Field Notes: Reflections on Kenya

Tuesday I traveled into Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. The trip was long as the roads were typical of what one sees outside most city limits…the last five miles on tracks that picked through the arid landscape. This area has been severely affected by an ongoing drought. Everyone seemed to be pleased that it had been raining for a few days and, of course, everyone hoped that it would continue. I heard someone say that Kenyans ‘eat’ rain…an expression that connects the rain to food production.

I finally arrived in Katale and the following day I checked in on a project we support there, St. John Bosco Rehabilitation Center. The center is operated by the Maryknoll Lay Missioners under the guidance of the Diocese of Kitale. Russ Brine is the project manager…a great guy, extremely organized.

This education program is multi-pronged: The most vulnerable children are housed on campus from Sunday at 3 p.m. through Saturday at 1 p.m. The children have an opportunity to stay connected with their families but not long enough to slide back into negative behavior…sniffing glue for example. A social worker goes to students’ homes to keep parents/guardians informed of their progress. Each student is carefully monitored…They are intentional about the number of students they admit so they can maintain quality monitoring.

A family of the Turkana tribe stands in front of their igloo-like hut made of garbage scraps—the typical home of students at St. John Bosco Rehabilitation Center in Kitale, Kenya.
A family of the Turkana tribe stands in front of their igloo-like hut made of garbage scraps—the typical home of students at St. John Bosco Rehabilitation Center in Kitale, Kenya.

We visited slums where most of the students live. The children are from Turkana families. They are nomadic pastoralists who have moved to Kitale due to the drought that has parched the area near their homeland around Lake Turkana. Their homes are made by the women from sticks and whatever plastic and cloth can be collected from area garbage dumps, and resemble igloos…they do not keep out rain but do provide a measure of protection from sun and mosquitoes.

Russ has a good understanding of resource management and emphasizes quality over quantity. He is building a national staff that is well trained and very involved in the development of their program—one of the most culturally appropriate programs I’ve seen in Kenya. They have farming and vocational training programs, as well as an additional 20 or so adult women who implement the program in the slum areas. They are eyes and ears for the center’s staff.

I remain impressed by St. John Bosco Rehabilitation Center. They are doing a good work here.


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