St. Vincent de Paul Community Development Organization

The mission of the organization is to build a society where all children are provided the necessary love and care essential for growth. The organization is run by a small group of local volunteers, dedicated to improving the lives of poor and marginalized children in Kibera, Kenya by promoting their social integration into the community.
Sep 15, 2015

Q&A with Teacher Alice

Head Teacher Alice
Head Teacher Alice

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself:

A: My name is Alice Wanjiru. I am 28 years old and the Head Teacher at St. Vincent Nursery School. I joined as a teacher in 2011 and, in 2013, I was appointed as Head Teacher. I am from Central Kenya and I have been in Nairobi since 2001 when I started high school here.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: What I like most is to see the vulnerable children from the slum being happy and also getting the right education, getting love and quality meals, which they normally lack at home. And seeing the parents – we have parents that are hopeless [at the beginning] and by the time we work with them for three years, we can see they are changed. For instance, those that are sick [HIV+] can accept themselves and we accept them as they are.  

Q: What is the most challenging thing about your work?

A: The most challenging is seeing some of the parents – most of our parents are illiterate and when we start “walking with them” they don’t value education and we try to convince them to bring their children to school. They don’t cooperate. Those who are not working, you try to empower them. Sometimes you get disappointed because you don’t know how to help them. Even when we are helping the child in school, it’s hard to help the parent. Some of them don’t want help and want to be given everything. Also, [it is challenging] when you see young children suffering and they are innocent children. Some are suffering because of alcoholic parents and though it is a process to convince parents and to take them to a rehabilitation center, it becomes a challenge how you are going to come in and help the child.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for the children?

A: Food. Most of the meals that the children get here are the only meals that they receive until the following day. Sometimes the child is crying and they say their mother didn’t cook at night. We prepare porridge early in the morning so it’s ready by 8am so that we can start lessons off when children are fed.

Another challenge is the children come from large families where there is no love. Some of the environments the children stay in -- it is a challenge for them to play. During the rainy season, most of the children sleep on the floor and the house leaks and water comes inside so they are forced to sleep the whole night standing. During the last rainy season, the house of one of our children’s family collapsed and the child almost died. Also, it is a challenge to deal with children with learning disabilities and to convince the parent to accept the child and take the child to an assessment center. I can understand the problem of the child [with the disability] but the parent is still in denial.

There are some mothers that come to school and share with me about their HIV status and they request me to go see the husband and talk to him so that he can be accepted to be tested in the hospital. The wife doesn’t want the husband to know that she is the one who gave me the information. The husband doesn’t accept that he’s HIV + but you know he is. So it becomes a challenge. Most men don’t accept their status. So it is a challenge to encourage them to go get testing so they can get the drugs they need.

Q: How do you think St. Vincent’s is helping these vulnerable children?

A: First and foremost, they come to school very early because of the food. It helps them to have enough nutritious food. We help children understand that there is another way of life from where they are brought up in the slum. It offers a conductive environment for learning and gives them quality education. By the time they leave here after three years, they have met the requirements to join primary school. We help by taking children to hospital if they are sick or have an emergency. The school provides children with uniform so they all look ‘smart’ and they look alike. You can’t tell that they are coming from the slums and that makes us proud. The school helps the child by visiting the children. In case we visit your home and we find there is any other child at home, we come in and listen to your case and if it is school fees we pay or help recommend you or refer you to the hospital and pay for the bill. The school takes care of the whole family.

Q: What about the parents?

A: The school helps empower the parents – most of the supplies of the school (e.g., food, cereals, water) we give tender to our parents to be able to uplift them. It empowers them and encourages them to participate in their children’s education and upbringing.

Q: What is the greatest need of the program?

A: The greatest need is money because everything we are doing requires money – for instance for uniforms, food, shoes -- so that we can be able to meet the needs of the children plus the parents plus the staff members.

Q: What are your future goals or vision of the program?

A: My future vision is to have a primary school because most of our children when they leave our school they go to public schools nearby Kibera where the ratio of child to teacher is 100 to 1. In St. Vincent’s we have 1 teacher per 25 kids. So when they go where there is a ratio of t to 100, it is so big for the teacher to attend to each and every child especially because children have different learning abilities. At our school we give quality education. When children in our community don’t qualify to go to public [primary] schools (e.g., because they lack birth certificate), they go to schools which are not registered and that do not have qualified teachers. In these schools, there is one room with three combined classes and one teacher. So we feel the quality of the education goes down.  

Q: Is there anything else you want to share with our donors?

A: The future of St. Vincent’s is to reach more children in the slum. The slum is becoming bigger and bigger and the children are there and need our help. 

