An early template for devolved system of government long before the advent of Devolution in Kenya

To the sick, she healed. To the hungry, she fed. To the homeless, she sheltered. To the thirsty, she quenched. To those in need of education, she flung the golden gates to infinite academic highway. 


Adelaide Sarah Munyolo beams with delight and gratitude as she confesses that she is forever grateful to the late Sister Marianna Hulshof.

In 1985, then aged at 10, she became disabled courtesy of a polio attack. Her parents responded by abandoning her at Alupe Hospital, Busia District. The search for her kin led to her grandparents who rather than despair, embraced optimism and thought of taking Adelaide to Nangina Family Helper Project in 1988, a Catholic Church Mission facility which among other things championed for the rights of children living with disabilities. 

This leap of faith opened her journey to join St Catherine’s Nangina Girl’s Primary School in 1993; an integrated school for the physically challenged. Eventually she sat for KCPE in 2000 and qualified to join St Cecilia Nangina Girls’ High School in 2001 for her KCSE and later pursued her university education.

Today, she is a proud wearer of many hats; a member of staff at National Council for Persons with disability, motivational speaker, Sign Language Interpreter, Braille Transcriber and Founding Director of Inua Mlemavu – an NGO whose mission is to support people with disability to enhance their self-esteem.

This is such a huge difference to many years ago in Busia County, Funyula Sub-county, Buyingi village when Adelaide was an abandoned child; left to perish by her own parents due to her physical condition. This difference was the effort of the Nangina Family Helper Project headed by Sister Marianna Houlshof with the indefatigable support from the then area MP who later rose to become Kenyan Vice President, His excellence Moody Awori.

The story of Adelaide is only one of the numerous narratives that reverberate in many parts of the world where the Midas touch of Sister Marianna Hulshof stretched. To the people of Samia where she spent most of her life and was involved in phenomenal humanitarian activities, Sister Mariana was a devolved system long before the advent of Devolution in Kenya. 

Adelaide Sarah Munyolo

From healthcare to agriculture, education, poverty eradication, housing, sports development, religion, social work among others, the mention of Sister Marriana evokes fond nostalgic memories of a selfless human being whose determination to positively impact on people’s lives is legendary. Current Funyula MP Hon. Dr Wilberforce Mudenyo confirms that indeed Sister Marianna touched many hearts.

“She assisted my two brothers through school and today one is a Lawyer and another one is a Quantity Surveyor”, he acknowledges with visible gratitude.

In 2010 when then Attorney General Amos Wako was presiding over the promulgation of the new Constitution that officially set the stage for the current much applauded devolved system of government, Sister Marriana had long demonstrated in Wako’s native, current Busia county with resounding success on the devolution template; where locals are actively involved in making decisions regarding resource utilization and their welfare is concerned.  

When Erick Ngala asked her what was the secret of her success, she answered ‘not my success, but the Lord enabled me’ and also commitment, perseverance and involving the people in everything I did. She confided in Erick that many times during holidays, she traveled back home to Netherlands in order to promote what God was doing. It was amazing that in the village of Ootmarsum, Netherlands, where she was born, all the women gave something to the project. Some organizations donated equipments and even a vehicle. A private sponsor donated a tractor, others bought dairy animals. 

Erick was a civil servant in the ministry of Livestock. He was posted to Funyula Constituency in 1994 to 2000 time within which he rented at Marianna’s Nangina Self Help Project having been attracted by security and self-sustenance of the residential houses. He went to the Netherlands in 2005 to 2006 for training in International Pig Husbandry and Animal Feeds sponsored by the Royal Dutch Government Fellowship Programme. Now a pastor with the AIC, he also runs a theological college at Bumala, near 10km From Nangina. It was during his sojourn in the Netherlands that he traced Sister Marianna, who had since gone back to her motherland, to pay tribute. He found her in the home for the old and they reminisced on here times at Nangina. 

She also confirmed that many private sponsors adopted children and helped in meeting their education expenses and other needs. She helped needy groups and she was faithful to see that what was given actually reached the correct people at the right time. 

Mr Cypress Oluoch, a Nairobi based renowned Accountant who was plucked from imminent waste by Sister Marianna remembers: “She had passion, foresight and was very intelligent. She was relentlessly forgiving and an understanding human being, very kind person”. According to Mr Oluoch, he would probably be dead by now were it not for Sister Marianna’s priceless intervention in his life.

Arrival in Kenya

The phenomenal devolution system that wasSister Marianna Hulshofquietly came to Kenya under the Catholic Medical Mission Sisters at Nangina Hospital in Busia County as an administrator. En route to the hospital, she made a two year stopover at Kenya Institute of Administration in Kabete from Jan 5 1970 to December 3 1971 where she honed her skills not only in administrative issues in Africa but also to familiarize and connect with the people in Kenya.

Reality Check

At Nangina Hospital, Sister Marraiana came face to face with reality that illness of the people was only one part of the problem as the disease spread to the whole system of human life and required more than just medical treatment. Her diagnoses pointed to extreme poverty of the people of Samia who could not afford to pay hospital bills and admitted to starvation at home. Their dressing was pathetic and children were ravaged with kwashiorkor and marasmus among other ailments.

The creative Sister Marianna initiated outreach programs, which included door-to-door visits to meet the people of Samia in order to really understand the community. She hired scouts to assist her in this fact finding mission. The area was demarcated and scouts given specific regions to operate.

One such scout is Pauline Wesonga who remembers her segment to have been Bukangala A, B and Nambuku-Lugulau. She recounts: “Samia was so poor such that many people did not have houses leading to families seeking refuge in the homes of the few who had houses. This led to frustrations among many men who resorted to drinking. Children were neglected and diseases took over. It was very terrible.” She adds that Sister Marianna would make personal visits to the homes to confirm authenticity of the reports that the scouts gave her. She used church elders too to collect information on matters afflicting the people of Samia.

