Searching for hope in Kenya’s slums

Searching for hope in Kenya’s slums
Personal Profile
God is present in the cries and injustices of the world, Colm Fitzpatrick learns

Words usually don’t do justice to depict real, lived experiences and this sentiment couldn’t be truer when describing the harrowing conditions in Kenya’s Mukuru slums. With rising poverty and violence across the region, it can be difficult to muster up any expectation that the circumstances there will change for the better. However, for Sr Ursula Agge of the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM), where God is present there is always hope.

The Nigerian native joined the congregation – who are renowned for their efforts in the health sector in many remote areas across the world – when she was only 24.

“I had a burning zeal and calling within me to do something more for God by becoming a religious sister in any congregation since finishing secondary school. I was convinced about it probably because of my Catholic Christian upbringing, believing in the good works of priests and sisters,” she says.

After studying accountancy in university which left her feeling ultimately unfulfilled, Sr Ursula’s parents gave consent for her to join a religious order, picking one where she could travel and help others.

“My preference was a missionary congregation where I would be able to minister to people all over the world and not restricted to my country alone. MMM was just there in time to welcome me when I called and that was how my journey began in religious life,” she explains.

It’s fair to say that Sr Ursula and her congregation have not been lax in their aim of bringing the love of God to others through a service of healing. Among their many projects, the sisters have been working with Trocáire in Mukuru for more than seven years, focusing on an integrated HIV and Gender Based Violence programme.

“The conditions are terrible and people are living in abject poverty. Mukuru has some of the highest rates of violence against women and girls in Kenya. The context is extremely challenging – the living conditions in the slum are precarious, unemployment is high and the threat of displacement or eviction is constant,” Sr Ursula says.

“Layered on top of this, extreme poverty and gender inequality means that the safety of women and girls is a huge issue.”

In order to combat these challenges, the Murkuru Health Clinic was established in 1995 of which Sr Agge is the administrator. It is the primary health care centre for the community, working with vaccinations and antenatal care.

Although she can only make a small difference to the plight of suffering people in the region, Sr Ursula remains determined to help knowing that God is by her side.

“My faith in God and the hope He promises His people is what leads me on, knowing that He has given me the strength to work with the poor and vulnerable. I am fulfilled at the end of each day however little my interventions might have been,” she says.

“It is a challenging place to work because I cannot solve all their problems, I can only do what is within my power. However, I try to work with other like-minded partners to whom I refer patients for various support and that has been very helpful.”

Through this work, the people of Mukuru are becoming empowered, starting small businesses and taking on initiatives directed at helping the community at large.

Of course, there is still much more work to be done in order for real transformation to come about. Sr Ursula explains that Irish agencies like Misean Cara and Trócaire have a long tradition of helping missionaries to provide support in poorer places. Alongside individual donations, she adds that Irish people can personally make a difference in people’s lives through online petitions.

“Another important field of action is signing petitions online, for example action groups that support work to protect our fragile planet, or help to raise awareness about the terrible plight of people who are enslaved by human traffickers.

“This is a global problem, it threatens our people here daily and I believe victims of trafficking for sex work, or for cheap labour can be found in many towns and even villages in Ireland. Decent citizens can do a lot if they are made aware of this.”

By taking concrete actions against injustice rather than passively accepting the current realities of places like Mukuru, substantial change can happen. For Sr Ursula, it is her hope that God gives her the strength to continue her work and bring about the transformation she yearns to see.

“My prayer each day is that God may continuously empower me by the gift of the Holy Spirit to be courageous and zealous in bearing witness to the Gospel with my lifestyle, so that the mission entrusted to the Church, which is still very far from completion, may find new and efficacious expressions that bring life and light to the world.”