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Faith in Action : Ursuline Sisters in Kitui Kenya

The Ursuline Sisters have been in Kenya for over 50 years and have been involved in basic health care and in education at various levels (pre-school, primary, polytechnic, secondary and teacher training) since then.

In 1983 a novitiate was established in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, which continues today as a community of novices and student sisters of the Kenya region.

Currently there are Ursuline Sisters in the environmentally harsh Kitui and Turkana Districts, all Kenyan except for a single Irish nun, Sister Clare Tobin. Today, more than fifty years on, the Ursuline built institutions are run by Kenyans, with this lone Irish sister in a supporting role. In their ministries the Sisters target the marginalised: the poor, the orphaned, women, HIV/AIDS victims and people withn other illnesses.

In Kitui, about 200 kilometres by road east of Nairobi, Ursuline Sisters continue to improve the lives of local people. They started Saint Angela’s school in 1958, today it has 600 pupils. Ursuline Nursing Sisters work in the District Hospital. Saint Columba’s Vocational Centre and polytechnic school, was set up 30 years ago by the Ursuline Sisters and continues to be run by them today.

Here the focus is on domestic economy, crafts and skills. The Centre, originally known as the Mutune Social Centre, depends on charitable donations for its continued existence. The original objectives were to help illiterate women of the area earn some extra income, and at the same time to help improve the living standards in the local homes. Over the years the emphasis has shifted to catering for young school-leaver girls whose strongest gifts lie in their manual and creative abilities, or whose parents cannot afford to pay the Secondary School fees for four years.

The girls choose instead to do a one or two year course in our Saint Columba’s Vocational Centre. Seven teachers, a matron, a watchman and a cook are employed in the Centre which is not funded by the government. As a result it is totally dependent on school fees and charitable donations for its income. Even though the fees are as low as 250 euro per year, the students are often unable to pay them.

Wherever possible the Centre tries to be self sustaining. Surplus vegetables, milk and eggs produced as part of the Agri-Buisness course and not consumed by the students and staff are sold to generate money for the Centre. Products made in the Fashion and Design course are also sold. More classrooms are needed for the Centre as the demand for its services is growing. Tens of thousands of bricks are bought from local people. This helps to support the local community by giving them increased paid employment opportunities. This approach also has the additional and very welcome benefit of making the Centre and its work viewed as part of the local community.

In Kitale, about 300 kilometres north of Nairobi, Ursuline Sisters set up and run Saint Ursula’s Pre School and Saint Ursula’s Primary School, both very well regarded. Saint Ursula’s Dispensary, caters for the needs of the schools in the area, and of the local community. Ursuline Sisters work there. The dispensary runs health clinics for mothers and small children once a week. In addition, routine ailments, and endemic illnesses, like malaria, are dealt with. There is also counselling available for people with a diagnosis of HIV, and the medical personnel conduct school visits each term.

In the very harsh Turkana District 600 kilometers north of Nairobi, Ursuline Sisters run a very busy Dispensary with outreach clinics as far away as 70 kilometres. The Dispensary caters for about 100 patients each day and also has a laboratory where tests for Malaria, HIV etc. are carried out and treatment given immediately.

Ursuline Sisters run a 400 strong girls’ boarding school, Turkana Girls Secondary School. It is one of the top schools in the North Rift region of Kenya. Father Tony Barrett was one of the founders and has given it great support over the years.

The Ursuline Sisters do wonderful work in Kenya. They rely on charitable donations to be able to continue the wonderful work that they do.