Kenya which is situated in Sub Saharan Africa has been graced by God with extraordinary natural beauty and if one is to perceive it only with the eyes of the tourist then one sees Heaven on earth!. Sadly the underlying reality is different and it is true to say that 2/3 of the people live well below the UN poverty line.

The diversity in climate of many regions ,with unpredictable rainfall , leads to drought and famine on a regular basis. These factors give rise to very real hardship and rural to urban migration is the root cause of the uncontrollable growth of the slums or informal settlements in Nairobi, the capital ,and the other big cities.

Pictures right: Sister Assupta with street children in Nairobi

These slums lack water, sanitation, roads, lighting and the shanty houses sprawl for miles. It is never possible to know how many people live in them but the smallest slum would have about 500,000 residents . Women and children are the main victims in these appalling living conditions .This surely is a harvest ripe for the quality of Mercy.

Catherine McAuley’s maxim”THE POOR NEED HELP TODAY NOT NEXT WEEK” is a challenge and inspiration to the Sisters who have been missioned to minister in Kenya.. Catherine always believed that education helped to free people, especially women ,out of the poverty trap and the Sisters have taken that seriously to heart. The emphasis on Primary Education is very obvious in Nairobi, Kiptere , Mohoroni, Godnitendo and Bolo. Well built and exceptionally well equipped schools have been provided for the poor in these areas, who could not otherwise afford to go to school. From these Primary Schools a goodly number ofchildren are sponsored to secondary education and are often assisted into third level education or skills training thereby giving them tools to earn a living in the future and break the cycle of poverty.

The most challenging aspects of life in Kenya is to be confronted on a daily basis by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Almost one in four persons is infected and it is rare to find a household that is not affected. This deadly disease leaves many , many orphans who are often reliant on elderly and poor grandmother. Here again the Sisters are called to respond in Mercy by assisting these grandmothers with school uniform, food and other items to prevent the orphans from going on the streets to beg or indeed in the case of girls to engage in prostitution. In all the schools there is a feeding programme ;in the rural area that is privately funded and in Nairobi it is provided by the World Food programme.

HIV; TB. Gastrointestinal infections , burns ;shot gun wounds; osteomylitis and other illness related to lack of clean water and poor or non existent sanitation or hygiene cause untold suffering to the poor as they do not always have the few coins needed to go the local hospitals. The Clinic in Mohoroni is God’s gift of Mercy to the people. It isof a very high standard and many a life has been saved through good practice and compassionate care together with that little extra nourishment.

Pictures right: Sister Barbara with street children in Nairobi

Recently a Voluntary Testing and Counselling Centre has been added to the facilities at the clinic and this enables more people to come forward to find out their HIV status. One of the most common causes of the HIV is the cultural practices of the different tribes where wife inheritance is mandatory. On a regular basis Behaviour Change Programmes are given in the schools and at the clinic and gradually people are taking on board the need to make better choices. All this requires endless patience, listening and encouragement and here again the Sisters fulfill a remarkable ministry. With the advent of anti retroviral therapy now becoming a little more affordable there is hope that young parents infected might live to see their children grow to be teenagers.. One of the necessary components for this treatment is that the patient has good nourishment so it is often necessary to supplement the diet with vitamins and extra food.

Catherine McAuley when asked about the cloister she replied “LET NEED BE YOUR CLOISTER”. This could not be more true than in Kenya where one is almost daily called to respond and be Mercy to some person who is ill, dying, homeless, abandoned , raped, beaten, hungry, or a mother whose child has died in a slum fire.

Kenya has its own troubles but it also has to give hospitality to large numbers of Refugees from the Great Lakes Region i.e Congo, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi and here again Mercy is at the forefront accompanying these displaced persons in collaboration with the Jesuit Refugee Services.

Many of these people are severely traumatized and fear is a dominating emotion which complicates their interaction with those who offer support services. Again patience and understanding are vital to this ministry always approaching the needy person with sensitivity and gentleness.

Pictured right: Street Children

In Nairobi Prison Visiting is part of the Mercy Apostolate, when every month ,through the generosity of a donor items of hygiene are taken to the women at Langata Women’s Prison. In Kenya it is customary for mothers to bring their children to prison with them. The reality of life inside the four walls can be quite overwhelming. One has only to see the look of expectation on these women’s faces to know that the service rendered is manna from heaven. Mercy in Kenya has many, many faces and there is no end to the opportunities presented for the Sisters to show that Mercy is truly the business of their lives.

Vincent, Imelda, Barbara and Bridie currently working full time there give of themselves most generously and their life of prayer and service bring a sense of dignity and hope to the most forgotten and marginalized of God’s people .