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Building and equipment of Holy Family Children Centre in Kithatu

The mission run since 1990 by the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family, located in the village of Kithatu about 200 km from Nairobi, has been addressing the needs of the poor inhabitants of the mountainous areas of Meru County. The institution has a kindergarten, a primary school, a school of life designed for young people poorly performing in school, and a health centre.

One of the biggest challenges facing the missionary sisters is the conditions in which the local children live – often orphans or semi-orphans, left without care, undernourished, and experiencing violence and sexual harassment. In an effort to help the young children and their families, the sisters organised care for children over the age of four. Apart from obtaining access to education, these children received medical help and free meals during school hours. Food packages were also distributed among the poorest children. In 2016 there were already about 400-420 children covered by care.

The missionary sisters also took note of the dramatic situation of children too young to take part in preschool activities. The children who were admitted to the health centre run by them were often in such poor health that their life and development were threatened. A frequent sight was two-year-olds weighing less than 7 kg who could neither walk nor talk since their development had been stunted by hunger, disease and lack of elementary care. To meet the needs of the youngest children, the sisters started a nursery to provide developmental support for children under four, with four meals a day and medical care. Due to the limitations of the premises, however, the nursery could take in only 22 children.

Another challenge for the sisters was to secure care for orphaned children or children completely devoid of parental supervision, who had experienced violence or sexual harassment, or whose life or health could be in danger if they were left with their family. Finding a place in the overcrowded orphanages in Mujwa and Nairobi was next to impossible. It was also hard to avoid isolating the youngest children from their surroundings or separating siblings. In their efforts to provide round-the-clock care for children in a particularly fraught situation, for many years the missionary sisters tried to obtain funds for the establishment of a Children’s Centre.

An important area of activity of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family is also the health care centre, admitting 6,000 patients a year, serving those who suffer from malaria, amoebiasis, typhus and HIV/AIDS, as well as victims of injuries. The clinic also offers vaccinations and receives pregnant women. In 2015 a delivery room was opened here. The medical activity carried out in the mission raised the interest of potential volunteers, but the sisters had limited possibilities to provide accommodations for them. There was no building to house the doctors and nurses or teachers wishing to help with the educational initiatives of the missionary sisters.

Building and equipment of Holy Family Children Centre in Kithatu

The aim of the project was to create conditions to help children from the first year of their life until they become independent, by securing their survival and proper development, providing access to education and offering the chance of a good springboard into adulthood.

A key element of the actions carried out in 2017 was the construction and furnishing of the Children’s Centre. The centre was to improve care for the existing wards as well as care for children that the sisters were unable to help earlier. Under the project, the nursery was to be expanded thanks to a new premises that could accommodate 60 children under the age of four. The plans also included the establishment of an emergency shelter for children experiencing violence or harassment or abandoned. Depending on the individual needs, with time the children would be placed with distant relatives or left at the centre until they became adults. The centre could care for 32 girls and boys.

The establishment of the centre would improve the situation of primary school and kindergarten children who had been receiving two meals during school hours – at 10:00 and at 13:00. For many of them this was the only food during the whole day and during classes there were cases of fainting from hunger. The centre would provide additional food, including food packages, for 40 of the poorest children.

The newly established centre was to address the needs of young people under the care of the mission. There were plans for regular activities and educational meetings for a group of 40 teenagers.

Plans also included the construction of a house for volunteers who would be willing to help in the activities of the centre and other initiatives of the mission. The newly established facility would provide accommodation to enable doctors, nurses and teachers to stay in Kithatu.

Building and equipment of Holy Family Children Centre in Kithatu

The building of the Holy Family Children’s Centre in Kithatu was erected and furnished from June through December 2017. The official opening took place on 29 December 2017 and the first residents moved in at the beginning of January 2018. The new centre provides comprehensive care for children and young people threatened with malnutrition, violence or sexual harassment. The building has a kitchen, dining and pantry premises, three rooms for day-care for the youngest children, bedrooms for boys and girls, two rooms for the childminders, an office, a room for employees and a storage facility for the children’s articles. The premises were furnished with essential equipment: bunk beds, tables, chairs and other items. A house for the volunteers was also built, consisting of two rooms, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a laundry room, for people who come to work for the centre.

During the construction of both houses, the local population was engaged in the work under the supervision of an architect. This arrangement not only significantly lowered the costs (there was no need to pay for transport fees or lodgings for workers from a construction firm), but also provided a source of income for the surrounding inhabitants.