Project #5584

Safety, Shelter & Food 4 Vulnerable Kids in Kibera

by St. Vincent de Paul Community Development Organization

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.     

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.


     St. Vincent’s Nursery School recently selected thirty vulnerable children in need of safety and shelter for the incoming

school year. These children range between the ages of three to seven years old and are selected by our school social

worker. New children are chosen from five surrounding villages within the slums of Kibera which include: Gatweka,

Soweto, Kianda, Kisumu ndogo and Riala. Interviews take place within the children’s homes as a part of the selection

process for admission. These interviews are conducted to provide us with useful information about children who get

admitted into our Nursery School.

     All of our children live under difficult circumstances and extreme poverty within the slum settlements. Most of the

children that are accepted into our Nursery School have been orphaned, often due to HIV/AIDS, or have experienced

abuse and neglect in their homes. Fortunately, these children now have access to two nutritious meals a day, a better

education and medical attention. St. Vincent strives to give children a safe and loving environment while giving them the

hope and the determination to pursue a higher education. The new members of our Nursery School are very happy to

have found a safe learning environment where they can get the attention and the love they need.

This month, St. Vincent's launched a new microproject on Global Giving to raise funds for a holiday camp for the children we support. During the months of December and January, both children from our rescue center and children receiving scholarship support will be invited to participate in this camp, where they will learn about life skills and financial literacy. Children will discuss among their peers topics such as HIV prevention, health promotion, peer pressure, communication skills and have the chance to ask questions, and practice skills through activities like role plays and dramas. Children will be empowered with information on child protection and opportunities to practice difficult communication skills, for example, saying 'no' to sex. Financial literacy sessions will start to prepare children around topics like savings and budgeting to help prepare them for the future. 

The camp is designed to equip children with the information and skills to make healthy life decisions. This is not so easy for children in Kibera who face difficult conditions that limit their ability to lead safe and healthy lives: high rates of poverty and orphanhood, HIV prevalence estimated at 17% (compared to 4% prevalence in Kenya), and soaring rates of violence against children, including alarming rates of sexual violence. With little information availed in schools and topics of HIV and reproductive health still being taboo, children often lack critical knowledge and skills that enable them to make informed decisions.

Check out the project here.


The rescue centre was established 12 years ago to provide emergency care to children who have experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment. The goal of the centre is to create a safe space for children where they receive care and protection in the short term, while we work with government social services, other community partners and families to identify long term care options for children.

Our approach is grounded in the African custom of extended families caring for children who have lost parents. Yet, the reality on the ground particularly in Kibera makes this difficult to achieve. Extremely hard hit by poverty and HIV, which has affected extended families ability to care for children, Kibera is also unique as people have come from rural homelands to find work -- moving far away from family. This makes it difficult to find family members that actually know the child and are willing and able to care for him/her. As a result, St. Vincent's has often found itself unable to find viable, safe, long term care options for children that come under our care.

Despite this challenge, St. Vincent's still prioritizes family reunification through a more gradual process. We work to identify family members (immediate or extended) and help to build bonds between them and the child. We do this by talking with families about their ability to provide care, arranging for the child to make visits with family members during school breaks and by inviting family members to visit the child at our centre. Sometimes this leads to a child going to live with their family, with continued support from St. Vincent's (e.g., paying school fees). Most often though, the children stay living in our centre and we aim to build relationships so that when the child comes of age and leaves our care, he/she will have in place a network of support. Each step of the way, we prioritize the wellbeing of the children by doing our due diligence to assess the safety of the child during visits and by giving children a voice about visits and about their care situation.

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Organization Information

St. Vincent de Paul Community Development Organization

Location: P.O. BOX 56486-00200, Nairobi - Kenya
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Lucy Kayiwa
L.R. No. P.O. BOX, Nairobi Kenya