Teacher Alice at Sports Day
Teacher Alice at Sports Day


Aug 6, 2015

An Interview with Dennis

Dennis, age 19 years
Dennis, age 19 years

St. Vincent’s rescue center is currently home to 20 children ages 7 to 21 years old. This interview was conducted with one of our youth, Dennis, aged 19 years. Originally from Muranga County (a few hours north of Nairobi), Dennis been with our rescue center since 2010. A recent high school graduate, he is waiting to start university at the beginning of 2016. We asked Dennis questions about education and life in Kibera to give you - our donors - a sense of the potential of youth in Kibera and the challenges they face in reaching their life goals.


Q: Where did you go to secondary school?

A: Olkejuado High School

Q: When did you graduate?

A: November 2014

Q: What are you doing now?

A: I am taking a short term course in computer programming at Tunapanda institute [in Kibera]. It’s scheduled for three months. I attend classes on weekdays from 9am to 6 pm.

Q: How did you get involved in the computer course?

A: I learned about it from a friend who is also involved in it.

Q: What are you learning in the course?

A: I am learning python - a computer programming course - and 3D painting

Q: Are you enjoying the course?

A: Sure I am. Am doing what I love.

Q: Why do you like computer programming?

A: It's fun. I enjoy it because I can make games using languages that I learn and it's fun

Q: What do you want to do in the future?

A: I want to do programming and study computer science, but that won't be possible for now.

Q: Why won't it be possible?

A: I have been selected [at a Kenyan university] to study another course different from the one that I want and I have to take it. The government selects for you a course and then you have to study that. After high school when you have attained a pass mark, they will give you a loan to study a course in the University and they select a course for you. You repay the loan with interest after you are done with school and have a job.

Q: What course were you placed in?

A: Bachelor of Science in innovation management technology.

Q: Do you have to go to that university?

A: I have to because I received no other choice to get to university.

Q: What would be your dream job?

A: I don't think I’d like to work for anyone. I would like to build my own software. I have an idea of developing an app to solve a problem in our country.

Q: Can you tell us what your app idea is?

A: Not for now. I'm still working on it. I'm still learning the basics, so I have to learn more before I can bring the idea to life.

Q: How are you going to reach your goals?

A: I will have to take the course [that was selected for me] and then I can continue learning [computers/IT] in my free time.

Q: What do you think about the education system in Kenya?

A: It's pathetic. It's the worse you can have because of exams. When you are in school, the teacher tells you that you are supposed to do this because it will be in the exams. It's all based on the exams. In the final exam, you take it for a month. You are tested on what you have learned over the past four years in that one month and that's not good. They should grade you for your performance over the four years. There are no practicals. You can't solve real life problems with what you learn in schools, you are only taught to pass exams. 

Q: What do you like about living in Kibera?

A: I like the people around me. They show me that I'm still worth something. Whenever I go down into the slum, I feel a sense of belonging. Someday I would want to do something for my community. People are nice in the slum. I have friends in the slum. I enjoy playing games with them. Sometimes I share with them what they go through. It makes me feel like part of them.

Q: If there is one thing you could change about Kibera, what would it be?

A: I would change the education - the way people study. I would teach them to be creative. And I would change the way they think about life. For example, the National Youth Service was working in Kibera and they would clean the streets in the morning and when you would come back [in the evening] you wouldn't be able to see their work. I want to do something about it in my future if I can.

Q: What would you want to do specifically about the garbage problem?

A: I would give people civic education and I would develop systems for them to manage the litter. I would also want to teach youth computer skills and programming so that they can help solve problems.

Q: What do you think is biggest misconception about Kibera?

A: People think it's the dumbest place in the world. People think it's the worst place to live, but I think it's the best. The people here are good.


Jun 15, 2015

St. Vincent's Ensures Access to HIV Testing

In Kibera, it is estimated that approximately 20% of people are living with HIV. This is much greater than the approximate 4% of people living with HIV in the greater Kenyan population.

In response to this health concern, St. Vincent's orchestrates HIV testing for all newly admitted children to our nursery school on an annual basis. The goal of this testing is to enable St. Vincent's and the families we serve to know the health status of our children and ultimately to monitor and support the health of all children under our care.

In collaboration with the Lea Toto health clinic, 29 newly admitted nursery school children received a rapid HIV test this year. In advance of the testing, parents/caretakers participated in a counseling/information session with our nursery school administration team to learn about the importance of testing and knowing their children's status, to share information about the necessary care for HIV-positive children and to discuss the importance of good nutrition, particularly for children living with HIV. This counseling is essential for preparing parents and gaining buy-in for the testing, as there still exists a stigma associated with HIV in our community. This stigma has previously led some parents to deny their children's HIV status for fear of rejection in the community. When this occurs, children do not receive adequate care for their HIV status. Following testing, St. Vincent's works with families of HIV-positive children to help them accept the results, understand how to care for their children (e.g., recognizing symptoms of opportunistic infections, accessing proper nutrition, etc.) and seek medical care early.

This year, we are so grateful that all of our children tested negative for HIV. We hope that this is symbolic of the ongoing efforts in the community to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV in Kibera.


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