Youth provide hope in Nairobi slum


Nairobi's large slum area, known as Mukuru Kwa Njenga, lies between the Outer Ring Road and the North Airport Road in Embakasi district. MMM Sisters first went there in 1995 when the local community requested medical assistance. Many of them shared our vision of working towards a healthy, sustainable and just society.

The mother and child health component is the busiest part of the service. An average of two hundred babies and seventy-five mothers are seen on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Mothers who wish to have voluntary testing and counselling to know their HIV status are helped through this process. If they prove to be infected they are advised to join support groups for further counselling and medical care, and to ensure easy follow-up. Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is also addressed.

mukuru-drama_smWorking with the youth of Mukuru is a big part of our effort. Pictured above during a march on World AIDS Day, they also enact street drama on AIDS.

Another very successful initiative of the youth group was to collaborate with the street traders of the slum to organise waste disposal. This had a big impact on the environment for Mukuru’s 700,000 residents.

The population of the shanty neighbourhood has swelled since we first went to Mukuru, estimated now to be around 700,000, living in an area of 54 sq. km. It is a very mixed population. The people of the Wakamba tribe form the biggest bloc, after that the Luo, Luya, and Kikuyu tribes. There are also many refugees from Somalia.

kenya_mukuru_kathleen_donnelly_sm1Sister Kathleen, who worked at Mukuru from 1998, tells us:

“The health of children is certainly better now. The mothers are coming to the clinic regularly. They see the value of vaccinations for the health of their children. We see fewer children underweight.

"The hardest thing is the fact that there are still a lot of people who are very, very poor. There is lot of abuse of drugs and alcohol which so often means the children become neglected.

kenya_mukuru_team2a"On the other hand, there is also a lot of progress regarding what people are trying to do for themselves. We encourage everyone to contribute what they can to the cost of running the health centre. When I first went there the local contribution only amounted to 2% of the costs. We have seen it go up slowly each year. Last year it had reached 43%. It will never be totally financially viable.

"Seminars with the young people are also a very positive development. It is encouraging to see the young people taking responsibility for their health and making life choices that are healthy. That is the main aim of our teaching.

"We know that over 10,000 people among the population of the slum have HIV infection. We are doing a lot of work to prevent mother-to-child transmission, as well as helping those who are infected to live positively.

kenya_mukuru_youth_clean-up"We also see a big change in hygiene. One of the youth groups has started a project distributing bags and collecting rubbish. We gave them some money to get started. Some shops also pay them to come and remove their rubbish and this is income-generating for the young folk, even if it is very small.

"Public latrines have been installed by the Chiefs and that has contributed to better cleanliness in the whole place. Our rehabilitation programme for people with disability is also going well. Those in need of help are assessed and helped to get surgery or placement in special schools. We currently have forty children who are deaf or blind in different schools.

"One young man who had polio was crawling on the ground. We helped him to get surgery and gave some money to help him train as an accountant. When he was on a placement with MEDS (Mission for Essential Drugs and Supplies) they were so happy with his work they offered him employment when he finished his training.

"For me, the greatest joy is seeing people taking initiatives for themselves. A few have done quite well selling charcoal or vegetables. One woman who had been very ill came to us for help. We got some money to help set her up in a small shop in the shanty town. She has built up her business and is now employing her husband. It is these small successes that are really encouraging."