from the Newsletter of the Ursuline Fund
for Kenya ~ Winter 2006
is an extended update from the Kenyan coal-face.
Our sisters work to help those help themselves,
who have to struggle with poverty on a daily
basis. Sr. Clare Ursula Tobin, Regional
Leader, and proud daughter of Kilkenny,
wrote to us earlier this year.
spent a few hours in Kibera slum (in Nairobi).
It is the largest slum in Africa – 700 acres,
home to nearly one million people. It is
incredible and shocking: People milling
about in throngs. The smells, stench and
flies are overpowering.
one-roomed houses on top of each other are
separated by an open sewer which flows into
the river, which, in turn, is fouled up
with all kinds of garbage. The rows of washing
hang from roof to roof across the narrow
visited schools there too however, which
are oases of cleanliness, happiness and
life in the midst of sheer desperation.
With the donations you gave me, I was able
to offer some help toward the projects there:
food for AIDS orphans, and for mothers on
AIDS treatment, fresh water for ill families,
and medical care for those in greatest need.
have been in Kenya a long time, and have
seen Kibera from “a distance”. I must confess
that nothing had prepared me for the reality.
The rest of Kenya is battling with famine
and drought. It is cloudy these days, and
the high temperatures are a good sign that
rain is on the way. That is our prayer.
Some areas have not had rain for three seasons.
At every junction there is a collection
for money and food for the north, where
the people are worst hit.
between the wild-life (they have come out
of the National Parks in droves) and the
domestic animals (cows, goats, sheep) for
the scarce water-resources and scanty grazing
is causing more tension. Three people were
killed by wild animals a few weeks ago,
and twenty houses have been toppled by the
elephants in their search for grain. Even
here in Karen, (a suburb of Nairobi, named
after Karen Blixen, whose story was told
in the film: “Out of Africa”) the Maasai
(nomadic warrior-herdsmen) are everywhere.
When their animals can go no further, they
fall, so we see carcasses strewn by the
wayside. At a feeding camp recently, children
and monkeys were seen tussling for food.
The people of Kitui are surviving on the
mangoes. It is terrible to see last season’s
crop still in the fields, where it died
from drought before it bore fruit. Please
pray that the rains will come to all areas.
Our sisters are well: very busy helping
with famine relief and caring for the sick
and weak. Sr. Rose Wasike had a queue of
a hundred parents and sick children when
I called to see her in Kitui Hospital.
Margaret Mary O’Connell (Kerry woman, Tipp
woman, woman for all seasons!) is in great
form, even though she had a touch of Malaria
last week. She has a large First Year class
in her Polytechnic this year. I hope to
go to Turkana on Thursday D.V. The new schools
in Kitale, as well as those in Kanamkemer
and Lorugumu (Turkana) are doing well. The
Dispensaries are busy too, and they are
awaiting medical supplies as I write. We
hope to get them before Thursday, so we
can bring them up.
people are full of hope, despite much bad
news, and they look forward to the rains
coming. . . They are amazing! Your donations
and gifts to our work enable us to bring
relief to so many in different ways. On
behalf of all here, I want to thank you
for the privilege of being your “extended
arm”, and of seeing and experiencing the
joy and relief when help is given. All kinds
of blessings are bestowed on us!
love and gratitude, Sr. Clare Ursula Tobin
Now, a word about the “support services”
of the Ursuline Fund for Kenya
In Aug. Sr. Maire O’Donohoe and her guitar
sang and played on the streets of Cork.
There was a late-summer spirit of generosity
abroad, and for five hours of singing, she
and her accomplices (including Srs. Perpetua
Nyakundi, Sr. Eunice Ndana, and Sr. Jacinta
Kerubo) managed to harvest almost 830 euro.
It has gone, every last cent, to boost the
coffers of the Ursuline Kenya Fund. Every
In mid-September, The Irish Catholic newspaper
published an article on the Ursulines, by
the journalist, Sarah McDonald. It focused
on our work in Kenya, and told of the murder
of Ursuline sister, and teacher, Anna Nanjala
in the Turkana desert in 2004. There were
generous responses, both financial and prayerful,
from a number of readers.
The new database of the Fund finally got
up and running in the course of this past
year. It was a relief, and is proving itself
A final thought for when you have time for
“What lies behind us, and what
lies before us, are tiny matters indeed,
compared with what lies within us.” Oliver
of the Ursuline Trust Fund for Kenya Autumn/Winter
of Sr. Anne Marie Dixon on her first trip
to Kenya, Summer 2005, to visit her sister-Ursulines
is situated at approximately 6000 feet above
sea level, and usually has a mild climate.
