The suburb of Mukuru is home to about 600,000 people. This area, which is experiencing severe urban decay, grows around the financial centre of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. Right there in the suburb, the Sisters of Mercy have set up the Mukuru Promotion Centre (MPC).
Dicson’s house was flooded again a few days ago. The young Kenyan has lost count of how many times water has come in through the rusty brass entrance door of his house, damaging everything that was inside. However, he’s now more prepared.
Each morning, before leaving home to go in search for work, he puts all his belongings on his bed in order to protect them from water. Dicson lives in Mukuru, a slum that houses 600,000 people. They live in substandard shacks mainly made of mud, brass and corrugated iron.
The Mukuru slum was built on the banks of the Ngong River. The Ngong River narrows as the slum grows, although sometimes, when it rains heavily, the river reclaims the land and causes landslides that move the shacks close to the shore.
It rains daily and heavily. “In October rains were supposed to stop, but they did not last year, and so several schools were closed because they were flooded,” says Sister Mary Killeen of the Sisters of Mercy.
“The Ngong River is increasingly dirty and contaminated”, says the Irish nun. She puts the blame on the lack of political action to stop the pollution of rivers and air. The victims of the contamination affecting the slum arrive every day at the clinic of Mary Immaculate, which was also established by the Sisters of Mercy in order to meet the health needs of the most vulnerable population. “Every month we take care of more than 1,200 people, most of whom are affected by respiratory, gastrointestinal and digestive diseases”. Diseases caused by environmental factors such as poor sanitation, lack of access to drinking water, no waste collection and the burning of kerosene and coal for cooking.
Mukuru is a place where poverty is perceived with all five senses: people can see it, hear it, smell it, touch it and taste it. The people who arrive here are those who try to escape from an uncertain future by moving to Nairobi in search of the Promised Land.
Many of them flee from tribal conflicts and clashes over land, livestock or political power. Others flee from hunger due to scarcity of food as a consequence of drought. “In Kenya, the desert is advancing rapidly, and some green land has turned into desert over recent years, so many people abandon their land in search of a better life in Nairobi. The problem is that they are not skilled enough to find a job that can guarantee them a decent standard of life, and so they end up living in a slum,” Sister Mary explains.
“Mukuru is the place of those who have been forgotten by the establishment and society. Despite all this we have been able to verify that life is present in every street and in every corner of the slum. Despite all the difficulties you can see people laughing, dancing, chatting, cooking and making all kind of garments by using sewing machines.”
Sister Mary Killeen has been living in Kenya for over 40 years. She and the other nuns of the Sisters of Mercy have been accompanying the poorest and of Mukuro for decades. The Sister’s main objective is to educate children, thus saving them from a potential life of drugs, violence and prostitution.
While entering the narrow alleys of the slum, she tells us that since 1985, the slum has grown rapidly and so has the number of out-of-school children. “That is why we had to intervene quickly, because children who do not go to school end up in the street getting involved with drugs or becoming victims of child prostitution,” Sister Mary Killen explains. “We had neither land nor money to build schools. But thanks to the parish priest and the help of other people, we were able to establish six temporary schools.” This happened in the early 90s, those schools are still functioning today in the different areas of the slum and are attended by more than 10,000 students every day.
Over the years many other projects have been implemented by these nuns, such as a secondary school, education activities for adults, reintegration and support programs for street children, a care centre for children with different disabilities, a vocational training centre, a clinic and three mobile units. The Mukuru Promotion Centre has become a centre of attention and development.