Archived News Item

Out of Africa

Toward the end of 2006, Sister Pauline Masters RSM (Perth) spent time in Africa working with Sisters of Mercy. Pauline has been involved in many aspects of education, including two mission experiences in Papua New Guinea. She has a deep concern for social justice issues and contributes, voluntarily, to several organisations in Perth, particularly those concerned with refugees. Pauline reflects on her Africa experience.


From August to December 2006 it was my privilege to work with the Sisters of Mercy in Kenya, East Africa. This was a great experience for me and one that was very life-giving. I was welcomed very warmly by Sister Liz and the sisters there. For the first three days I stayed at Villa Maria, the main Mercy house in Nairobi. There are fourteen Mercy houses with a great variety of apostolates relating to nursing, education and pastoral care.


On the fourth day I travelled to Chepareria, a nine-hour trip about 350 km north-west in the Rift Valley. For three months I was Acting Principal of St Michael’s Nursery School for children aged 3-6 years from the village.


Primary Schools throughout Kenya have only recently been funded by the Government but nursery schools are provided by non-government organisations and local community groups. Parents pay a nominal fee that has to cover the employment of teachers, maintenance of school buildings and grounds, provision of morning porridge for the children and purchase of teaching materials.


From the outset I threw myself into the work of the nursery school – visiting each classroom and observing methods of teaching and assessing the needs of the 114 children enrolled there. I realised there was a need for development of creative approaches and more resources that would assist the teachers and children to have a better learning environment. Lack of funds led me to encourage the teachers to actively seek ways of building up resources from the surrounding environment through collection of tins, bottles, boxes, seeds, leaves and anything that might be useful. For example, when the children finished their porridge we made balls by scrunching up newspaper into plastic bags and fastening with twine or masking tape. Hey presto! The children could practice ball skills of all kinds.


There was a real sense of achievement for me in knowing that teachers began to see new possibilities in teaching methods and learning and the children would benefit. One project that gave me joy was painting a classroom and murals on the walls of the school. The children also helped in painting mother and baby elephants and giraffes, monkeys in banana trees, flamingos and other fun pictures. I had a kangaroo toy and I helped the teachers give a lesson on this: when they saw the kangaroo, they thought it was a sort of rabbit.  And, as a memento of Australia, we painted a kangaroo on the walls of the school.


A special trip for me was north to Kakuma, the refugee camp near the borders of Uganda, Sudan and Somalia. The camp occupies 12 square miles and is made up of many ethnic group compounds with mud huts the refugees built. There are Catholic churches in several locations within the camp. I went to one of these on the Sunday and was asked to talk with the women’s group after Mass. The Don Bosco Centre is right in the heart of the camp and is providing a very useful function in equipping refugees with skills such as carpentry, engineering, motor mechanics, dressmaking, computing, etc. for when they return to their countries. And that is what the UN is encouraging them to do as we witnessed a bus with the message for people to sign up to go back to Sudan and I believe cutting down on the rations of food, water and firewood within the camp.


My last few days in Nairobi I visited a children’s orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy since 1989 at Mukuru bordering an industrial and slum area. Most of the children there have been orphaned through AIDS. One girl, Jane, with face and body scars, was a survivor of a house fire in which both parents died. The children performed some items for me – singing and dancing. After seeing my kangaroo and hearing about it, two boys made up an impromptu act depicting the kangaroo with a joey in its pouch jumping about. One boy said a poem that he had made up about “Where is my mother? Where is my father? Taken from me by AIDS.”


Another slum development I visited was called Rescuedada Centre started by a German woman about 1992 to help rescue street girls – from babies to 16 year olds. The place is small and basic with five bunk beds per room. The children seemed happy and were preparing for Christmas activities. Attached to this Centre is a project to help girls from the nearby slums. Hairdressing and beauty care is taught here and these skills enable poor girls feel more self-esteem and help them get good jobs in salons.


Kenya has scars from its colonial days and is still suffering because of difficulties in making a living especially in the city and slum areas and corruption within institutions such as politics, police and public services. There is so much good work being carried out in Kenya by the Irish and Kenyan Sisters of Mercy and many other religious orders from Ireland, America and local priests, brothers and sisters, that there is good reason to hope that, one day, people will be enabled to make their dreams of justice, unity and equity come true.


From: Sister Pauline Masters RSM (Perth)


Messages to: Sister Joan Smith RSM (Local Communications Facilitator, Perth)