But not this summer! I experienced it as
cold, wet and grey and was glad of my fleece!!
Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, named in honour
of Karen Blixen, of “Out of Africa” fame,
is both lovely and poverty-stricken by turns.
Here it is that Sr. Clare Ursula, the current
regional leader of the Ursulines in Kenya,
resides. Our house in Karen is a centre
of Formation and of Hospitality. Srs. Leah,
Perpetua, Pamela, Kevina live in the community
Pamela and Perpetua work in Formation with
the twenty-one Junior Professed sisters,
and the Novices.
Leah and Kevina are teaching in Forest School
in Nairobi. At the beginning of this academic
year Leah had 115 pupils in her class! It’s
hard to know whether to weep or to rejoice!
Education at primary level is often reduced
to an exercise in crowd control.
House, Kibomet, Kitale - St. Ursula’s Dispensary
2003, once the water-supply had, eventually,
been secured, building started on St. Ursula’s
Dispensary. In building the Dispensary local
home-cured building blocks were bought,
which gave local people much needed money
for school fees, and helped introduce the
sisters into the community. A Mother and
Child Care Programme is based today in the
Martha and Francisca are our sister-nurses
who work in the dispensary. Their work includes
visitation of schools for preventative and
curative assistance. There are many diseases
endemic in Kenya. These include Malaria,
Without the help that is so generously sent
from Ireland and elsewhere, our sisters
would simply be unable to continue their
work in the dispensary.
Alice teaches in this school. It is one
of the materially poorest schools in the
area. It has four permanent classrooms (i.e.
made of bricks) and five semi-permanent
classrooms (i.e. mudwalled) all with earthen
of the classrooms are extremely small in
relation to the number of pupils. There
are already 500 pupils in the school, and
the number is increasing each term due to
the policy of free primary education. Pupils
range in age between 4 and 20 years. There
is no age limit on admission. There are
even occasional pupils in their seventies
to be found, sitting alongside their more
junior classmates! Most of the pupils come
from very poor families, and are often bereft
of their parents, orphaned most frequently
due to HIV/AIDS. Grandmothers, in particular,
seek to sustain the lives of the children,
and give them structure, but they are often
ill-equipped by reason of age and poverty;
for Kenya cannot afford social insurance
for all, and the older women depend on the
increasingly fickle rains to enable them
work in the shambas to have food for the
little ones. There is usually no income
coming into the majority of such homes,
for the purchase of school books, class
materials or medication. Our sisters are
sometimes in a position to help subsidize
the poorest children, due to generous friends
in Ireland and elsewhere.
New Pre School Kitale
The building of the pre-school: two classrooms,
staff room, store room, office, and the
ubiquitous “long-drop” toilets, began in
2004. Again, the discovery of water after
a number of long and arduous digs, made
it all possible.
undergraduate students from St. Angela’s
College of Domestic Science, Lough Gill,
Sligo, came to Kitale this summer, with
staff-members, Sr. Anne Conway, Mr. Michael
Collins and Mr. and Mrs. Downes. They completed
the fencing around the school compound,
furnished classrooms, made desks, chairs
and cupboards, painted and decorated, made
teaching aids and jigsaws, swings, slides,
seesaws! The students, mainly young women,
were good (as you would expect!) at sand-papering,
painting, cutting timber, twisting wire,
and ruining their beautiful nails in the
process! They contributed all the material
themselves, and covered other costs: in
financial terms their generosity amounted
to over 20,000 euro. In human terms it was
Martin’s Diocesan House, Kitale
This is a house of hospitality for missionaries
on the long journeys up- and down-country.
(A journey from Nairobi to Turkana takes
all of fourteen hours, and that even when
road and weather conditions are good!) Sr.
Clotilde runs the house, and it is in tiptop
shape. It is constantly in use and has a
warm, welcoming atmosphere. We visitors
spent a lovely few days there, and were
treated royally. (Sr. Anne Marie is top
left in the photograph.)
Patrick’s Dispensary Kanamkemer Lodwar,
The dispensary caters for 60-90 patients
per day. In addition to their work there,
our sisters also do home visitation and
school visits. The dispensary has a laboratory
where tests for Malaria, HIV etc. are carried
out, and treatment given immediately. Sr.
