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

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.     

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

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