My Life in Kenya

By Sister Ruth Ella, SND

Sr. Ruth poses with a Kenyan friend dressed for a celebration.

I arrived in Kenya August 1979 to take a position at Eregi Teachers’ Training College teaching in the Home Science and General Science departments. Lab work in the science classes introduced me to “improvisation.”  We created beakers and funnels from soda bottles and soda caps become petri dishes. Bougainvillea flowers became litmus paper.

In home science classes I discovered many remnants of British influence in the curriculum, such as teaching fourth graders how to make starch and then starch and iron shirts and blouses.  I made efforts to get this removed from the program so that time could be given to more current needs.

Sister Patricia Tryon and I made up the SND community at the college and lived in a fairly comfortable staff house on campus–that is until the water storage tank situated in the attic overflowed or the electricity shut down…which both did from time to time!

Shopping in the local market was always enjoyable. I loved bartering with the people.  This was a means of establishing friendships.

The times I most enjoyed were visiting students who were on teaching practice in the local primary schools. I especially enjoyed being greeted by the first graders: “Good morning Seester. We are very fine, thank you Seester.  Now we are sitting down, Seester.”

These were the good years. I valued the simple living and the friendly students and faculty.

Unknowingly my experience in the Home Science department was preparing me for a future ministry.

Students working hard at one of the early Domestic Centres.

I was invited to become a member of the Pandipieri Catholic Centre team in Kisumu to create a home science program that would benefit teen-aged girls and young mothers living in the shanty towns that surrounded Kisumu. These girls had not even received a primary school education.

I accepted the invitation and after a brief course in the Dhluo language, I began preparing four Luo women as teachers. Using the knowledge and experience I gained during my time in Eregi, I created a two-year, six-pronged curriculum: personal growth, childcare and development, first aid, dressmaking, nutritional food preparation, starting a small business.

From the very beginning this project had to be the peoples’ project, or it would not survive.  So Josephine (one of the Luo teachers) and I went to the village barazas. These are weekly gatherings in each village where the people come into the presence of the subchief and the elders regarding issues of concern.  We came to these meetings to introduce ourselves and create interest and support for the program. Support was overwhelming! The people were asked to provide the space, help build the centres and find the girls.

In short order, Girls Domestic Centres were set up in the villages of Magadi, Got Owak and Nyalenda. Some of the first courses were taught under trees and others in crude thatched buildings, but later the villages were able to provide snug brick and mud buildings for the classes.

The best news–the education the young women received not only benefited themselves, but their families and community as well.

Postscript: Sr. Ruth directed the Centres for six years, when a health concern forced her return to the U.S.  In 1992, she was able to return to Kenya to participate in the tenth anniversary of the Centres’ founding. The Centres continue their good work to this day and it is estimated that over 2000 young women have gone through the programs. In 2010 the local villages came together to celebrate and honor 25 years of the Girls Domestic Centres. Sr. Ruth Ella’s photo graces the wall of one of the Centres as the foundress.

Though now retired, Sr. Ruth helps out from time to time at the Carmel House of Prayer where she worked for many years after returning from Kenya. She is also the videographer for many events at the Province Center.