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St Vincent de Paul Community Development Organization

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How Our Work Promotes Love and Forgiveness: 

Amidst the extreme impoverishment of life in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums, St. Vincent de Paul Community Development Organization is a rare bright spot of hope and sanctuary. Our mission is to build a society where all children receive the necessary love and care essential to survive and thrive. We do this by providing critical care, protection and support to orphans and extremely vulnerable children in Kibera. Operated by local community members, our Nursery School, Rescue Center and Community Outreach programs reach over 200 children and their families – mostly female headed households – annually, with education, nutrition, protection, health and counseling services.

St. Vincent’s leads by example. We promote love by treating both children and parents with the love and respect needed to flourish. We offer a safe and supportive environment in which children’s basic needs are met and simultaneously teach children to treat each other with respect and thoughtfulness. By opening our doors and caring for children from all tribes, religions and household statuses, we foster a strong sense of community where children learn that they are all worthy of equal treatment and care despite their differences.

Many of the children reached by St. Vincent’s have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS or other illnesses. They have experienced a profound sense of loss, grief and fear and many must go to live with already overburdened extended families. St. Vincent’s knows that, particularly for these children, love is essential for their full development. From the security guard, to the teachers, to the board members, St. Vincent’s ensures that children are surrounded by love from the time they walk in the door in the morning, to the time they go home in the afternoon and then beyond - as we consistently track families once children have graduated from our program so that we can provide continued support for their growth.

With this deep and ongoing concern for children, St. Vincent’s inevitably becomes an integral part of families, providing a safety net to vulnerable households. St. Vincent’s works with the whole family by establishing partnerships with parents through continuous communication, meetings and workshops that help parents provide adequate care to their children. We assist parents to meet their families’ basic needs (for instance by helping them to start businesses), help them problem solve and resolve conflicts and teach them to be loving, engaging and forgiving both within and outside their homes. In return, St. Vincent’s asks parents to be creative and devise ways to make contributions to support their own families. Contributions, no matter how small, are seen as a critical part of building the partnership. Parents can contribute financially to help cover school fees, volunteer with St. Vincent’s or bring extra water - whatever they can do to demonstrate a commitment. It is only through partnership and empowerment that St. Vincent’s feels long lasting change can occur.

Organizational Profile/Synopsis: 

St. Vincent’s works in Kenya to support parents and guardians in providing care and support to orphans and other vulnerable children, meanwhile building children's capacities for a brighter future. High rates of HIV/AIDS in the slums of Kibera, together with high rates of poverty and increasing food insecurity, have contributed to a large number of vulnerable children, including those who have been orphaned, that lack the care and support needed for healthy development.

St. Vincent’s aims to instigate the following changes in Kibera:

1) Increase access to early childhood development programs for children ages 3-6 years, thereby contributing to improved health, education and child protection outcomes;

2) Provide a consistent and nurturing environment where children are safe and protected from the risks of life in Kibera;

3) Build a support network for vulnerable households so that they can properly care for their children and other OVC under their care; and

4) Increase access to food and nutrition services for OVC.

St. Vincent’s Nursery School provides early childhood development services – including education, nutrition and protection – to 85 children. Students are divided into three classes based on age and receive instruction in English, Mathematics, Science/Environment, Outdoor Activities, Religious Studies, and Swahili. Alongside quality education, the school also provides children with school uniforms and two daily meals.

St. Vincent’s Rescue Center provides shelter and care for children that have been abandoned or abused and need a safe and loving home. A total of 21 children are supported by the Rescue Center.

St. Vincent’s Community Outreach program helps parents to start businesses, assists families with children’s school fees once they leave the Nursery School, provides food to HIV-affected families and helps families to secure shelter. St. Vincent’s also supports children and families to access medical care by paying health care fees. St. Vincent's program creates a safety net for families in the community so that they are able to continue caring for the children.

St. Vincent’s activities have evolved over more than 20 years to meet the changing needs of the community. St. Vincent’s was founded by a group of volunteers who came together through their involvement in their local church to do community outreach. As the volunteer group became more organized, opening the Nursery School in 2000, they sought legal registration as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Kenya -- operating with a local Board of Directors and completely independent of the church. At the outset, St. Vincent’s received a portion of their funding from an arm of the Catholic church, however that ceased completely four years ago and they are now funded exclusively by donors outside the church.

