One of MercatorNet’s regular contributors, James Bradshaw, recently visited East Africa. He returned inspired by initiatives helping young people in poverty to overcome their circumstances. Today he describes the Dorothea Rescue Centre near Nairobi.
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Opened in June 2021, the Dorothea Rescue Centre is around an hour and a half’s drive from Nairobi.
Travelling east across the plain, the sight of the sprawling suburbs of Kenya’s capital gradually fade and are replaced by a sparsely populated countryside and by distant hills on both sides within Machakos County.
On one such hill stands Komarock Shrine and its large pietà, a place of contemplation which towers above a primary school run by the Assumption Sisters of Eldoret.
Next door to the school stands a much more recent addition to the landscape. The Dorothea Rescue Centre for Nairobi’s street girls opened its doors in June 2021, 25 years after the Assumption Sisters of Eldoret first began caring for some of the capital’s many street boys in the Kwetu Home of Peace.
Over the years, Kwetu has grown from being a feeding centre to become a rehabilitation facility where vulnerable young boys are rescued from the slums, cared for and treated, before ongoing and long-term support is provided to help the boys and young men complete secondary school and after that, to carry on their studies at university or vocational school level.
Recognising the need for a similar facility for girls, the fast-growing order – established by the Kerry native, Bishop Joseph Brendan Houlihan, in 1962 — decided to establish the Dorothea Rescue Centre under the leadership of Sister Caroline Ngatia, a trained teacher who had worked with the boys in Kwetu for several years.
Since it opened last year, the facility has continued to evolve, and on December 1, Sister Caroline and the entire community welcomed Bishop Norman King’oo Wambua who officially opened their new chapel.
Sixteen girls live here, all of whom had first been identified on the streets by the sisters during their frequent visits to Nairobi’s slums: areas of destitution and crime which continue to provide a stark contrast to the prosperity of a rapidly-growing economic powerhouse.
A careful process is followed during the two annual intakes of new residents each year. After parents have been traced and parental consent has been obtained for the girls to go to Dorothea, new arrivals begin a three month integration process, beginning with three weeks of detoxification.
In spite of their tender years, even the youngest of the girls frequently arrive hooked on illegal drugs and other substances.
Use of cannabis (known locally as banghi) by young people is rife in Nairobi’s slums, as is the sniffing of jet fuel and glue.
One of the most recent arrivals is conspicuous for her small size and obvious vibrancy. A month ago, this six year old was struggling with withdrawal symptoms, having been provided with drugs by her own mother, a dealer within the slums. Now she plays happily with her new friends and looks forward to starting school, and a new life beyond that.
The girls are taught physical exercises to help them to overcome such challenges, and medical treatment is sometimes necessary after years of neglect.
Among the conditions which primary school age street girls can suffer from is HIV. In the slums, girls are constantly at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation, and many begin living on the streets after fleeing abusive home environments only to suffer more abuse there.
Another core component of the preliminary stay in Dorothea Rescue Centre is the individual and group counselling which provides the girls with the tools they need to cope with the trauma they have experienced in their young lives.
After three months of care and informal education, depending on age and circumstances, girls can be reintegrated to their family homes or foster families – with the organisation continuing to provide financial support and assistance. Others remain in the Centre and begin to attend the adjacent school.
Sixteen girls currently live in Dorothea Rescue Centre, with a larger number of former residents receiving ongoing support.
In order to raise the €160,000 needed to build the entire facility, Sister Caroline relied on a wide array of donors from across Kenya and further afield, while also constantly seeking ways to make the facility self-supporting, including the cultivation of food and the keeping of livestock on site.
Ireland has been a significant source of funding for Sister Caroline’s work in Kwetu, Dorothea and elsewhere, with readers of Position Papers contributing around €20,000 already.
After a busy first year, she is already laying the groundwork for future expansion which will allow her to reach and rescue many more children in future.
Among the plans being considered is the construction of an additional dorm capable of housing 50 more girls, while money has already been raised to support the construction of a medical dispensary on site which can serve the local community. Whatever income is raised from the dispensary’s operation will be used to fund Dorothea’s activities and growth.
“We are hoping that we rescue 100 girls in a year…So far we have rescued 40 girls…so when we put up another dormitory, we will be able to rescue more girls, and also to see the home and these girls become very successful, that they embrace education because that’s all that we can give them.
“They become hope and they live better lives than being on the street. Also, their mothers, we hope that they will come out of the streets, because these children can only grow better when they are with their parents, not at the centre. So we hope that we are able to rescue their mothers, take them to another home for rehabilitation and then empower them to see if they can settle in life,” she said.