From Head of Conlon House, Catherine O’Sullivan
At the end of last year, I was very fortunate to be able to participate, along with teachers from other Edmund Rice schools across Australia, on an immersion to Kenya and Ireland.
In Nairobi, we were able to visit a number of programs and projects supported by Edmund Rice Foundation Australia. These programs are primarily based in the poorest areas of the city; the Kibera Slum (largest urban slum in Africa) covering an area of approximately 2.5 square kilometres with a population of over one million people, and Mukuru Slum, which is located in an industrial area of Nairobi.
In Kibera, we spent a day with the children and families at The Mary Rice Centre. The centre supports children with disabilities by teaching basic learning, vocational and therapy skills as well as running outreach programs. They also support the parents of the children through skill training and income-generating activities in beadwork, tailoring and dressmaking. It was very inspiring to witness the passion and dedication of the teachers; their love for the children and their desire to make a positive difference to the lives of their students and their families.
Another full day in Kibera was spent with children and young adults at a day camp run by Edmund Rice Camps Karibu – Karibu means ‘Welcome’ in Kiswahili. These camps, just like Eddie’s Camps in Australia are designed to give the children time away from the pressures of poverty. The kids have the opportunity to do things that they cannot do at home; play freely, run in open spaces, meet kids from other parts of Kibera and for a short time at least feel safe and forget the hardships of their lives. The adult mentors, who were also from Kibera had all once attended the camps themselves and now enjoyed the opportunity to give something back to their community.
We also had the chance to visit Wanawake Kwa Wanawake (WkW) which translates to Women for Women, in Kibera. This is an Australian Not-for-Profit charity which has evolved from its initial starting point of helping women, to a more dominant purpose of helping to educate children from Kibera who otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend school. It was a very humbling experience meeting the women and many of the children and young adults who are attending school, and in some cases post-secondary courses as a result of WkW. They all expressed incredible hope and gratitude for the opportunities they now have to change their lives and potentially the lives of their families.
We spent a full day at The Ruben Centre which is a true oasis of hope for the people living in the Mukuru community of Nairobi. The centre, under the direction of Br. Frank O’Shea is a dynamic centre of action and industry striving for an empowered and just Mukuru community. The centre provides; a primary school for 2,700 students, a Health centre which includes a maternity unit and a baby care centre so that mothers have a safe place to leave their children when they go out to find work, and skills training programs such as courses in Urban Agriculture and weaving, Advocacy and Networking programs such as running a community radio station which not only entertains but also provides valuable information and education to the local community.
The pleasure and pride shown by the smiles and laughter on the children’s and their teacher’s faces was infectious.
I was not prepared by how touched I would be by my experience in Nairobi. I feel very blessed that I have had the opportunity to visit and meet so many amazing and beautiful people. Whilst there is great suffering and hardship there was always so much hope for the future.
Ireland was no less of an experience, though a slightly more familiar one. Whilst there, we followed the path of Edmund’s life – from his birth in Callan to Waterford where he challenged the prevailing thinking that the poor did not need education and he set up the first schools for poor young boys, and finally to Dublin where Edmund lived out his final days. A highlight in Ireland was being able to visit three Edmund Rice Schools, Christian Brothers, Cork, Waterpark co-ed High School, Waterford and Singhe St high in Dublin.
One of my enduring memories of this immersion will be the wonderful welcomes and hospitality that we received in both Nairobi and Ireland. In Kenya, our welcome could be a song, a dance or being surrounded by a large group of kids with beaming smiles. In Ireland, it was a handshake and never being able to leave without first sharing a meal and a beverage.