By: Mrs. Nancy Mirera MA, Mrs. Judith Akedi Otsieno MA, & Ms. Esther Njeri Kibe MA.
Immediately you step into St. Josphat’s house, the location of Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC), you start experiencing a special kind of serenity. It is almost like a powerful invisible hand has plucked you from the chaos outside and put you to safety. St. Josphat’s house is located along Kabiria Road in Riruta, one of the satellite towns of Nairobi.
The location of Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC) was selected through a process of elimination based on its objectives. Riruta is at the crossroad’s where five densely populated urban informal settlements interface. The population is cosmopolitan with the majority of residents being tenants who are low-income earners and small-scale business owners. The area used to be agricultural land but as the original owners aged, they gifted their properties to their children who subdivided it and either sold them to newcomers, or built rentals according to their financial abilities. This social environment is vulnerable to interpersonal conflicts, crime, family disorganization, delinquency, and mental derangements. Unintended pregnancies are one of the major reproductive health issues, as urban settlements create a confluence of factors that place adolescents at heightened risk of poor sexual and reproductive choices. Ms. Keziah Wambui, a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) from Kabiria urban informal settlements, noted that “the center is an important social care institution in this area that continues to provide vital services to the impoverished and vulnerable women in the community.” She also reiterated that the community members appreciate the presence and positive impact the center has had, despite the center being operational for just a year.
The Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC) is an outreach project of the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (Shalom-SCCRR). Shalom-SCCRR has worked in the informal urban settlements around Nairobi and other marginalized semi-arid areas, and its aim is to mitigate the effects of all forms of structural violence–gender-based violence, sexual violence and other social-cultural forms of violence, inflicted on human life. The MJLC is currently working in 10 slum areas across Nairobi− Mathare, Kibera, Kariobangi, Mtego, Waithaka, Dagoretti, Korogocho, Kawangware, Huruma, Kangemi (Approximate population is around 2 million people).
According to Rev. Dr. Patrick Devine, “one of the vital contributions that the ‘Mary and Joseph Life Center’ makes, is that it addresses the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual transgressions that are avoided for the unborn child, pregnant mother and family when the choice is made to respect that, as a gift from God, the dignity of every human life is sacred from conception to natural death. The right to life is the first and most fundamental principle of human rights. This right underpins the essential work of developing a world with utmost respect for the dignity of human life, and a permanent commitment to peace, truth, justice, and mercy – the imperative pillars of reconciliation.” The creation of MJLC is therefore in line with Shalom-SCCRR’s mission to end violence against women and children (including the unborn), to ensure sustainable peace and impact positively upon the dignity of life from conception to natural death. MJLC was started to address grassroots social-cultural acts of violence against women and children by providing the best individualized and evidence-based psycho-social support interventions through its three main purposes and objectives. The center engages different categories of groups; namely, young girls and women in crisis pregnancy, single mothers and fathers, teenage girls and boys, youth, women in commercial sex work, young mothers and fathers, school going children (Class 8 and Form 4 leavers), and parents of children with disabilities.
The first purpose of MJLC is to provide support to women and families having pregnancy-related crises and may be contemplating procuring abortions. This core component of the center is an attempt to counter the problem of unethical and illegal abortions of human life. Since its inception a year ago, 440 expectant women and girls in crisis pregnancy have benefited from the ultrasound (Sonogram) services. When pregnant women visit MJLC, they are exposed to a 3D/4D sonogram imaging which serves two purposes. First, they are enabled to see the image of their baby, which helps connect them with their developing infant and second the image may show any deficiencies in the developing baby. Voices from the field indicate that access to this service has helped many women make informed decisions. Ms. Rose Anyango, MJLC’s Sonographer noted, “Women should be encouraged to visit health facilities for ultrasound services for them to check on the health of their baby and that of themselves. Consequently, the MJLC is providing these services to the neediest and vulnerable in the urban informal settlements.”
The second purpose of the MJLC is to sensitize the general public on common mental health issues through seminars and workshops. Initially, these seminars and workshops were intended to introduce Mary and Joseph Life Center(MJLC) to the community, within the immediate vicinity. The workshops and seminars target groups of opinion leaders. 63 Educational Workshops/seminars have been conducted, so far, empowering 2,222 women in informal urban settlements/slums with supportive guidance, through psychological, spiritual, and economic livelihood resilience. The transition of Kenya from a subsistence to a market economy and eventually to an industrialized nation, has exposed the Kenyan society to new intergenerational, developmental, and structural stressors. These stressors are associated with heightened stress and dysfunctionality that are linked to many negative social and mental health problems at all levels of society. Increased levels of crime, substance use, depression, and anxiety (Paula, 2011; McKee and Leon, 2005) are examples. Children who grow up in such a society, if not supported through the resulting trauma, have their development altered and the cycle of violence is repeated in the generations to come. These seminars are intended to help groups with increased knowledge and skills to enable them gain different perspectives on their situations and identify individual and community resources to design interventions within their social contexts for the benefit of all.
