The Upendo program for vulnerable children is located in Kangemi, a slum in Nairobi that is marked by many social problems, among them AIDS, high levels of unemployment, poor housing conditions, drug, alcohol and substance abuse. Many children are at risk of neglect and abuse, and some live on the streets.
Upendo was set up in 1995 by St Joseph Parish in Kangemi as a unit for children coming from deplorable conditions. Since its inception, more than 450 children have benefitted from education, medical, nutritional, spiritual and psychosocial support.
The overall aim is to ensure that the children who come to Upendo achieve their potential by spending time in a supportive environment that upholds their rights to survival, development, protection and participation.
Concretely, the children are selected each year by the parish’s 28 Small Christian Communities, which each identify one child. This process is followed by a social work assessment and those children who qualify for admission are supported in a range of ways. For one year (usually – this period may be extended if deemed necessary), the children attend the Upendo unit, where they learn and play together, have counselling and get regular meals.
After one year, the children are integrated into formal primary schools. Their school fees are paid, school supplies such as uniforms and text books are provided and the children are followed up to ensure they are happy and performing well in school.
The parents or guardians of the children are actively involved in the unit, helping to clean and to prepare meals. The program currently has 25 children in the unit, 95 in primary school and 39 in secondary school.
Thanks to the constant support of the program, many orphans and vulnerable children have progressed to post-secondary education. The Upendo post-secondary program supports its beneficiaries through university, college and other tertiary institutions. They all give back to the program through volunteer work and by mentoring the younger children. As the number of Upendo alumni increases, the program will be sustained by their generosity and support.
Social workers engage with the children’s families – often single-parent households – by going on home visits, counselling and organising educational seminars on a range of topics. Health seminars help those living with HIV, who are also referred to the sister program of Upendo, another program run by the parish called Uzima.
Upendo also has a self-help group for parents, to encourage them to save and obtain loans to sustain their modest income-generating activities.