Catholic Sisters in Kenya Move to Address Caregiving Gaps among Elderly Women Religious

A section of the members of the Care for Aging Sisters Association of Kenya (CASAK). Credit: CASAK

Not long ago, the Centre for Research in Religious Life and Apostolate (CERRA-Africa) carried out an investigation into the situation of Catholic Sisters in Kenya that revealed the urgent need for women Religious in the East African nation to prepare for old age.

CERRA-Africa is a data centre, which is a collaboration of the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya (AOSK) and other research institutions in the country.

Sharing the details of the 2020 CERRA-Africa findings in an interview with ACI Africa, the immediate former AOSK Secretary General, Sr. Agnes Wamuyu, said that the investigation unearthed the perturbing reality that Catholic women Religious in the East African country hardly prepare for the challenges that come with old age, and the amount of caregiving they need as senior citizens. 

Most women Institutes of  Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (ICLSA) in Kenya, she said, have no plan for their growing number of members who are approaching old age. 

To address the gap, some 22 women Religious Congregations formed the Care for Aging Sisters Association of Kenya (CASAK), a platform that seeks to consolidate the caregiving efforts of the member Congregations.


CASAK Board and staff. Credit: CASAK

In the Monday, April 8 interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Wamuyu, who is at the helm of CASAK as the Executive Director, highlighted two main issues that she said women Religious in Kenya have been dealing with, namely, growth in new members thereby putting a strain on their community resources, and many members approaching old age.

“Challenges related to aging are becoming a reality. There are very many of us in the bracket of 50-60 years. Recently, we started asking ourselves what will become of us the moment we age and need caregiving,” Sr. Wamuyu said ahead of the CASAK “brain tank” meeting to come up with the association’s 10-year strategic plan.

The Kenyan-born member of the Franciscan Elizabethan Sisters (FES) said that “until only recently”, elderly women Religious remained within their communities, adding, “but the needs were not as many then.”

“Our Congregations have been growing over time. When we were still few, a Sister had a room to themselves but that isn’t the case anymore. Our Sisters are also aging. We are now becoming conscious of how time is running. We have many Sisters who are sick; others are old and are going for care. Things that never bothered us before are now really bothering us,” she said.

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Sr. Wamuyu said that now more than ever, Catholic Sisters in Kenya are becoming conscious of issues about privacy and disability-friendly communities as they age.

Women Religious, who are already aging can no longer use the stairs without help, Sr. Wamuyu says, and explains, “We have always had stairs in our communities, but they never bothered us when we were still young running up and down. But they do now.”

After receiving some funds from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Catholic Sisters in Kenya came together, with 22 women Religious Orders that are members of AOSK forming CASAK in January 2023, and embarking on the process of the association’s registration.

CASAK Board. Credit: CASAK

Since then, CASAK has been assessing the needs of the women Religious Orders and facilitating the funding of these needs.


Sr. Wamuyu clarified that though CASAK envisions a home for the elderly, where AOSK members pool resources to take care of their members, the association would still advocate for Sisters to stay in the communities as much as possible, “to get the care that their communities can give them, until they can’t get the care anymore.”

“If the Congregation has only one Sister, we’ll be looking into the possibility of the Congregation sharing resources with other Congregations to take care of their elderly members,” she said.

The Nairobi-based FES member told ACI Africa that the April 10 meeting has been organized to plan for future activities of CASAK.

“In 10 years, I will be 70 years old. Many other Sisters will be old. We are asking ourselves where we will be when we are old,” Sr. Wamuyu said.

According to her, old age is a reality that is neither spoken about nor budgeted for.

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“When you are young, old age is far from reality. But a time has come when we must ask ourselves whether we really have Sisters among ourselves who are ready to take care of the elderly,” CASAK Executive Director said.

She added, “We have also realized that we don’t not have professionals among us to take care of these elderly. We may have doctors and nurses among us but that doesn’t make them caregivers for the elderly.” 

In the April 8 interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Wamuyu expressed concern that gerontology is not offered in Kenyan institutions of higher learning, despite the high demand for professional caregivers for the elderly in the country.

“I saw one caregiving programme provided by one top university here in Kenya. But it has no single enrollment,” Sr. Wamuyu said. 

She continued, “Caregiving doesn’t seem to be a priority in Kenya. It isn’t prioritized as a career through which one can earn a living and get fulfillment. We need to find ways to make it a desirable profession. We need to have a change of the mindset of young the people who shun the course, thinking that it is about being a nanny.”

Also noticeable is the dearth of information in women ICLSA in Kenya concerning the wellbeing of their members, the immediate former AOSK Secretary General said, and explained that the data upon which CASAK was formed is European.

Credit: CASAK

She challenged the faithful to acknowledge the role that Catholic Sisters play in improving the quality of services offered in Catholic schools and institutions of higher learning, and to take care of their needs when they start aging.

“We have done so much in hospitals, in schools, in our pastoral work, but we have not saved anything for old age,” Sr. Wamuyu said, and added, “Members of the faithful should start asking themselves what happens to Sisters once they disappear from the public because of old age and illnesses.”

For the April 10 meeting, CASAK has invited various stakeholders who, Sr. Wamuyu says, have the expertise to advise the association on future investments for the care of the elderly.

“Care for the elderly is very expensive. Some of the stakeholders we have invited have worked on Sisters’ projects before and can advise us on the sustainability of our caregiving project. They are all volunteers who desire the Catholic Sisters,” the CASAK Executive Director said.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.