Today, amidst hundreds of NGOs in Kibera, St. Vincent’s early childhood development program stands out for its longevity and its success in providing direct services to families, as well as for the high levels of staff competency and standards of care. Cornerstone to its success has been St. Vincent’s ability to establish itself as a trusted, reliable resource within the community.

Goals: 

Improve children’s development and education outcomes by providing early childhood development services to 85 children ages 3-6 years through our Nursery School annually

Provide comprehensive support to 20 orphaned children 5-18 years old who have been abandoned or abused through our Rescue Center

Reduce child malnutrition by supporting 140 HIV-affected, food insecure families with food baskets

Reach at least 80 women caretakers and their families with comprehensive support services.

Support girls’ education by providing scholarships to 3 nursing school students

Expand counseling services to children and families by hiring second social worker

Diversify funding base; attracting support from 1 or 2 foundations

Accomplishments: 
Improved child health outcomes through nutrition services: Children in Kibera are among the unhealthiest in Kenya, whereby half of those under 5 are stunted as a result of malnutrition. St. Vincent’s provides two daily, nutrient rich meals to children at our Nursery School. Children line up at our school gates as much as two hours early; eager to receive their first meal of the day - the last meal since they ate the day before at St. Vincent’s. We also provide food baskets to families, particularly HIV-affected families, and we take Nursery School and Rescue Center children for deworming every three months. All of these activities help to prevent and overcome malnutrition in children and are particularly important for those living with HIV.
Promoting understanding and compassion after post-election violence in Kibera: Amidst post-election violence in 2007, inter-tribal conflict was rampant in Kibera. As a result, children lost parents and many families had to flee Kibera, including families of children at St. Vincent’s. Upon returning to school and continuing today, St. Vincent’s promotes understanding and compassion among our children by teaching them to be kind to their peers, no matter their tribal differences. We utilize parent meetings and other opportunities to encourage parents to avoid tribal prejudices, which are easily passed on to their children. We foster an environment in which all children are welcome and treated equally.
Increased uptake of child HIV testing: HIV prevalence in Kibera has been estimated at 20%, with urban residents in Kenya nearly twice as likely to be infected with HIV as their rural counterparts. Each year, St. Vincent's supports HIV testing of children newly admitted into our Nursery School Baby Class (approximately 30 children annually), following parent/guardian consent. Testing is conducted each winter by qualified providers at a partner institution. For those children that test positive, an appropriate food and treatment regime is determined and agreed upon with parents and guardians to ensure adherence. Because of the stigma and discrimination that is still associated with HIV and AIDS, many parents are resistant to having their children tested. To overcome this reluctance, St. Vincent's initiates dialogues with parents to explain the importance of knowing their child’s status. This requires patience and persistence, as discussions take place gradually over a period of time so that parents can come to understand the importance of testing not only for their children, but for themselves too, in a way that is comfortable for them. St. Vincent's is effective because of its reputation as a trusted resource in the community that is committed to promoting the wellbeing of vulnerable children as its first priority.
Increased protection of children at risk of violence and abuse: St. Vincent’s child protection efforts include identifying children experiencing abuse/neglect, reporting cases and continuing to follow-up with the children and families needing further attention. These efforts help ensure that children are safe from abuse and neglect and able to grow and develop like their peers.
Improved education opportunities for children in high risk situations: All of the children in the Rescue Center have experienced severe household trauma and are at risk of school drop-out or becoming street children. These children need special attention to make it through the important school years. Since 2011, in addition to providing for their shelter and security, St. Vincent’s has placed 15 children in small, well-regarded primary and secondary schools where they receive the instruction and attention needed to excel, particularly as compared to the alternative, overcrowded public schools in Kibera where up to 100 students per classroom is common. Additionally, St. Vincent’s supports another 25 Nursery School alumni annually with school fees and supplies. Our staff follow all of these children closely by visiting schools, meeting with school staff and engaging tutors and volunteers to assist children with their studies.
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