  “I felt an incredible responsibility to this child,” she remembers, “and I felt completely inadequate to the task of meeting it.”

Women in Nairobi's Kibera Slum

December, 2005 Photo by Alice Obermiller

A meeting of women in Nairobi’s Kibera slum.  They had established a savings and loan fund to support one another in entrepreneurial endeavors, such as vegetable stands and tailoring shops.  A Global Alliance for Africa staff member, Anthony Macharia, sits next to Debra, making notes as the women discuss their successes and challenges.

Interview with Mama Mosha

June, 2005 Photo by Alice Obermiller

At a meeting for community leaders whose development efforts were being supported by Global Alliance for Africa, Debra Pickett interviews Elizabeth Mosha of Arusha, Tanzania.  Mama Mosha organized and led a training program to educate local women in offering home health care services to those suffering with AIDS and other chronic ailments.

Nursery School in Arusha, Tanzania

June, 2005 Photo by Ann Gallagher

Debra Pickett visits a nursery school in Arusha, Tanzania.  The school, funded in part by Global Alliance for Africa, offers food and care to local children who have lost their parents and have been taken in by other families and caregivers.  By easing the burden on these foster families, the school makes it possible for the community to continue to care for its own children, despite losing much of its adult population to AIDS.