The third purpose is to provide counseling services to individuals and groups. A broad definition of counseling as provided by McLeod (2008) as ‘a structured conversation aimed at facilitating a client’s quality of life in the face of adversity.’ It is structured in that the conversation has a specific purpose and that it aims to help people achieve certain degrees of freedom and possibilities that were not there before. It assumes that when people are experiencing distressing difficulties in their lives, they sometimes turn to another person for help. The person can be a trusted friend, family member, religious leader, or trained counselor. The counselor creates an emotionally safe space, an accepting, and caring relationship in which the client can explore, discover, and clarify ways of living a more satisfying and resourceful life. Throughout the counseling process, the responsibility for growth and change remains with the client but, the human interpersonal relationship is the prime counseling agent of change. At MJLC, 138+ clients (individuals and groups) have been engaged in more holistic and intensive counselling since inception.
Counseling, therefore, is a complex concept that is open to different interpretations. For the counselors, the counseling process is both preventive (through provision of relevant information) and treatment (through exploration of underutilized resources and support systems), which the counselees can use to improve their quality of life. In taking responsibility to open up cracked social landscapes in which people’s lives are continuously shaped, counselors are urged to consider alternative ways of living and being in contexts of relationships. One of those ways is to ensure they do not create dependency by having multiple relationships with clients (e.g. being the counselor and providing humanitarian aid). This has been the biggest challenge in the provision of counseling services at MJLC. The majority of individuals seeking counseling services expect to receive a quick-fix solution to their very complex situations.
Another objective is networking with other agencies operating within the center’s immediate vicinity and the larger environment. To maximize benefits for clients, MJLC staff reach out to different service providers, familiarize themselves with their functions, and form networks that can address the specific needs of women and children suffering violence. Networking is not limited to addressing clients’ needs but is essential for information gathering, advocacy and capacity building. For example, young pregnant girls that are facing homelessness are referred to agencies that support individuals having pregnancy crises for short-term accommodation and prenatal care. While living in these shelters the girls continue to receive personal counseling and learn necessary life skills. Their families are also contacted for purposes of reconciliation and future plans for the girls.
The Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC) and the Shalom Empowerment Center (SEC) addressing violence against women and children are mutually beneficial projects of the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (SCCRR). To date, SEC has managed to reach 991 women leaders through its programs, primarily attending to violence against women and children in the slum areas around Nairobi. https://shalomconflictcenter.org/eastern-africa-shalom-empowerment-center-sec-addressing-violence-against-women-and-children-concept-document/; It gives special attention to all forms of manifest and structural violence; inter-ethnic, interreligious, domestic violence, sexual violence, among others. The SEC provides training on conflict transformation skills, peacebuilding techniques, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) healing approaches, and other relevant interventions for women and children suffering from violence.
In conclusion, the establishment of MJLC is an acknowledgment that we live in a world of increasing dynamic, social and generative complexities, where answers have short lifespans. Dynamic complexity means that cause and effect are distant in space and time, social complexity means there are many different and conflicting points of view about common human problems that demand a participative approach. It is also an acknowledgment that people have an inherent desire to want to solve their own problems and all they need is to be pointed in the right direction. By creating the space to have conversations around their problems, people are expected to generate options to cultivate and guide what they most desire which, often times is usually peace and harmony in their communities.
The Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC) continues to work towards the promotion of a society where the dignity of human life, women and children, including the unborn, are free from violence and unjust social structures. As a center, we acknowledge the contribution of our donors and supporters whose continued support will go a long way in the urgent need to address all acts of violence against women and children from conception to natural death. The MJLC will continue being the voice of reason to those facing crisis situations and most especially be the voice of the voiceless, endangered, and those needing urgent protection.
Mrs. Nancy Mirera, MA, Counselling Psychologist and Mental Health Worker
Mrs. Judith Akedi Otsieno MA, Shalom-SCCRR, Lead Project Officer (SEC)
Ms. Esther Njeri Kibe MA, Shalom-SCCRR, Project Officer (SEC)
- Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC): Concept Document.https://maryandjosephlifecenter.org/mary-and-joseph-life-center-mjlc-concept-document
- Mary & Joseph Life Center opens in Nairobi.https://maryandjosephlifecenter.org/kenya-mary-joseph-life-center-opens-in-nairobi/
- 2022 Shalom-SCCRR – Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC) Achievements.https://maryandjosephlifecenter.org/2022-shalom-sccrr-mary-and-joseph-life-center-mjlc-achievements/
- Shalom-SCCRR. (2022). Shalom Empowerment Center (SEC) Addressing Violence against Women and Children: Concept Document. https://shalomconflictcenter.org/eastern-africa-shalom-empowerment-center-sec-addressing-violence-against-women-and-children-concept-document/
- Internship Experience at Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC).https://maryandjosephlifecenter.org/internship-experience-at-mary-and-joseph-life-center/
- St. Josphat’s House (Kabiria-Riruta), A Place To Go; Some Shalom-SCCRR Projects in Action.https://maryandjosephlifecenter.org/st-josphats-house-kabiria-riruta-a-place-to-go-some-shalom-sccrr-projects-in-action/
- The Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC): See our First Video.https://youtu.be/mBsYagVVQZQ
- An Informal Video of the Mary and Joseph Life Center (MJLC) Team in the Informal Urban Settlements where we work. https://youtu.be/mBsYagVVQZQ