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.
Dec 18, 2015

Kill Me Quick: Alcoholism and Parenting in Kibera

Changaa Brewer in Kibera. Photo Credit: Reuters
Changaa Brewer in Kibera. Photo Credit: Reuters

They call it changaa, which means 'kill me quick'. It is an illegal brew served up all over Kibera and its effects are devastating households, and more specifically the children living in them. It was mid-morning this past August and I was working at St. Vincent's Nursery School in Kibera where I spent three months on fellowship. Most often, I worked hidden in the back office plugging away on my computer, only with interruptions for tea and from boisterous young children in bright red uniforms and black shoes covered in red dust and peeking in out of curiosity of my laptop. On this morning, I had a different kind of interruption. A child came to the door and asked me to join our Head Teacher, Alice, in her office a few yards away. I left what I was doing to find out what Alice needed. Upon entering her office, I found her at her desk, listening intently to a parent. This woman was the mother of Deborah, a child from our school. The smell of alcohol was immediately detected despite the early hour. Deborah's mother was screaming and crying trying explain her story, her face badly swollen. She loudly detailed for us the fight she had been in the night before at the local bar, curious, young children peeping in to see what the commotion was about. Deborah's mother then motioned to the black plastic bag sitting on Alice's desk. She lamented that it was all she could afford to feed her children for dinner that night. Alice encouraged me to open it. Inside, I found rotting chicken intestines. Deborah's mother was able to get them for free from the local butcher. It was all she could While I understand the effects of addiction and the tendency to put one's need for alcohol in front of other very pressing needs, in that moment, I had a hard time understanding how this belligerent mother was able to afford alcohol the night before and yet, not have enough to buy food for Deborah and her siblings the very next night. It seemed incomprehensible and more than unfair. Alice explained that it is common practice in the local bars in Kibera to allow patrons to drink on credit and collect payment in the form of in-kind goods or as soon as patrons get paid. This works well in Kibera where most people are unemployed and find occasional day labor from time to time. The numbness of the changaa high helps people escape from the idleness, poverty and inability to put food on the table for their families. And it is cheap to get drunk off of changaa. But it comes with big risks. Not only does it incapacitate those that consume it and make it impossible for them to get work, to make money, or to buy food for their children, it is also often laced with methanol or other addictive chemicals that commonly cause deaths and blindness of those who consume it. It was hard to get the sight and smell of the rotting chicken intestines out of my mind. One week later, I saw Deborah, sullen and small, walking down the road by herself after school. I wondered what she would be going home to that night. It was too difficult to imagine. The children served by St. Vincent's are the most vulnerable in the community. Unfortunately, Deborah and her mother's story are not unique among the families we serve. In fact, we work to specifically select children like Deborah to bring into our school as they are most in need of our help. We then work with parents/caregivers to bring about change in the home through counseling of parents, home visits to monitor the welfare of children, provision of food to households and assistance to parents to start businesses. As we work to make change in the household, we provide children with two nutritious meals each day that keep them physically strong and offer a safe and secure environment where they get respite during each day from the troubles they may find at home.

Dec 1, 2015

What's Most Needed Isn't Always Most Glamorous

Over the past couple of months, we have been working to raise funds through Global Giving to be able to hire a much needed counselor to work with the orphans and vulnerable children we serve in Kibera. We have done this in several ways: by creating a project on Global Giving; by budgeting a portion of the salary for the counselor in proposals; and by talking to potential donors about the great need.

Unfortunately, our project on Global Giving hasn't attracted much support. In fact, we have received just 1 donation. Our initial concern of posting a project to pay for a salary -- albeit a hugely important one -- has thus far been realized. We know it is hard to attract support to pay salaries and also hard to attract funding for mental health services as they may not seem as needed as food or education.

But we haven't given up. We know it takes staff to actually provide services to our children. And we know that mental health services - particularly for children who have experienced abuse - are vital. These services are critical for helping children to overcome past trauma and abuse and grow into healthy adults. So we continue to talk about this great need.

We are thrilled to be able to report that through a grant competition with Global Giving UK, we have raised about half of the funds needed for the counselor. And we are underway with talks with a small foundation that would support another portion of the salary over the next year. We are hopeful that by the beginning of the year, we will have earned enough to cover the salary for the 2016 calendar year. In the meantime, we are going to continue to publicize our project and talk to as many people as we can about the great need for such services for the vulnerable children that we serve.


Dec 1, 2015

The Ups, The Downs and the In-Betweens

Managing a household responsible for the lives of the 20+ children that call St. Vincent's Rescue Center home is no easy task. Every day requries constant effort and attention to ensure that the children we care for --- children who have been through so much trauma in their short lives --- have what it takes to succeed. 

Our House Mother, Grace, and our board members manage the various needs of our home. This means much more than merely feeding the children, maintaining our rescue house facility and sending the children to school. It means too, ensuring HIV+ children get their medication, managing new children coming into our home, reintegrating children to their families, ensuring protection of children who come to us from abusive households and going to court for cases of abuse of children now under our care, working with the government to address land rights issues of children in our care and enduring the long process of getting birth certificates for children without them, among many others.

2015 has been good proof of the ups and downs that we navigate as we manage our household and care for children's complicated needs. We have faced challenges in transitioning children into secondary school after changes in the government system left three of our children without a school, devised activities for children to continue learning in the face of a 5-week teacher strike, managed the situation of a runaway teen, supported a child whose best friend drowned during a class trip he was also on and provided care to two sisters placed with us by the government after their stepfather attempted to kill them. While our scope of work -- providing care to 20 children -- may seem small, the challenges we face are not.

Also this year, our team was faced with the task of finding a conducive learning environment for one of our children who has a serious learning disability. Alice* has been with us for six years after she was found abandoned in a local market at the age of 7 or 8 with not a single known family member. When she first came to us, she could not even speak to tell us her name, let alone read or write. Over the last six years, we have been working with Alice to understand her learning challenges and help find the support and environment needed for her to succeed. Supporting children in Kenya with physical or mental health disabilities is a serious challenge as almost no resources exist. We get no support from the government to help address the specific needs of children like Alice.

For the past two years, Alice had been in a boarding school where she was gaining practical skills, but we observed that her learning had stalled and she still could not read or write. We felt she was capable of more given the right environment. So we took her for another medical assessment this year and received a referral to a day school in Nairobi where we enrolled her. One of our older children takes her to school each morning and our house helper, Anastasia, picks her up at the end of each day. Since May of this year, Alice is enjoying the gift of a talented teacher trained to work with students with disabilities and we are seeing good progress. She is increasingly vocal and has even begun to write! 

There is never an end to the challenges of running our home. We take each one as they come and do our best with the resources available to continue providing care to each child in light of their individual needs.

*Alice is the name used in this report to protect the identity of the child under our care.     

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