April 3, 2023

From Trash to Treasure Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Set-Up an Innovation Project

Katherine Keango

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The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are making waves with a social enterprise project that is empowering women in the community in the heart of Githurai, a town tucked away in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. The Madonna Community Resource Centre is the brainchild of Sister Mary Clara, who was inspired by the innovative ideas shared in the Social Enterprise Programme within the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation-funded Sisters’ Blended Value Project. The project provides employment opportunities and training to women, helping them to gain independence and become self-sufficient.

What sets this project apart is its unique approach to sustainability. The women design beautiful trees from recycled waste sourced from the neighbouring Gikomba open-air market, and its environs. By transforming what many consider to be rubbish into beautiful art, these sisters are not only providing a means of income for local women but also creating a greener, cleaner environment for their community. The resource Centre thus provides a safe haven for those seeking employment and refuge from idle living and as a bonus offers basic sewing training to enable the women to create more intricate and unique pieces for their projects.  It’s a win-win situation that is empowering women with skills and employment opportunities and contributing to the economic development and environmental well-being of the community.

The Centre has been working tirelessly to support single mothers and families with limited resources, as well as children living with disabilities such as cerebral palsy. The Centre’s approach is rooted in empowering women with the skills and knowledge they need to build a better future for themselves and their families. Through a range of capacity building programmes, participants are trained different skills, from overcoming self-stigma to organic farming, business acumen, and marketing skills.

According to Sr. Mary Clara, “Women are great people. They have the motivation to better themselves, their children, and their families. What they lack is the skills and knowledge to sustain themselves. That is where we come in.” Through the Centre, these women are breaking down barriers and creating a brighter future for themselves and their loved ones. It is a powerful testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit.

The Centre operates on four guiding principles: economic empowerment, psycho-social support, education, and spiritual nourishment and it is open to everyone. Sr. Mary Clara noted that “Life in Githurai is getting harder, and these women and children are at risk. Many women in the area have had suicidal thoughts after being abandoned by their partners  and getting weighed down by the sole responsibility to provide for their children.” The Centre offers individual and group counselling sessions for those who have experienced trauma or other mental health issues. It also provides educational opportunities, such as literacy and numeracy classes along with spiritual nourishment through daily Mass, prayer, and reflection. The sisters believe that spiritual well-being is a crucial aspect of overall health and well-being.

The training fees at the Center are Ksh 500 for registration and Ksh 1000 for sewing and beadwork, with the fees going towards catering for indirect costs such as electricity, maintenance, and training materials. Sr. Mary Clara had previously worked at a hospital in Kilimambogo in the pharmacy department for 20 years before shifting to community work as part of the congregation’s charism of uplifting vulnerable women and children. This was formed by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary’s Founding Father, Charles Heerey.

One of the beneficiaries of the Centre, Lucy Wangari, has already made a significant impact despite being a new member, demonstrating her keen interest in the Centre’s recycled art project. Despite being the youngest member of the Centre, her enthusiasm and dedication have impressed her colleagues.

In a bid to secure their financial future, the women in the Centre have formed a chama for savings and investments. The chama, a rotating savings and credit association (ROSCA), has gained popularity, with 13 groups registering with the Caritas bank. The chama’s concept is simple: members contribute a certain amount of money regularly, and then the group decides how to distribute the funds. This system has provided these women with a sense of financial security and encouraged them to invest in their businesses. The women who work at the centre have various jobs and are allowed flexibility to pursue other jobs such as offering laundry services and working at restaurants.

Looking Ahead

The Centre empowers women through training rather than by offering them money, and Sr. Mary Clara is developing a “start-up kit” programme for women who have completed the first tailoring programme. Once a member has identified a minimum of five customers, she is supported by the Centre through the provision of tailoring materials. What they sell is theirs to take home. The start-up kit impacts women through skills, and the centre gets labour for future projects. The Centre aims to give these women and mothers holistic formation – time management skills, marketing, etc. –  anchored by the four principles discussed earlier.

The Madonna Community Resource Centre is a valuable resource for the Githurai community. Through its recycled art project and other programmes, it empowers women and provides support and resources for those in need. The dedication and hard work of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the women they work with have created a sustainable model that can be replicated in other areas. It is through projects like this that we can create a better and more sustainable future for everyone.

Article by Katherine Keango

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Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation foresees a world in which improving the human condition is a shared and sustainable goal. “Love one another, for that is the whole law,” Conrad Hilton wrote in his will. The peoples of the world “deserve to be loved and encouraged—never to be abandoned to wander alone in poverty and darkness.” That is our resolve.

Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA)

The Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa, unites and empowers consecrated women from diverse religious congregations

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