By Josh Low
Now in her third year at the Mukuru Promotion Centre, run by the Sisters of Mercy in Nairobi, Kenya, Sr Kathy Kettle has been part of the team that works in the slums of Kenya to provide education, healthcare and welfare to its inhabitants, and recently sat down with The eRecord journalist, Josh Low, to talk about her experiences.
Originally from Perth, and sister of Perth Priest Father Don Kettle, Sr Kathy says that even though the management aspect of her work is quite demanding, it is fantastic to see the benefits and the difference made in people’s lives.
Having run for more than 30 years, the Mukuru Promotion Centre oversees five schools, a vocational training centre and a rehabilitation centre, having assisted across the board, tens of thousands of victims of fire, flood and violence, provided some 200,000 children, students and adults with an education, and treated some one million patients since its inception.
The slums of Mukuru are made up of some 20 villages, mostly consisting of shacks made of corrugated iron sheets, or even pieces of cardboard or plastic in some cases.
Sr Kathy says social workers frequently navigate the slums on the lookout for people, especially children who may be in need of help.
“The social workers go around the slums to promote health services available and to look around and invite the children on the streets to do something more with themselves and their lives,” she said.
“Many of the parents of children have got casual jobs such as washing clothes or selling plastic bottles, sometimes even in the country, away from their kids.
“You wonder how they live and manage to get by. It’s a matter of ‘Do I eat today? Do I live today?
“We try our best to assist the children in whatever way we can, especially education wise,” she said.
It has not always been easy with other issues getting in the way of the work done by the Sisters of Mercy.
Corruption causes a lot of extra issues for the Sisters as well as all involved in the Mukuru Promotion Centre and its subsidiaries.
“All we want to do is get on with our work and help people but because of all the politics our job is made harder, because of whoever is involved in links to cartels that try to control things like the usage of land, water facilities and disregard for environmental hazards,” Sr Kathy said.
“For example, if you have a title deed to land, you shouldn’t be worried about people coming into your land at night to hack into your land and fill it with sandbags and put them in another location on top of a river, pushing the river towards your building which weakens the foundations.”
Sr Kathy says the issues of land and corruption are the biggest challenges the Mukuru Promotion Centre has to face with developers even falsifying title deeds in an attempt to take over land that doesn’t belong to them.
“We have to fight them in the courts to prove possession of the rightful title deeds.
“The amount of time spent going back and forth to government departments trying to fix issues is exhausting.
“This wouldn’t happen in Australia but we’re not in Australia; we’re in Kenya, and unfortunately you have cartels with their own interests, especially in land,” she said.
However, seeing the fruits of their labour was inspirational for Sr Kathy and those involved at Mukuru Promotion Centre, and worth all the struggles.
“There was an alumni meeting that was held just before Christmas with a bunch of students who passed through the schools set up in the slum, who are now teachers, accountants, architects and other professions.
“You just think, if they did not have that primary education they couldn’t have gone to secondary and if they could not have had that secondary education, they wouldn’t have been able to attend university.
“It really was a blessing to have been able to see that and to know that we actually are making a difference,” Sr Kathy said.
Sr Kathy has in the past, taken students from Mater Dei College and Mandurah Catholic College to volunteer in the schools run by Mukuru Promotion Centre, and hopes that other people, young or old, may be inspired to help the cause.
“The students from both Mater Dei College and Mandurah Catholic College were involved in a cultural immersion which saw them interact with local Kenyan children from the different schools in the slum, helping with classes and leading sessions of learning in fun ways.
“If anyone wants to come along and help with the work that has to be done, we’re more than willing to support it. We have a medical clinic that’s in constant need of medical resources, and a group of schools that could benefit from help with classes.
“My greatest hope is to raise the awareness among people who are able to contribute or help in any way,” she concluded.
If you would like to donate or offer any help or services, please contact Sr Maureen Mohen of the Sisters of Mercy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9388 3192.
Inquiries for the sponsorship of a child in primary school ($55 a year) would be most welcome.