Advertisement

Catholic Charity Group at Kenyan Parish Restoring Hope in Sick, Poor Slum Dwellers

Juliet Mbinyu had lost hope in life when she approached Fr. John Munjuri, the Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Parish in Mukuru Kwa Njenga outside the Central Business District of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

She had been diagnosed with cervical cancer and she could barely support her thin frame as she made her way through tiny corrugated iron shacks in the sprawling informal settlement. The Parish Priest was the only person that came to her mind when she thought about the fate of her three children.

“I wanted to give my children to the Church. I knew I was dying and I wanted to leave them in safe hands while I was gone,” Juliet told ACI Africa.

Confirming the meeting, Fr. John said, "When Juliet came to me, she was very worried and in great pain. She made one request and it wasn't about her pain. She wanted me to take her children so that she would be sure that they were in safe hands when she was gone."

Advertisement

Juliet reached the decision in June at the height of COVID-19 lockdown in Kenya when life was hardest for the slum dweller. After visiting several health facilities with a vaginal discharge, each time getting a wrong diagnosis and partying with huge amounts of money while at it, Juliet had finally been diagnosed with cervical cancer at a Nairobi-based hospital.

“I lost a lot of money on treatment before doctors finally found out that I had cancer. I was a very industrious woman, bringing chicken from Kajiado and supplying them to restaurants in Nairobi. I had built a good life for my children in the absence of their father. But all that was lost in my medication,” she narrated.

When she was eventually diagnosed with the disease in April, Juliet had exhausted her savings and was too sick to work. An orphan, she was alone in her tiny room with her three children aged 10, seven, and five.

“When I decided to take my children to the Church, I knew that it was the only option I had. I had no one that could take care of them while I was gone,” she recalls.

More in Africa

At the Parish, Fr. John, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) prayed for the 30-year-old single mother and called caregivers at Matthew 25 Charity Group, informing them that they had a client who needed immediate attention.

Previously known as St. Vincent de Paul, the charity group is guided by Matthew’s Gospel passage, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

It is a team of healthcare givers, professional counsellors, and volunteers ready to help the needy from donating blood to the sick to bathing those who are too ill to take a bath.

It was this team that immediately plunged into action and took Juliet to hospital where she commenced chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Fr. John who has been at the helm of the slum Parish since January 2019 told ACI Africa.

Advertisement

Each day, a member of Matthew 25 Charity Group accompanied Juliet to hospital while others ensured that her children back home were fed and well taken care of, Fr. John who ministers at the Parish dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary alongside his confrere, Fr. Leonard Ndambuki recounted.

Juliet’s treatment for 25 days cost Ksh.3,600 (US$36.00) per day and when it was all done, the group had solicited funds and paid the hospital slightly over Ksh.150,000 (US$1,500.00).

Juliet who was not yet baptized, but keenly participating in the activities of her Small Christian Community (SCC) made a firmer resolve and was immediately baptized and fully accepted in the Catholic Church.

Before she went down again, this time with a kidney complication that medics said had resulted from the side effects of radiotherapy, Juliet was an active caregiver at Matthew 25 Charity Group, journeying with a stage 4 cancer patient to give back to the group and the Church.

(Story continues below)

“I owe the group my life and that’s why I brought other needy people in the group and journeyed with them. I hope that I feel better again to go back to caregiving. It is a source of immense satisfaction,” says Juliet.

Matthew 25 Charity Group is a popular group in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, serving the poorest of the poor without sidelining anyone based on religious backgrounds.

“We attend to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Christians and non-Christians. That is how we are known in this place,” says Ripser Kigen, a volunteer councilor who has been serving in the group for two years.

Though the group has existed in the Parish for many years, its popularity has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed the deepest vulnerabilities of slum dwellers.

The charity group is currently journeying with the vulnerable elderly in the slum, people with disabilities who have neither sources of income nor people to depend upon as well as eight cancer patients and people with several other ailments.

With a large number of needy people in the slum area, Matthew 25 Charity Group has been forced to focus only on the neediest cases. For a while now, the group has not been keen about people living with HIV/AIDS because their situation is “manageable,” according to Mrs. Kigen.

“With medication and food donations, HIV/AIDS patients can manage well. We have focused our attention on cancer which, for some reason, is on the rise in this slum. The problem is that people realize that they have cancer when it is too late. A majority of our cancer patients are at an advanced stage of the disease,” she says.

A huge chunk of slum dwellers survives on menial jobs and do not pay attention to their health until it is too late, Mrs. Kigen says.

In Mukuru kwa Njenga, many seriously sick people have been abandoned by their families. Still, others have no rural homes and have known the informal settlement as their only home their whole lives. Those without caregivers suffer alone and turn to the Church as their only source of hope.

Matthew 25 Charity Group is currently following up on a case of a family that snatched children from a cancer patient. The woman has stage 4 cancer and is forced to also endure the pain of losing her children.

“We have involved the children’s office to help the woman get back her children. It is critical that the children stay with their mother who is very ill and needs to be with her children for comfort. At the moment, she is all alone,” the counselor says.

Before Matthew 25 Charity Group was formed, the Spiritan Fathers at St. Mary’s Catholic Parish were always overwhelmed by needy cases. The people who came to beg for food and for medication made use of the Tuesday and Thursday office hours at the Parish.

“Those days, you could come here and find long queues of very needy people. Some narrated how they had spent days without food. Some were very sick and couldn’t afford medication as simple as pain relievers,” Mrs. Kigen recounts.

She adds, “Tuesdays and Thursdays were never enough for the needy people and the Parish Priest was always overwhelmed. Most times, he gave out his own allowance to help one desperate case or the other.”

The charity group was formed to fill this gap. Before then, food distribution and other charity activities were done only during Christmas. But members of Matthew 25 felt the need to make charity an everyday activity when they came up with the group.

Today, they run an initiative known as Jaza Kikapu (Fill a Basket), involving Christians in Mukuru kwa Njenga who are brought on board to contribute towards the needy people in the slum. Money collected is used to buy food that is given to the needy every week and to pay for medication of the sick people.

The biggest challenge for the group is the perception of families of needy people who take off when the group comes in to offer support.

“When we step in to help, say a cancer patient, the family of the patient leaves the whole burden of caregiving to us. They are not usually willing to collaborate with us. They presume that the burden has been lifted from their shoulders and flee,” Mrs. Kigen says.

She explains, “We have had several challenges before, trying to trace the families of patients when they succumb to their illnesses and they need to be buried.”

Additionally, there are so many needy cases in the slum and the charity group is sometimes overwhelmed. The members have immersed themselves in the group so that they sacrifice their time and finances for the care of the patients.

All the challenges notwithstanding, caring of the needy is the biggest source of fulfillment, the counselor told ACI Africa.

“Here, we see the lives of people who have lost all hope in life get transformed. This is very gratifying and it is the one thing that keeps us going,” Mrs. Kigen says.