By Sr. Ursula Agge MMM
In the Eastern part of Nairobi, Kenya, lies Mukuru slum, an informal settlement with an estimated population of 1,000,000 people. MMM Mukuru was born right in the middle of this slum in the year 1995 (twenty-seven years ago). We minister to the health needs of the community. Over the years, the area in which the facility is situated has attracted an influx of people from rural areas in search of opportunities in the city, due to its proximity to Nairobi’s industrial area.
Like a typical slum, housing conditions are very poor with congested and poorly ventilated plywood or iron sheets buildings. Each six by four feet room would usually house about six people while acting as both sleeping and cooking space for all six people.
The slum lacks a solid waste disposal system and there is no proper garbage collection or drainage system. Consequently, the environment around the slum is very dirty and overpopulated. The general feeling of most inhabitants is that of despair. The adverse effect these conditions have on the health and wellbeing of the aged, children and the ailing can only be imagined.
Over the years, as we minister to the health needs of the inhabitants of this community and its environs, we have had to minister to their physical, psychological and social well being. We realized that there was a sense of overdependence on the facility. True to the saying that the “best gift to a hungry person is not fish but to teach them the skills of fishing”, we embarked on a training of selected community and youth leaders. These leaders and other stakeholders were empowered with knowledge and skills that enabled them to take initiatives within the community. We call it – Training for Transformation (TfT).
Now, rather than sit and bemoan their fate, they have been empowered to own their destinies and become more proactive in the daily affairs of the community. While we continue to support them with the necessary information and mentoring, they have gone on to achieve noteworthy changes in their community.
When the rate of young girls dropping out of school as a result of poverty, teenage pregnancies, and stigma due to their HIV status became worrisome, these trained leaders organized a campaign to raise funds to send these girls back to school. They successfully got funding from the Local Government for tuition, uniforms and sanitary products for about 150 girls to return to their classrooms. Similarly, when a public school was grabbed by a private investor, it was repossessed by the community through the initiative of the leaders trained on TfT and other stakeholders. The school with approximately 1500 pupils is run by the government. There are now three public schools in the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums.
Again, a community market was repossessed through the efforts of these leaders. It is serving the community for exchange of goods and services, thus reducing crime rates and other vices which were rampant in the area. The market provides a livelihood to most community members which in turn serve the poorer people.
The Community leaders being proactive again came to the fore during the outbreak of COVID 19. The community leaders took the initiative to lobby other players so as to provide masks, hand sanitizers, hand washing points, soap and sensitized the community on the importance of observing the COVID 19 WHO guidelines. This reduced the spread of the virus within the community
All these activities are improving the confidence levels of the inhabitants of the community and hopefully would help to exponentially reduce crime rates. There is a renewed sense of ownership and responsibility for their lives and environment. We hope these leaders will continue to inspire their community to work towards a healthier and cleaner environment for their physical, emotional and mental well-being.