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Sancta Maria College, Ballyroan Volunteer Work in Kenya

Having spent nine months fundraising, myself and nine other students, together with three teachers, travelled to the slums of Nairobi in Kenya to do volunteer work in June 2009. Our school, Sancta Maria College, has been involved in this project since 2004 and this was the fourth trip Sancta Maria students made to Kenya. Since the beginning of the project in 2004, we have raised €100,000 for the project. Our contact in Kenya is Sister Mary Killeen, a Mercy sister from Dublin who has been working in Kenya for the past thirty years.

Our first taste of a Kenya childhood was a school classified as ‘middle class’. By Irish standards, it was far from middle class. Tiny children were piled into the classrooms, about fifty to a class. The desks, meant for two, sat three or four. Yet, they greeted us with such wide smiles. We were amazed how Kenyan children were eager to sing and dance and perform for us. Each class offered us a spectacular display of their talents that put our jigs and reels to shame. As we moved to the more impoverished schools for slum children, the poverty became hugely apparent.

While at a slum school for 4 to 12 year olds, we played with over a thousand children as they played in their yard. They were amazed by our cameras and were shocked to see themselves on the screen. Many had never seen an image of themselves before. Posing for a picture, one Sancta Maria student put her arm around a little boy and got her finger stuck in one of the many holes in his jumper. When we visited their classrooms, the children showed us their copybooks, of which every scrap of the page was used.

We were delighted to be able to help many projects and schools in Kenya. Sr. Mary tries to ensure that every child in her local slum can get an education. She has also helped to organize training centers for young adults where they learn practical skills such as hairdressing, art, or clothes making so that in the future they will be able to provide for themselves and their families. These projects are also aimed at rehabilitating street children and disaffected youth from the slums, where alcohol, drugs, and child-prostitution are part of everyday life. We were amazed at how hard some of the students were working in effort to try and make their future a little brighter.

One particular project we were delighted to help was MUSA Sports project for street boys. This project is for teenage boys who are interested in football. Instead of loitering in the slums where the temptation to become addicted to drugs is overwhelming, these boys focus their time on football match and training. Their pitch lies on the bank of a disease-ridden river. As we played a game of football with the boys, we were shocked how frequently the ball would fall down into the river. The players were forced to crawl into the river to retrieve their ball. This river of sewage was such a health hazard that we decided that we would have to donate money to build a fence to stop this happening.

A walk through the second biggest slum in Nairobi, Mukuru, highlighted just how poverty stricken Nairobi is. Whole families live in tiny makeshift shacks made of corrugated iron. There is no proper sewage or drainage system, and the water supply is totally unreliable. The few communal toilets, shared by the whole community, are simply small rough cubicles dropping straight into the river.

We left Nairobi for three days to travel ten hours north to an impoverished village called Chepareria. We halved the journey by stopping after five hours in Nakuru, where we visited Punjani primary school. Within the grounds of this primary school, 1000 children attend classes but what makes this school rare is its 72 students with severe special needs. Shockingly, 55 of these young children have been abandoned and live at the school. We were thrilled to have been able to bring over 300kg of clothes, arts supplies and sports equipment and left two whole suitcases full at this school.

In Chepareria, a small village in West Pokot, Sr. Veronica Quigley runs a women’s training centre. Teenage mothers learn the necessary skills they need to be independent. They live together on centre grounds with their children. They learn to cook, hairdress and make clothes. They have been abandoned by their men and live on site with their children. Unfortunately, the land the centre is built on is not owned by the centre. It’s likely they will be made leave the site soon.

To prevent this wonderful project coming to an end, we purchased a plot of land on which a second centre will be built so the project will go on. At the moment, the centre can only provide two years training for the young ladies but with the help of the new land, they will be able to spend a third year, prefecting their skills. Without our donation, it is certain the project couldn’t have continued.

Having visited so many projects and been welcomed by so many people, we were all so sad to leave Kenya. The trip was very emotional. It made us all so grateful for our life back home. What hit us all so strongly was how being born in Ireland is such a blessing and it was mere chance that put is living in our lovely residential estates and not on the streets of a Kenyan slum.

Quotes:

Michelle Tighe
“It was such an eye-opening experience. I can’t wait to go back in the future.”

Emer Hackett
“Not a day goes by I don’t remember some aspect of our trip to Kenya. I gained more life experience in my ten days there, than in my whole eighteen years at home.”

Emma Dunne
“It was a once in a life time experience. I will never forget a single memory of the trip.”

Shauna Byrne
“Seeing people smile with so little made me grateful for so much.”

Clare Mac Entee
“After ten days, I got on a plane and left Kenya and it was heartbreaking knowing I was leaving so many people to live in devastating poverty. But knowing we’d done our best to help who we could made it a little bit easier.”

Katherine Charters
“I really enjoyed spending time with the little children of the slums. It was amazing how their faces lit up doing such simple things, like singing a song.”

Anna Marie Gleeson
“The people I met in Kenya, the people who have absolutely nothing are some of the happiest people I have ever met. I now know it would take so little from us on this side of the world to make such a big difference in their lives and yet.”

Orlaith Hanrahan
“ Seeing such poverty has opened my eyes and I think entirely diffferntly now. We’re all so proud of the land we purchased, it shows how sustainable the project is.”

Chiara Byrne
“It was a once in a life time opportunity and I am so grateful and lucky to have experienced it. it was great to be able to share it with 9 amazing girls. Our memories will last forever.”

Laura Healy
“In Chepareria we meet teenage girls of our own age, it was amazing to see the contrast with the lives we live. We stayed in small huts no bigger than garden sheds. This was home to a girl and her children and all her belongings.”

The plaque on the wall of the Drug Rehabilitation which was built on the plot of land purchased by Sancta Maria College students in 2004.

This is for street boys addicted to glue and drugs.

To date nearly 100 boys have successfully completed the programme.

 

 

 

 

Pictured (L-R back row), Gloria Leyden (Teacher) Helen Gaughan (Teacher). Orlaith Hanrahan, Shauna Byrne, Michelle Tighe, Clare MacEntee, Sr.Mary Killeen, Emer Hackett, Anna Marie Gleeson, Laura Healy, Martin Flynn (Teacher).

Front row l-r Katherine Charters, Chiara Byrne and Emma Dunne.

 

 

 

 

A polluted river beside where street boys in Musu Centre play football.

Some money was provided to built a fence to prevent ball from going into river.