St. Catherine’s Primary School is situated in Nairobi South “b” area. It was set up in the early 2000s to encourage children from the slum to get an education. The school has had its challenges: land grabbing is common in Kenya and at one point locally respected, Irish nun, Sr Mary Killeen, stood in front of a line of riot police with tear gas to save the school. In 2013/14 a beautiful new school was built by the Niall Mellon foundation.

Currently the school has around 1500 students, all living in the Mukuru slum. Shortly after the school was set up another Irish Sister, Sr. Barbara, set up The Mercy Institute Support Service. There are many barriers for children to attend school, this office was set up to address them through the following projects.

To help those from Mukuru Slum as best as we can in a way that is sustainable and does not create dependency.

Mercy Institute Support Service Projects

Education

Families are supported to take in and care for orphan children through food and clothing assistance as well as counselling support and follow-up home visits. In 2011 35 families are assisted to take in 60 orphans.

Some children cannot afford to attend St Catherine’s Primary School (despite it being a low fee of approximately 4000ksh per year/ €40). These children are sponsored through by the office. 55 children received sponsorship for this in 2014.

Many graduates of St Catherine’s Primary School also cannot afford further education. In 2014 around 98 children were given financial support to go to skills training, second-level education and even third-level education.

Health

The pupils attending St Catherine’s Primary School receive lunch and breakfast each school day. Without these the children are not able to concentrate in school.

Currently there are 40 families also given food assistance, including those part of the Orphan Support Program. They are supplied with maize meal, beans, cooking oil and salt sometimes they are given rice and green grams if they have been donated to the office. When it is needed the office also gives out food during the holidays, a time when children can go hungry fromt eh lack of school meals. Recurring families are encouraged to start businesses, through other programs.

Some pupils are referred to the social support office for extra assistance. Home visits are carried out to establish the child’s situation. Sometimes mothers are referred to partner organisations (such as MSDP) to receive training in income generating skills. Other times, family members may need health/ medical assistance.

Amaranth is a food supplement containing high levels of protein, carbohydrates, omega 3, soya and vitamins. It is given to clients suffering from HIV, TB, and chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and anemia. The amaranth boosts their ammune system, giving them the energy to carry out their day-to-day lives. Every client who has been assigned the amaranth has confessed they are much better after just a number of weeks.

The office also gives amaranth to malnourished babies and young children. September 2011, 50 babies and young children were identified to be suffering from malnutrition and where provided with amaranth, maize meal, beans, salt and mafuta. For babies too small to take amaranth, the office supplies a milk powder.

In 2014 there were 173 clients in the program.

Financial assistance is given to children who are sick in hospital and their families cannot afford the bills. The family must put forward 50% of the cost and then the office subsidizes the rest.

Emergency Relief

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Fires in slums are frequent, often started by dangerous connections to electricity cables or unattended cooking stoves or arguments between spouses. The dense housing of slums causes the fire to spread very fast. Since the roads are too small or non-existent, emergency vehicles cannot assist. Sometimes villagers can put it out with their own community response, other times someone must volunteer to knock down their house before the fire arrives to create a gap that it cannot pass.

A large fire broke out in March 2011. It was thought to be the second largest fire to have happened in the slum, affecting approximately 10,000 people (over half of the slum).

Victims of these fires receive mattresses, clothes, food, blankets and cooking utensils from the Social Support Office. They are also temporarily assisted with rent for a new house or capital to start a new business.

There are also the everyday emergencies, such as unaffordable hospital fees for badly needed operations.

In 2009 many IDPs arrived in Nairobi to escape the post-election violence. The office assisted them with food, bedding, clothing and capital to set up a business.

The Langata Women’s Prison is visited to give out badly needed resources to the prisoners, such as toilet paper, Vaseline, and soap, which are not provided by the government. They are almost the only organization who provides this service and they give to every woman. These women are often locked up without their family members or relatives knowing. Many cannot afford legal representation and may have to wait for a very long time before their case goes to trial. Most of the women never receive visitors and are very isolated so this visit once a month really boosts their morale.

Economic Empowerment

The parents generally work casual jobs and do not always have money to buy food or pay rent. The social office will give up to 2-3 months’ rent for such families.If the client has a business background or are deemed fit to rum one the office can help them to set up a small business. This is an important and effective pat of the office’s assistance as it allows the clients to lead sustainable lives and it does not create dependency.

Africa Direct & St Catherine’s Primary School

The Mercy Institute Support Office

We support many different projects including Emergency Relief for fire victims in the 2011 Mukuru Slum Fires.