, 11 June, 2020 / 3:04 AM
The story of Malindi Diocese located on the brink of the Indian Ocean at the Kenyan coastal county of Kilifi is a story of resilience, much as it is an inspiration to the other 25 dioceses grappling with COVID-19 pandemic in the East African country.
Established in June 2000 ahead of the erection of Maralal in 2001 and Nyahururu in 2002, Malindi is one of the youngest dioceses of the Catholic Church in Kenya. It is also one of the five Sees in the country without a Bishop after the passing on of Bishop Emmanuel Barbara, a native of Malta and a member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin who served the diocese till his death in January 2018.
Located in the prominently Muslim Kilifi, Lamu and Tana River Counties, the diocese has just about a five-percent Catholic population and serves people who have for years been kept on the society’s back burner in one of the most marginalized communities in Kenya.
People in Malindi mainly work in the hospitality industry, serving as tour guides, pool cleaners, in restaurants and in other jobs at the heart of Kenya’s tourism sector. It is this group of workers that were stripped off their sources of income when COVID-19 struck, locking away tourists outside the Kenyan borders. Others who worked in numerous private schools located at the Kenyan coast were left in the cold when Kenya announced the closure of schools in March.
ACI Africa spoke to Moses Mpuria, the Executive Secretary of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) in Malindi, who had just completed one of his most tiring days, distributing relief food to tens of private school teachers who have been left with no source of income as schools remain closed.
For close to three years and before COVID-19 struck, Mpuria had visited the most vulnerable members of the diocese, including people with disabilities, the elderly and those living with HIV-AIDS. Not once in his wildest dreams, however, did he imagine that teachers would find their way on the list of needy cases.
“These are interesting times indeed when those people who worked in top jobs have been forced to seek help. I assure you that when you see the teachers and people who worked top jobs in the tourism sector come for the aid, you wouldn’t imagine they need it. But when you hear them narrate what they are going through, you will appreciate that these people are suffering,” said Mpuria in the Monday, June 8 interview.
All the 42 teachers that were suggested by Principals of different private schools as the most vulnerable cases showed up for the Monday donation after Mpuria and his team of volunteers distributed food to another group of 32 teachers on Trinity Sunday, June 7.
“At this time of the pandemic, there is no shame in asking for aid,” the CJPC official says, adding that the dioceses can only manage to support 50 on the list of 176 most vulnerable teachers that have been identified in Malindi diocese.
Most of the teachers on the feeding program come from different parts of the country and have been stuck at the coastal town following the government’s ban on travel in and outside places that have been considered hotpots of COVID-19.
Malindi diocese falls under the Ecclesiastical province of Mombasa, one of the towns that have consistently recorded high cases of the coronavirus infections in Kenya.
“Some teachers come from the western counties of Kenya and have now been stuck here for months with no source of income. Many have exhausted their meagre savings and are now relying on aid,” says Mpuria, adding that the diocese has identified the youngest teachers among the most vulnerable and is giving them 5 kilos of beans and 10 kilos of maize flour every two weeks.
The teachers’ feeding program is the latest project on the exemplary COVID-19 response initiative launched by Malindi in April to provide aid to about 500 families who are considered most vulnerable in the diocese. The CJPC Executive Secretary says the situation of vulnerable employees was unforeseen when the diocese first came up with the COVID-19 plan.
“When we started the COVID-19 initiative, we never anticipated that we would have to include teachers and other people who had jobs in the plan. We thought the lockdown was passing and that people would be allowed to go back to their jobs. But as days went by and there was no sign of easing of lockdown in the country, we started getting calls for help from people who had lost their sources of livelihood,” he says.
Since April when the diocese donated food parcels worth KES.1,200.00 (US$12.00) to the first 90 families, all the while intending to reach 500 families by the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project has surpassed its set target and has, in less than three months, reached 720 families of about 8,000 individuals.
Additionally, it has attracted the support of Pontifical Missionary Societies (PMS) and the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), PACIS Insurance Company, Caritas Kenya as well as Karibuni Onlus, an international organization that funds education and health projects in Kenya’s impoverished coastal towns.
The groups have been drawn towards the initiative for its effective and transparent way of operation, the CJPC official says.
