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.
In the packed slum of Kibera, it is quite rare for children to have the opportunity to participate in organized sports. With the help of St. Vincent's, 14 children are getting a unique chance to learn and play tennis. For the past 6 years, St. Vincent's has supported children to participate in weekly lessons with Coach Joe in Nairobi. The participating children come both from St. Vincent's Rescue Center, as well as from St. Vincent's community outreach activities. In addition to its physical benefits, the tennis program offers children the chance to have fun while acquiring confidence skills and a sense of commitment and pride all in a protected setting.
One of these tennis athletes is 12-year old, Grace, who has grown up with St. Vincent's. A graduate of our Nursery School, Grace and her family continue to receive support from St. Vincent's as part of our community outreach program. Grace lives with her mother and sister who was permanently injured several years ago in a train accident that took her left leg. With extremely limited access to resources for children with disabilities available in Kibera, Grace's mother struggles to care for her girls while simultaneously earning enough money to attend to the girls' basic needs. St. Vincent's support enables Grace to attend school and to participate in the tennis team, despite her mother's inability to pay fees.
Upon being introduced to tennis, Grace quickly developed a love for the game. She joined the tennis program from the outset and has been an active member of her team for the past six years, during which she has honed her skills in the game. In December, Grace was invited to join the team at a tournament in Mombasa, 480 km from Kibera. With St. Vincent's support, Grace was able to participate in the tournament. Toting a trophy in her hands, Grace proudly returned to St. Vincentt's following the tournament to report on her adventure and of course, to show off her trophy!
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