Upendo is all you need

I sit here wondering how I can express just how moving and inspiring our latest project visits were as Emer, our Programmes officer, and I visited Nairobi, Kenya in June. As communications officer my role is to highlight the huge impact and difference your generosity and support can make to the lives of those who are the world’s most marginalized and impoverished.

Upendo is the Swahili word for love and from my visit to Kenya – love it seems is the driving force of the various development projects located in its state capital.

Upendo is the name of an educational and rehabilitation programme based in Kangemi, a slum, home to more than 100,000 of Nairobi’s poorest people. The Programme’s main objective is to rehabilitate, educate, and integrate orphaned and abandoned children and low-income families who face various abuses within the Kangemi district. Since 1995, the programme has supported the education of vulnerable children. Our director, John Guiney SJ, founded Upendo after witnessing the hardship and suffering of the poor while based there for over a decade. Single mothers were often forced into the street to feed their children and HIV was rife, often leading to children losing their guardians and ending up on the street desperate and vulnerable to abuse. John rallied the local community and gathered St Joseph’s parish to identify Kangemi’s most poor and vulnerable and outreach began to save the lives of children. The programme since then has grown immensely, through IJI support among other partners, to building livelihoods and brighter futures.

Life in Kangemi is extremely tough as poverty, substance abuse and mass over-crowding places children, and young girls especially, at great risk.


Through St Joseph’s Parish, children suffering from abandonment, exploitation and abuse are supported in several ways: beyond education support involving providing school supplies such as books, uniforms and tuition fees. Children are supported through balanced school meals and medical care when needed. The Upendo programme also provides much-needed counselling and psychosocial support and continues to empower local youth, parents, and guardians through vocational skills training and seminars.

Not only does the Upendo programme support the transition of children from primary, secondary and even into third level institutions but the programme also focuses on livelihoods and up-skilling local communities through a number of courses from hairdressing and dressmaking to electrical work.

One moment during the visit that stuck with me the most was listening to Lucy, an instructor with the Upendo OVC educational programme, teaching a classroom of men to be future electricians. She spoke with such passion about her career and the defiance to break away from the preconceived notions and imposed limitations of her sex. Lucy expressed wholeheartedly a vision for all to strive for their own passions, and to develop strengths and interests without being constrained by gender. Through the Upendo programme women like Lucy continue to grow and continue to inspire women and men alike to break the mould and work with passion.


Another project giving vital support to the most vulnerable in Nairobi, is St Joseph’s dispensary, a health clinic which is mitigating the AIDS epidemic within Kangemi Slum. Poverty is particularly severe within urban slums with an estimated 70% of the population living below the poverty line and disproportionately impacting women and girls. Most Kangemi residents rely on poor quality, informal and unregulated health facilities and the available private health facilities within slums are frequently unlicensed with no working guidelines or standard protocols for services – the dispensary is a lifeline for people.

Last year, we supported St Joseph’s dispensary to cope with the COVID pandemic both within the facility and its targeted community, with an estimated 645 patients (120 men, 250 women & 275 children under the age of 5). IJI supported the community through the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for 17 St Joseph Dispensary staff (10 male, 7 female) to minimise the transfer of COVID19 as well as providing an isolation tent with 3 beds and oxygen concentrators erected for COVID19 positive patients and 35 Community Health Volunteers (12 male, 23 female) were trained and supported in home visit awareness raising sessions on COVID19 prevention to 1,740 people. Paired with the Upendo programme and the community of St Joseph’s parish – these projects have been both lifesaving and life changing and it was a privilege to meet the children, parents, teachers and students and other members of St Joseph’s parish who have been supported by the programme.

Meeting Br Magoba Ronald, the executive director of the St Joseph development programme (SJDP), was an absolute pleasure. His passion and the passion of his team to enrich and better the lives of those less fortunate is astounding and a project like Upendo has lasting impact because of this passion, dedication and support which will surely continue. At the end of the SJDP visit, after lunching with the children, Emer and I were gifted tracksuits including one for John to bring back home. The welcome we received won’t be forgotten nor the strides in development to bettering the lives of others.

As their motto proclaims – ‘love is enough’ and I saw first-hand the triumphs and impact of that love.

Author: Joe Munnelly, IJI Communications Officer