Fr Fintan McDonald - Projects in Kenya
Fr Fintan McDonald is pictured with some of the families that he has helped through various projects. A big thank you from Fr Fintan and all the families to everyone who so generously provided help and funding.
“Any good thing done is less good the more any human being lays claim to it.”
The pastor in LILA by Marilyine Robinson
I start with that quotation because I do not want to lay claim to any good that God has done among us.
In 2005 having completed six years as chaplain to the hospitals in Kitale I told the bishop, Maurice Crowley, that I would like to work with the poor and he replied, “Go ahead”. I did that because I had seen real poverty while working in the District Hospital and there was no specific organ in the new diocese of Kitale to care for the poor. Also at 75 years of age, I reckoned there would be very little travel since I planned to work mainly in the town of Kitale and the surrounding area: there would however be a lot of talking with the people, the parish councils, the priests, because my plan was to set up groups in the parishes to care for the poor, groups that would be financed by their local community.
By early 2007 we had a few groups going, but it was tough, the problem was discussed at the Diocesan AGM and it was decided to make these groups members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP), a society unheard of at that time in the diocese. The necessary steps were taken and these groups became conferences of and were trained by the national leaders of the SVDP. Now these were officially linked to the parish and the parish was officially responsible for their finance. I, as their director, had no plan except to help these groups grow, and to care for the fundamental needs of the poor, so that they would be there to care for them when I had moved on.
These groups of SVDP have worked very well over the years caring for poor people within their parishes, depending completely on their parish for finance. But my aim here is to tell of some big needs that came to our attention, that, at first, we could not touch because of lack of funds, and Providence came to our aid without our searching for it.
A Grandmother and her 36 Grandchildren.
In 2005 we heard of them, a grandmother and 36 grandchildren living in crowded squalor. Many people visited, taking photos, promising aid, but nothing happening. Then one day a Sister working in the diocese came to me saying she had received Kshs (Kenyan shillings) 100,000 (approx Euro 1,000) for needy children and since her work was elsewhere she wished to give it to me. We were able to visit this family for the first time and help them with house utensils, bedding, blankets, clothing and food for some time. Then in 2006 I got a call from a man I did not know saying my nephew had told him of my work, and that he was part of a group that collected money for projects in Africa, and would like to help us. The man was Paddy Kehoe from Oulart, The Balagh, Co Wexford. I said to myself that a group that would approach me like this might have a large sum to donate, so I began a search for land, and made a deal to buy 2 acres for Euro 8,000. But Paddy applied to my acceptance letter saying they could not fund that kind of project, they were mainly involved with people in desert areas. Continuing with my life I went one day to Eldoret, 75 kms away, to see and say goodbye to one of our men who had come back from leave a short time before that but was now going home because of illness. As we talked he told me of visiting a home for old people while he was at home in Ireland, being encouraged to put up a request for money for his work in Kenya and receiving Euro 20,000, which he was now giving to the our Society in Kenya. I received Euro 6,000 of that. Shortly after that I was visited by a nephew who that told me his father, my brother, wished to send me £1,000, and that he himself would give £1,000 also (neither of them had ever given money like that before, nor did they know of my great need). I had my Euro 8,000 plus to buy the land. Some time afterwards Paddy Kehoe came back to me saying that they now could help us, and with that money and help from two NGOs here in Kenya, we were able to build the necessary houses. Then an NGO took over their care from then on.
The Political Violence of 2008
Following the General Election of 2008 violence erupted, mainly between tribes. Thousands of people were displaced. Many went to internally displaced peoples (IDPs) camps and many others went to friends’ houses or rented houses near friends, and always in the poorest parts. The government in conjunction with the churches and NGOs looked after people in the camps, but there was no help for the others. A lot of these people were in the poorest quarter of Kitale and in one village a few miles from the town. It fell to us, the SVDP, to look after those. Once again providence provided. In 2007 some of my nephews at home organised a golf tournament, for the first time ever, and raised Euro 15,000 for our work, the money came to me just before the violence. We also received Euro 10,000 through our Society from a diocese in Ireland and Euro 1,300 from the Apostolic Nuncio. The IDPs in the village became like an IDP camp and we had full charge of that. The Red Cross helped us but a lot fell to us, setting up water tanks, buying utensils, putting up tents where they could eat together etc. But above all, for the IDPs we looked after, we tried to encourage them from depending on us completely. So the SVDP members listened to them as to what kind of small business they would like to set up and gave them some advice. We had 210 families, and to about 95% of them we gave Euro 70 each, the others a little less, all according to their situation and what they were going to do. One would want to know Kenya to appreciate the value of that Euro 70 (Kshs 7,000) and how easy it is to do business on the side of the road. We followed up about 4 years later, found 30 who had not done so well and gave them a little boost.
