Stay awake to hear the voices of those who need you

During the recent school holidays, my wife, Alison, and I led an immersion to Kesheni which was facilitated by local Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders members in Kenya. Appropriately, Kesheni means ‘stay awake’ in Swahili.

Participants travelled to Nairobi, Kenya, and visited a variety of Catholic agencies including the Kurt Fearnley Centre, the Mary Rice Centre for handicapped children and the Women for Women Centre.

The immersion was a leadership experience for adults encompassing ministry in East Africa and providing participants the opportunity to be immersed in the work of the Catholic Church, its energetic patrons and wonderfully generous volunteers.

A Kesheni welcome liturgy included African singing and commissioning with the traditional water and flour placed on our hands. It provided the chance for the Kenyans to meet the immersion participants and for Alison and I to catch up with good friends on this, our eighth trip.

Kibera is the largest slum in the world, thus we began there. We spent the day at the Ruben School, leaving early to hear beautiful singing by the clinic nurses and staff. Each day they sing in wonderful harmonies for each patient they treat.

The clinic sees 250,000 mothers and babies per year. Alison will be staying on at Ruben for another two months completing a research project on the feasibility of introducing a 24-hour delivery suite for mothers having their babies.

Kesheni 2017 participants were given the choice to spend quality time in classrooms in one of the various centres, or working in micro finance projects for adults, including beading, charcoal brick making, fish and chicken raising, vegetable operation, honey making and clothing making.

The group saw a real community-focused school, an oasis in a slum of one million people. It also runs community education on clean water, sex education, family planning, nutrition and food programs.

Ruben leader, Br Frank O’Shea, accompanied by local police, took us on a slum walk, pointing out the challenges the locals endure, including pollution, raw sewage and poverty leading to violence, rape, spread of HIV, malnutrition and disease.

We saw the devastating effect of the rubbish blocking the river. Mounds of plastic and garbage block the flow of raw sewage which is stagnant, mosquito-ridden and full of disease. The smoke from fires used to burn plastic was rancid and made breathing difficult. We visited several families and left gifts of rice, sugar, tea and salt for each family.

During their time in Kesheni, participants explored the various ministries empowering communities through programs in education, advocacy, human rights, youth camps, health and socio-economic services for children and their families.

We drove to Otiende to Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute. This ministry, one of three facilities in Nairobi for people with severe disabilities, caters for 67 females aged 14-35. Most are bed-bound or wheelchair-bound; some have multiple disabilities.

There are some 40 carers working with nine Sisters. They are led by Sr Gonzola from Calcutta, who has a disability herself. We made beds, cleaned bedrooms, washed wheelchairs and cleaned out the drains. We presented the sisters with rice, oil, sugar, tea and salt. This is a new component of the program, the result of our meeting a young woman, Shelagh from Edmund Rice Karibu, who volunteered last year at an Edmund Rice Camp.

Whilst being immersed in the African culture, participants enjoyed the cuisine, lifestyle and wildlife, including a day-long visit to a wild life game reserve to see the ‘big four’.

The immersion is a significant personal and professional opportunity which helps individuals to develop a sense of personal spirituality, leadership, interpersonal skills, inspiration and engagement with those impoverished and disempowered. It gives each participant an opportunity to become an agent for change in his/her community and motivate others to support those less fortunate, here and overseas.

Michael Slattery is Director, Catholic Schools Office. Edmund Rice founded the Christian Brothers and today his name is linked to a variety of ministries. In 2018 teachers in diocesan schools will have the opportunity to participate in a similar program.

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Dr Michael Slattery

Dr Michael Slattery is the Director of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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