Jacinta is in charge here. Building-work
on an extension to the waiting-area of the
dispensary has recently been completed.
School , Lodwar
Sr. Catherine teaches here, in a primary
school that has over 1600 pupils. The numbers
have been increasing steadily over the last
three years because of the new, idealistic
government policy of “free” education. The
government has sadlynot been in a position
to provide additional teachers needed, so
class sizes can be daunting.)
50 kilometres south-west of Lodwar, and
now on the road to nowhere, one “finds”
Turkana Girls Secondary School.” Sisters
Florence, Francesca and Philomena work here.
Again in Lorugumu, we are very fortunate
in having two bore holes to supply water
to the secondary school, primary school
and mission. Without the water, there could
be no school at all.
The secondary school has a full quota of
320 students. All students are necessarily
boarders in this desert region, which is
the home of the proud, nomadic Turkana people.
When we were visiting there the Form 4 students
were doing mock exams (similar to the mock
Leaving Certificate in Ireland.) and the
rest of the students were busy studying
for their end of term tests. I was very
impressed by the work ethic, as students
sat happily under the thorny acacia trees,
studying in sunshine so glorious as to be
almost impossible to work in! How I wished
for the same application under darker northern
skies – and a share in the sunshine!
again, in the “bush” and semi-arid country
of the Kamba people, Ursulines are involved
in two boarding schools: St Angela’s Secondary
School, where Sr. Teresia teaches, St. Ursula’s
Secondary School where Srs. Kawingi and
Jacinta teach. Ithookwe Primary School,
Tungutu, where Sr. Rosalyn teaches, is a
local government day school. In all of these
schools one gets the feeling of a great
Catholic Christian tradition, planted and
passed on by the many Irish Ursulines who
blazed a trail down the years, and continuing
to strengthen today in the sure, strong
hands of the Kenya people themselves.
Sr. Rose works here as a Clinical Officer.
She diagnoses illnesses, and with the help
of aid from Ireland, is able to subsidize
people who cannot afford the cost of medication;
that’s c.60% of the people she treats.
Social Centre Kitui
Social Centre is a youth Polytechnic run
by the Ursuline Sisters, and focussed on
domestic economy. crafts and skills. The
Centre was originally started over thirty
years ago, to help illiterate women of the
area earn some extra income, and at the
same time to help improve the living standards
in the local homes. Over the years the emphasis
has shifted to catering for young school-leaver
girls, whose strongest gifts lie in their
manual and creative abilities, or whose
parents cannot afford to pay the Secondary
School (i.e. academic) fees for four years.
They choose instead to do a one or two year
course in the Centre. Sister Margaret Mary
is the Administrator, and Sister Cecilia
is a teacher. The goals of Mutune Social
1. To give young girls a sense of their
own dignity and worth
2. To teach them skills which enable them
to become self employed
3. To help them to become good mothers and
4. To help them to take their rightful role
The Centre offers the following courses
in Dressmaking, Tailoring, Crafts, Knitting
(hand and machine), Agriculture, English,
Money Management, Christian Religious Education.
The students also take state-recognised
Trade Tests in both Dressmaking and Tailoring.
teachers, a matron, a watchman and a cook
are employed in the Centre. It is not government-funded,
and is fully boarding. As a result it is
totally dependent on school fees for its
income. Even though the fees are as low
as 250 euro per year, the students are often
unable to pay them. It is not easy to run
such a centre over the long-term, but as
the true Kamba says “ Shauri ya Mungu “
which means “That is God’s problem, and
God will provide”. But even God needs to
provide with a little help from friends
often! If it were not for the aid that they
receive from Ireland, our sisters, in Mutune
Social Centre and elsewhere, would be unable
to even begin to meet the many needs of
the people whose paths cross theirs every
My few weeks in Kenya were wonderful. They
provided a marvellous opportunity to get
to know the country, and gave me some understanding
and appreciation of the African culture
and way of life. I also got an insight into
how the work begun in faith by our Irish
sisters almost fifty years ago, is begin
continued in the same faith, in the midst
of new challenges, by our younger Kenyan
sisters, who, as Kenyans themselves, can
respond with an understanding and a wisdom
that would forever be beyond those of us
who “came from afar”.
scath a cheile a mhaireann na daoine.”
“In the shelter of
one another the people live.”
– Old Irish saying.