“Our donors are very impressed at how we manage our project. What sets us apart from other projects is our focus on social accountability more than financial accountability,” Mpuria says and explains that while financial accountability seeks to provide evidence that money has been used, social accountability, on the other hand, seeks to justify whether or not the people helped deserved the help in the first place.
“Helping needy people isn’t a new concept to us. We have done this for years and at the moment, we have information about all needy cases who we categorize according to different vulnerable groups,” he says.
Every Lenten Season, CJPC Malindi creates separate answer booklets apart from those that the relevant KCCB leadership usually provides for teachings in Small Christian Communities (SCCs). Leaders of SCCs fill these booklets with names of their members and include details about their level of income.
“This way, we know who needs our help,” he says and adds, “Today, if we received aid of any kind, we won’t start grappling with lack of information on who needs what. We simply make a call to the Parish Priests who in turn supply us with names of all needy cases within 24 hours. That’s how organized we are.”
Today, the Catholic Diocese of Malindi is supporting individuals in four categories to survive the effects of COVID-19. These include the vulnerable groups of orphans, widows, HIV/AIDS patients, people living with disabilities and victims of sexual abuse.
The other groups include flood victims and girls who cannot afford sanitary towels, people who have lost employment in private schools, tourism, hotels and in other sectors that are not operational during the pandemic.
“Before, we used to distribute sanitary pads to the needy girls in their schools but from the time that schools closed down, we have been trying to reach the girls through community engagement programs because they still need the sanitary materials at home,” says Mpuria.
The vulnerable girls are supported through Project 720, a WhatsApp group the Malindi CJPC leadership initiated to rally for donations of KES.720.00 (US$7.20) to buy a carton of sanitary pads for the girls.
The second category of this help targets the wider population where the diocese supplies liquid hand washing soap in “abandoned” dispensers in public spaces.
“When COVID-19 was reported in Kenya, the local government acted fast to provide liquid and soap in public places. But it was a one-time thing and the dispensers were abandoned when the soap ran out. We have taken up this project to continue providing hand-washing liquid soap to members of the public,” the Malindi CJPC coordinator says, adding that members of Pope Francis rescue Centre, a support group run by the Diocese for 20 child survivors of sexual abuse, make the soap which the diocese buys and distributes in public places.
The final category of help given in the diocese aims to cushion members of the Clergy in parishes that have been worst hit by the pandemic.
“We have been cushioning some of our Priests who in the past relied on tithes and offertory to run Church projects. Since the suspension of public Mass, these Priests have been grappling with lack of funds to run activities of their parishes,” says Mpuria.
The Priests are given funds to pay their utility bills of water and electricity as well as to pay their cooks, security guards and other service providers in their parish premises.
Additionally, nuns who used to teach in private schools are given a stipend from the Diocese’s COVID-19 response kitty.
Catholics account for a paltry 10 percent of all the people that have been listed for the Malindi Diocese COVID-19 response initiative which does not segregate on the basis of religious affiliations. A majority of those getting help belong to other denominations.
“As Catholics, we only look at human dignity. Other things don’t matter and that’s why we are not discriminating against anyone that needs help. There were very few Catholics among the teachers who we served today,” says Mpuria, adding that the diocese has in the past made donations to purely Moslem communities in Malindi.
Referencing past notorious terrorists that have targeted non-Muslims on the Kenyan coast, the CJPC official says, “Our relationship with people of other faiths here is very strong. When terrorists attacked Christians in past incidences, we received a lot of support from Muslims.”
With the solid COVID-19 response, the Diocese of Malindi, which is established in one of the most hardship areas in Kenya, has beaten all odds and set itself apart as an example to other dioceses in the East African country.
As a parting shot in the interview with ACI Africa, Mpuria appeals for donations to meet the needs of the growing list of vulnerable cases in Kenya following an extension of lockdown and dusk-to-dawn curfew in the country.
“If there is any organization or individual out there who feels touched to help, kindly do so by sending your donation on our pay bill number,” he says, adding, “We have the most active and consistent COVID-19 plan in all the three counties of Malindi, Kilifi and Lamu and we continue to receive needy cases every day.”
According to the Malindi Diocese CJPC Secretary-General, those who go to the local authorities for help are pointed in the direction of the Catholic Church.