The Rescue Center house is located in Kibera’s Olympic Estate. The Center is currently home to 14 children, eight children who reside full time at the house and attend local primary and secondary schools and six children who are enrolled in boarding schools outside of Nairobi and spend school holidays at the Rescue Center.
This year has brought some important victories for the children at the Rescue Center. With education being a key focus of the St. Vincent volunteer Board Members and staff, much time has been dedicated in recent months to ensuring that all of the children are enrolled in school and receive the education support they need to learn and grow to be productive young adults. In a setting like Kibera, this is no simple task and it takes the dedication of an extremely committed St. Vincent team to make this a reality.
In November 2010, Dennis, aged 11 years, was enrolled at Red Rose Academy in Kibera. Red Rose is a private, non-profit community school that provides an alternative to Kenya’s public school system. While most of St. Vincent’s children are enrolled in the public school system, Dennis’ situation made public school enrollment impossible and the organization worked long and hard to come up with an alternative for Dennis. His enrollment at Red Rose is a huge feat for St. Vincent’s.
Dennis came to St. Vincent’s a little over a year ago, after having lost his mother, his only surviving parent, to HIV/AIDS. Before her death, Dennis’ mother, knowing she was sick, had left Dennis with extended family in northern Kenya. Eager to be with this mother, Dennis left northern Kenya alone, to trek back to Nairobi to find his mother. The two reunited, but only weeks before Dennis’ mom passed away. Now alone, with his extended family unwilling to take him back, Dennis came to St. Vincent’s and has made it is home ever since.
Upon coming to the Rescue Center, Dennis had been out of school for two years. Unfortunately, upon his arrival, Dennis could not be enrolled in public school because he did not have a birth certificate, without which you cannot be enrolled into school. St. Vincent’s Board worked tirelessly to track down Dennis’ extended family to get the needed documentation, but the family, consumed by the worry that they would have to take on the burden of caring for another child, refused to even communicate with St. Vincent’s. After months of making attempts to reach out to extended family, with time wasting, St. Vincent’s went in search of an alternative option for Dennis. In the meantime, Dennis received daily tutoring from one of St. Vincent’s nursery school teachers and was given the role of “teacher’s helper” in one of the nursery school classes. Finally, in November 2010, Dennis was accepted to the Red Rose Academy and St. Vincent’s scurried to find funding for this additional cost. Dennis is now enrolled in Red Rose’s Grade 5 class and is thrilled to finally be back at school like the other children at the Rescue Center!
A similar story is that of Diana, who came to St. Vincent’s a few years ago after experiencing ongoing abuse in her household from her mother, a sex worker and drug addict who is HIV-positive. Like Dennis, Diana also lacked the necessary records for enrolling in public school. St. Vincent’s again worked hard to try to get the necessary documentation for Diana, meanwhile keeping Diana enrolled at the St. Vincent’s Nursery School, but Diana’s mother was uncooperative. Diana, quickly outgrowing the nursery school, desperately needed an alternative option. We are pleased to report that in January, we were able to place Diana at Red Rose Academy with Dennis, where she is currently in Class 1.
Red Rose is a special place, offering small classrooms in a clean and safe environment. It is an extreme contrast to the public education system in Kibera. While St. Vincent’s is unable to cover the costs for all of the children to enroll in private schools such as Red Rose --- we are thrilled that this opportunity has been availed to two of our most vulnerable children.
In 2000, primary education was made free in Kenya. While this opened the doors to many students, resources were not availed to hire new teachers. As a result, classrooms have become overcrowded, and education quality has subsequently declined. This is particularly true in Kibera, where government services are extraordinarily inadequate to meet the needs of the burgeoning population. Indeed, a typical public school first grade class has 85 students per teacher. In addition to the poor quality instruction that results from large teacher to student ratios, the infrastructure too is a significant barrier to learning. Children are squeezed into small classrooms, where they must share desk space and even have to take turns sitting. Textbooks are virtually non-existent and with so many people crammed into such small spaces, temperatures in the classroom soar and it becomes nearly impossible for children to concentrate. By the time children reach seventh and eighth grade, many students have dropped out.
In addition to Dennis and Diana, St. Vincent’s has also succeeded in enrolling the following children:
The Rescue Center is led by Grace Morani, known as ‘’mathe’’ by the children (meaning mother in Swahili). In addition to her extreme love for and commitment to the children, Grace’s ability to fulfill her extremely challenging job of caring for all of the children has been enhanced through workshops for caregivers offered by Lea Toto. Lea Toto is another community-based organization that provides medical care and counseling to children and families members. Through these workshops, Grace has been equipped with important skills to better handle issues of caring for children living with HIV. There are currently four children at the Rescue Center who are HIV-positive.
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