Project #4168

Educate and Feed 85 At-Risk Kids in Kibera, Kenya

by St. Vincent de Paul Community Development Organization
St. Vincent
St. Vincent's Nursery School Lunch Time

If you ask the teachers and parents at St. Vincent's Nursery School, they will tell you that one of the most important reasons that parents and caregivers send their children to our school is for the two meals they receive each day.

The typical St. Vincent parent/caregiver earns less than $2 per day. With this, they must feed their families (which on average consist of 5 people), pay rent and children's school fees, cover public transport fees (for those that work outside Kibera) and unexpected medical costs and pay for an array of other typical living expenses. It is easy to see why food is so constrained in these Kibera households. That is why children line up at 6am at the gates of our nursery school each day, eager for breakfast, as it is typically the first meal they have had since the lunch we fed them the day before.

Once in our doors, we are then able to provide children with other critically needed early childhood development services that help them to be grow happily and healthily. This includes early education and developmental play, health care services such as routine deworming and HIV testing, and ongoing protection and care. 

Please click here to check out our new video on St. Vincent's Nursery School Feeding Program. We would like to thank Gregory Walsh and The Forgotten International for helping us produce this video.

To learn more about St. Vincent's, visit our website at And don't forget to like us on Facebook @ St. Vincent's Nursery School and Rescue Center.


St. Vincent
St. Vincent's Nursery School Children at Recess

Could you support your family on $4 per day?

This is how much the typical parent of a St. Vincent’s Nursery School child earns --- and this is when times are good. Considering that work in Kibera is inconsistent, many parents go days without being able to work. This is compounded by the fact that most children from St. Vincent’s Nursery School come from households with sick parents who cannot do heavy tasks due to poor health status, thus leaving the entire burden of income generation to one parent.

With this amount of money, St. Vincent’s parents are unable to provide adequately for their children. These children do not get proper health check-ups or receive medical attention when they are sick. At home, skipping breakfast and dinner is highly prevalent among children. When food is available, it is of low nutritious value. Moreover, children fail to get proper exercise in the cramped slum of Kibera. Without intervention, all of these factors negatively affect children’s physical development, but also their education starting from their early years. Children are unable to concentrate or carry out normal activities and are often absent from school due to illness and fatigue.

St. Vincent’s comprehensive program provides two quality and nutritious meals to each of our 85 children daily. Each morning, our teachers check in with children to get the ‘morning news’. Any child who comes from home without having breakfast, complaining of stomach ache or how they had nothing to eat the previous night are always given a cup of porridge before they start the normal daily school activities.  Each afternoon, the children receive a hearty lunch that comprises fruits, vegetables, grains and meat throughout the week prepared by our cook, Doris. This meal must often last children until the next morning when they come to school. In addition, St. Vincent’s sends any child with medical issues to a local clinic and covers all of the associated costs. These health and nutrition activities keep St. Vincent’s children healthy and ready to learn and grow. They are essential to the overall development of the child at a time when children are at their most important development stage. 

Head Teacher Alice with St. Vincent
Head Teacher Alice with St. Vincent's Nursery Kids
Waiting for recess
Waiting for recess
Housekeeper Beatrice with Children
Housekeeper Beatrice with Children
New Preschool Students Before Uniform Disbursement
New Preschool Students Before Uniform Disbursement

The St. Vincent’s school year starts in early January, after a long Christmas holiday which begins in mid-November. Having such a long period away, returning children look forward to coming back to our preschool where they will receive daily meals and opportunities to learn and play.

The beginning of the year also sees the addition of new children to our baby class. After home visits and a rigorous interview process to identify the most vulnerable and needy children in Kibera, St. Vincent’s must make difficult decisions about which children to admit to our preschool. Each year, we receive about 100 applicants for the 25 available slots in our baby class. As in years past, St. Vincent’s selected 28 children for this year’s incoming class due to the overwhelming number of children in need and seeking our services in Kibera.

The newly admitted children are always impressive and a spectacular lot to interact with when they are still new. Coming from very challenging backgrounds whereby most basic needs are not affordable and sanitation facilities are unavailable, it is very interesting and impressive to watch and experience how the young ones learn their new school environment and adapt quickly. Their first few days are always hectic and confusion runs throughout the day. The kids have to be toilet trained from scratch since most of them have never used modern toilets before. They also have to be trained to sit still in class, as well as be taught the basic table etiquette (as they do not have tables in their homes). It doesn’t take long before the new kids catch up with the rest of our children though. After just two weeks in school, an average visitor may not be able to differentiate between the newly admitted children with the rest other than with their obviously tiny body size.

It is a very warm feeling to see the gleam in the children’s eyes when given their first ever school uniform. They won’t even let their peers touch them with the fear that they may either make them dirty or crease them.  Another spectacle to watch from the new children is the enthusiasm they show when participating in co curriculum activities like outdoor games, nursery rhymes and watching cartoons. Considering that for most, if not all, the children this is their first time being exposed to this kind of learning and play, hence they always put their best effort in performing them.

As the Head Teacher of the preschool, it is very rewarding to get feedback from the parents concerning the development of their children. It does not only tell us what we are doing well, but where we can also improve as our major aim is to see the children grow holistically. For the short period that the kids have been with us this year, we have received plenty of positive feedback that gives us strength to continue. It is also fulfilling to encounter and be part of immediate transformation of a child from one stage to the next.

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.

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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Organization Information

St. Vincent de Paul Community Development Organization

Location: P.O. BOX 56486-00200, Nairobi - Kenya
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Lucy Kayiwa
Nairobi, Kenya

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