Above: Sister Rose in a conversation with a student of St. Annes Secondary School, Jogoo Rd Nairobi
Caleb Mwamisi- Communication and Research Officer -AJAN, spoke to Sister Rose Macharia of Mercy Education office. She has been the Chief Executive Officer at Mercy Education Office, which runs various programs for youth; formation, justice and peace, HIV and AIDS, Environment, Human Dignity among others. The African Jesuit AIDS Network collaborates with them through the AJAN HIV and AIDS Prevention Program for Youth which is offered to schools founded by the Mercy Sisters.
Let me begin with a cliché, what drives you every day of your life?
My Love for God in HIS Son Jesus Christ who gave me life, and called me to be his bride as a Sister of Mercy. Being a bride of Christ I have a mission to make God’s love and Mercy a reality in the world. I have a passion to fulfil that mission daily by striving to be “good today and better tomorrow’ as our Foundress Catherine McCauley would ask of all Sisters of Mercy. At the same time knowing that that harvest is big, but labourers are few, I cannot waste time but do what I can every day with the help of God and companions in the ministry.
What do you love about working with young people?
Young people are open-minded and receptive to new ideas and advice. They have a long life ahead of them -if only we could help them recognize how precious it is living worthy lives before God and people! They are full of energy and working with them motivates me to go on.
How long have you worked with young people, and when/where did you start?
I have worked with young people since I became a sister about 27 years ago. I began at Our Lady of Visitation Parish where I worked with the Church youth who are now in adulthood, some with own families.
Please share some of unique experiences you have had while with schools…
Seeing young people blossom and reinvigorated to approach life positively after undergoing our formation programs is a gratifying experience. Many overcame deep-seated problems such as self-hate until they discovered the love of God for them. They develop love for themselves, appreciation for live and find purpose.
A unique observation was when there was unruliness in some schools in Kenya schools where students torched buildings- in our schools, our girls actively helped prevent this problem through keen observation and reporting of suspicious behaviour among their colleagues. This was as a result of training we have undertaken over the years.
What do you see as a key difference between primary and secondary school children in terms of needs?
Regarding primary school pupils, a lot more sensitization about Child Abuse and Child Protection is required. There is need to help build self-esteem and self-belief.
In secondary schools, there is a great need for self-discipline and life-skills. Secondary School children think they know much, and therefore strategies of engaging them closer and in gentle ways so that they can be able to open up and share their concerns. In addition, peer pressure is higher at secondary schools, and it is important to enable them to make useful decisions as individuals and not with group mentality.
What notable challenges do you encounter in your work as CEO of Mercy Education Office?
Sometimes we lack the commitment of staff in the schools in the implementation of our programs that teachers after we have already trained them. The lack of funds means that we cannot always provide all the necessary training materials for teachers, and sometimes we are not in a position to induct all teachers to MEO culture. At other times, most of the teachers we train are transferred taking us back to the drawing board. Additionally, our inability to give volunteer teachers awards and tokens of appreciation makes some to be lax and others inactive. A major challenge is where we lack a structured way of monitoring and evaluating the impact of our programs as we lack this capacity.
What is Mercy Education office long-term plan for the young people?
Our Long-term plan is to produce young people who of integrity and who can withstand the challenges of today’s world. We want them to become role models and lead by example in respect of God and humanity. They can be fearless advocates for dignity, morality, truth and justice being voices for the voices-less in the society. With the partnership of AJAN, we can be able to monitor and follow up our learners into college and university!
How do you plan on taking care of counselling needs in the schools considering that many of them may not have capacity in this aspect?
We have partnered with Amani Counselling Centre who are major trainers of counsellors in Kenya. They will assist us in providing counselling at reduced fees. They will be sending interns to our schools, and they will help us build capacity of counselling departments in our schools. We have been working with Parishes near the schools and tapping into their capacities in counselling and so on for the benefit of our students.
- What are the unique needs of children who live in the slums of Mukuru and others as compared to the others?
Youth, especially those in primary schools require food, clothing, and they live in deplorable situations. So there are social workers attached to all our slum schools who support in those areas including health services offered at our clinic. Because of their environment a lot of them are prone to abuse or witness a lot of violence and or imorality so counseling is a higher need for them than the others
- How useful do you find the AJAN HIV & AIDS Prevention Program for Youth- AHAPPY?
AHAPPY is very helpful because of its practicality in real life situations. The videos are excellent, and the topics covered guide the young people to understand themselves and to make responsible choices. The language of the Manual is easy to understand and the pictorial elaborations boost comprehension.
- From your experience, what training needs exist for students regarding growth towards becoming holistic human beings?
There is a need to address career areas and the giftedness of individuals to add to what is already covered. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges where some young people have begun to think education is not as important as they considered before. This because they have managed to survive through doing casual jobs or running small businesses in the village. A good number also indulged in alcoholism and drug abuse, therefore the need to correct and guide them back to track is critical now.
Lastly we need to have a way of helping to foster a sense of integrity for a lot of them see a world where the corrupt seem to be thriving while the upright suffer. So in Kenya the culture of corruption which is sadly practised at home or even at school needs to be discouraged highly
What additional training skills do you believe primary and secondary school teachers require for their effective incubation of the growth of young people?
Starting with the last point of number 11 above, I strongly believe that value of integrity needs to be drummed for teachers not just to talk about it, but to live it for children observe them more than they listen to them. Secondly we found out that a lot of secondary children have no idea of career choices open to them and this could be because teachers just teach without guiding learners to discover what they are gifted in. In addition, we need to work on the area of correction for teachers so that they can know how to instil discipline in more positive ways rather than caning. Lastly as much as HIV has been with us for many years, there is still need to help teachers to overcome stigma and spread more love to all children and thus make schools more child-friendly in all aspects.