What is the Ruben Centre?
The Ruben Centre is based in the second biggest slum in Nairobi, Kenya and services over 600,000 people. The Centre supports 2700 children from the local Mukuru Slum to attend school, many who take hundreds of steps to simply get to school each day. There are are also 23 other initiatives, including a Vocational Training program and a Special Needs Education Centre. The centre also runs many health programs that support the local community, including the Ruben Medical Clinic, the Lea Toto program (caring for children living with HIV), a Baby Care Centre and a Child Doctor Program. There is a social and economic empowerment, covering programmes like Stop Child Labour, Sexual and Gender Based Violence and a programme for Orphans and Vulnerable Children.
It’s hard to put my experience of being at the Ruben Centre into words, as it has been eye opening and heart-warming in so many ways. Despite the many challenges that the people of Mukuru face, I still can’t explain how the children and adults living in the community show up with continuous smiles and humour that they share with me every single day.
I was lucky enough to spend my first week with the Community Health Volunteers (CHV’s). This group of fourteen men and women support the Social Workers in their role and they are the eyes and the ears on the ground that supports the local community. Through the CHV’s I was given the opportunity to step into the lives, witness the true struggles and see first hand how these courageous people live. Most of their stories broke my heart as the opportunity that we as Western civilisation are given, will never be afforded to these people. Despite this, what was most evident to me was their acceptance in reality and their ability to carry on in their daily life. These men and women were thankful for the simple things; they were grateful that their children were getting an education. They were thankful to the volunteers that visited them each week because it gave them support and the knowledge that somebody cared. They appreciated that the Ruben Centre was there and they could access medical care and social support. When I asked them each how they felt life was going now, every single one of them smiled, laughed and said, “I am happy.” Working as a Social Worker in Mental Health in Australia, this was a huge contrast; these people have very little but are happier then those who have more.
I was also very blessed to spend time in the Special Needs Unit. This unit consisted of forty-one children with varying disabilities and three incredibly patient, loving and caring teachers, that when I reflect on my time in this unit, a smile spreads across my face. When Brother Frank first told me I would be helping in the Special Needs unit, I was a bit hesitant. I have worked in disability before and I found the system did not allow us to face many of the significant challenges. Well, how my opinion has changed! Because of the varying disabilities, communication was the most significant challenge, however with the use of sign language and other techniques that were learnt and used by the unit, it was clear that significant developmental progress was being made by the children. Moyra, Naomy and Mercy have been doing an incredible job in developing all the kids who are at different levels of learning, to create routine and to enhance their skills that allow them to progress in life. Living in the Mukuru slum these kids have a bigger stigma to fight. In Kenyan culture the mothers are often blamed for their children’s disability and many of the fathers will disown their child and leave. This does not stop these kids. When the Special Needs Unit opened in 2015, some children could not walk, speak or do basic tasks. These kids have improved ten-fold, they can speak (some in English), they can sign, they walk and laugh and most importantly, they can play and build friendships. This is an opportunity that they didn’t have before as their living conditions went to an extreme of being locked away from the rest of society and the prying eyes of the public.
My heart feels so full when I reflect on my time at Ruben Centre. The opportunity to come to Ruben is one I will forever be thankful for. I learned so much about myself. I learned that it’s the little things that make a difference, one step at a time. I learned that no matter what adversity one faces there is still time to smile, shake a persons hand and to just keep going. I met many wonderful people whose courage and zest for life is inspiring. Thank you Ruben Centre for having me. I promise that one day, I will be back. Asante Sana.
At the end of the month I will be climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in support of the Ruben Centre. Please support the climb and in turn support the community to build a birthing suite at Ruben Community Centre in the Mukuru Slums, Nairobi Kenya. All proceeds will go directly to the Ruben Centre, Nairobi where Warrnambool born, Brother Frank O'Shea is the Director.