Houses for homeless people.
We had a few families that were homeless in the sense that they were renting very poor lodgings and finding it very difficult. So once again Paddy Kehoe contacted us and asked had we any real need. So, we told him of our needs and he provide funds to build 4 houses for these people.
Drainage, Bridge Building and School Fees
The SVDP had been twinned with SVDP Breffni, Ireland and had been receiving a little less than Euro 5,000 each year since 2008 for secondary school fees for orphans. But in 2012-2013 they received Euro 8,000 from another SVDP Area in Ireland, which was intended for another part of the world, where it was deemed that they had not been handling the money satisfactorily, so it was given to us. In the SVDP we had been looking at three areas of need for quite some time but had no funds to do anything. One area had 38 families, each with their own plot, living in wet land which flooded in rainy season because the drainage system that had been done years previous needed cleaning up and some of it had not being finished properly. There was only a plank across the stream for access, a bridge was needed. We also had come across 18 IDP families which we had visited, realised their needs but could not help. And thirdly due to a very steep rise in school fees we had to cut back drastically on the amount given to each student. With this money we were able to solve these three problems.
The Zea Project
In 2012 we had made contact with this group. But we did very little to help as their needs were too big. Forty-two families living on less than an acre of swamp that flooded in the wet season. They had been evicted from an IDP camp because they did not fit the government’s description of IDPs: they had been squatters. It was like been told that they didn’t exist, so now they were outside the scope of government aid. We looked on helplessly for over a year until once more providence came to our aid. We got news from our Society leaders that an anonymous donor had given the Society a large amount of money for needy children: we had over 200 children and 79 parents. I applied and we received Euro 5,000 and we supplemented their food for over a year. But we knew we were not solving the root problem, we discussed the matter with our leaders and decided that we could spend some of the fund buying land for them.
Over the next year, a period stretching over 2013-14, we received funding of Euro 20,000 from our Society, and at the same time we started fundraising ourselves. We received, in three different currencies, funds from family, home parish, and friends Kshs 880,669.70, (approx. Euro 8,000), and from Trócaire Euro 5,000. With a little balance from the food money we had a total of Kshs 3,543,310.60; our target was 4 million. When we had received a little over 2 million we decided to give Kshs 50,000 to each family to buy a plot, 1/10 of an acre. But how do you do that and make sure the money is spent properly, open Bank accounts, some are illiterate, and they live 15kms out of town? My head spun! Eventually I went to see the manager of the Equity Bank, a new bank owned by Kenyans that I knew had a “social face” and that people were flocking to leaving the big banks. Having heard my story, he replied, “We will do all that for you.”
The following week I headed to the swamp site with two bank clerks, met the people, and discussed at length the task of opening bank accounts. Once again, a week later, we went out (got stuck in mud on the way). The people had managed to get a small hall near the site for the day. We met there and the bank clerks taught them about handling money and opening accounts, and fully equipped with the necessary forms and camera, opened 42 accounts: and it was stipulated that the money could not be touched until the owners of the account presented a written agreement on a land deal. All I had to do was write a cheque. We gave Kshs 50,000 to each family to buy the land, 2,100,000, and Kshs 4,000 to each family, cash “for the road”, Kshs.168.000. That money was given at the end of November 2013 and by the end of January 2014 forty of them had bought a plot and, most of them had got it, 1/10 acre, for Kshs. 30,000, which left something to begin building. I visited 18 families in April 2014 and all, except one, had begun to build. In February 2014 as more money came in we gave each family Kshs 20,000, that is Kshs 840,000, and later in June 2014 we gave Kshs 15,000 to each, that is Kshs 630,000. All paid out by Swift Tr, Equity Bank, no charge to us.
In early 2015 I visited the remainder of 42 families and found that all except one had completed the building of their houses. Most of them had got on with their lives in a joyful and creative way: starting projects with animals from rabbits to a cow, one woman had built a little shop at the end of her house with a space in between for her cow. So we were happy to receive Euro 5,000 from Trócaire in March 2015, which they had promised one year ago. So immediately we were able, with the 5,000 and a small balance we had, to give each family, except the one who misused their gift, Kshs 17,500. This will enable them to complete the furnishing of their houses and help with other needs that many of them had. They were all thanking me very profusely, but I replied not to thank me but to thank God for all those wonderful people who gave money for this project and to pray for them: as they were already doing, I’m sure, and as we all on the ground here continue to do.
One the one hand this Zea project seems big, but on the other hand it is only a drop in the ocean compared with the displaced and squatters that are still suffering in Kenya.
With thanks to God and to all who helped.
Fr Fintan Mc Donald