In the process, she realized that many children were not going to school and those families with children who had disabilities, hid them from the public or were abandoned altogether. To her shock, some had conditions which just needed simple operation to correct and she corrected many such cases by keeping them in the project and taking them to special doctors. Today, many, including Adelaide lead normal fulfilling lives.

A hilly, rocky Beginning 

In order to address the societal ailments holistically, Sister Marianna bought a rocky piece of land that the owner thought was useless. She then formed the Nangina Family Helper Project, concentrated on the social welfare and left the hospital management.

After setting up an administration office and recruiting social workers, she started by building the dormitories for children with disabilities and a nursery school. The social workers and scouts went out to visit homes to meet the very elderly, the orphans that were not going to school, the sick and look out for all sorts of problems. The social workers identified the situations and brought them to the committee for discussion and possible support.

Women groups were formed and got involved in brick making to put up rental houses. Before long, she started using manure and ordinary soil from farms around to rehabilitate the rocky area into a farm land. She made soil conservation structures and water harvesting mechanism such that no water was lost from the project area as roof catchments were directed to both underground and above the ground reservoirs. The surface run-off was directed to a nearby fishpond. 

She made a tree nursery from where seedlings were not only used by the project but also by schools and families around. 

The project served people irrespective of their ethnic background so long as they were within reach. Indeed there are cases where the project offered assistance to the neighboring Divisions such as Budalangi, Matayos, Nambale, Butula and as far as Ukwala and Ugunja in the neighboring Siaya District. 

Housing and Healthcare 

According to Erick Ngala, about 200 permanent houses and 400 semi-permanent houses were built my Sister Marriana. These were for needy families such as orphans, widows, the old and the disabled and extremely poor individuals who could not afford to develop decent housing.

Sister Marriana started a project on HIV/AIDS targeting the orphans and widows. Members were assisted to prolong their lives at a time when there were no ARVs and victims died prolonged, painful deaths. The importance of abstinence and safe sex was brought to their attention.  Physical exercise was also introduced to assist members especially women to keep fit. 


“Give a needy child education and you will be amazed at how far they can flyis the recurring statementwhen talking to Mr Cyprus Oluoch regarding SisterMarianna and rightly so because reports indicate that Sister Marianna was able to sponsor many needy children to school. 

By the end of the day it is reported that she sponsored between 4000- 10,000 children through Primary, Secondary, middle level colleges and university education. “Most of these nice houses you see in Samia today have a link in one way or another to Sister Marianna through her education programs. These are products of her investments in needy children to attain education,” says Mr. Oluoch.

She provided uniforms, fees and books and visited them at their homes so that where there were no houses; she put up houses for the parents or guardians. Further, she provided the children with seats and lamps for reading. 

Sister Marriana built and rehabilitated many primary and secondary schools in Samia. Mr Austin Odwori, a teacher and native of Samia remembers to have been involved in entertainment activities during the launch of two classroom blocks in 1994 built by the gracious Sister Marianna at Malanga Primary School. In a number of occasions she also provided materials for learning to the schools. In many schools she initiated a project in one way or another such as tree nurseries, text book provision, de-worming children and many more. 

She set up a dormitory for orphans and the disabled children within the project compound from where they went to the nearest schools. The babies were happy when she also put up a nursery which was one of the best within the then Busia District.

Vocational training (TVET) – when?

For those who could not proceed to Secondary or College, sister Marriana had a plan for them. She started a polytechnic within the project to train on tailoring and dressmaking, carpentry/ joinery, building & construction among others. 

The students of this Project got sufficient practical training to either seek employment or get into self-employment. Often they received experts from abroad who also took their internship in this project.

According to Mr Oluoch, most of the construction work being done in Samia today has a footprint of Sister Marriana. These include masons, plumbers and electricians. Pastor Gabriel Odwori does all works to do with construction. “I got these skills from Sister Marianna who found me loitering on the road and took me to school,” he narrates. “He is very good at his work” confirms Boniface Nyongesa, a client, referring to his three bed-roomed house that Gabriel did for him at Hakati, Funyula.

This is an area that has captured the attention of current area MP Hon Mudenyo who is keen in project resuscitation after the collapse that occurred after Sister Marianna’s departure.


They say water is life and this is particularly true because so much revolves around water; washing clothes, bathing, cooking, agriculture, drinking and much more. 

The visionary Sister Marriana Hulshof was alive to this reality such that she noted the plight of Samia women trekking several kilometers in search of this precious commodity. As a result, Sister Marriana observed that they spent the better part of the day walking to and from the water points; wasting valuable time which could be spent on other productive activities. 

An ever problem solver, she sank a borehole at the centre of the project administration and distributed the same to the neighborhood. Additionally, she did other boreholes in other places like near schools and Hospitals. This was also a subtle way of addressing the diseases associated with the use and consumption of contaminated water.


According to One Acre Fund, a non-profit social enterprise that finances and train smallholder farmers to grow their way out of hunger and build pathways to prosperity, when farmers improve their harvests, they pull themselves out of poverty. They also start producing surplus food for their neighbors. When farmers prosper, they eradicate poverty and hunger in their communities.

This is the wisdom that Sister Marianna Hulshof brought with her from Ootmarsum Netherlands to Samia in Kenya. She appreciated that this was very important for ensuring food security to nourish the people of Samia. Therefore she gave it her all and employed trained personnel and technology to run it. 

She established an orchard, a forest, flower system and also started community awareness programs to plant food crops such as beans, maize, cassava, bananas, local vegetables, sorghum and millet .She also practiced the same in the project farms and whenever the people wanted to plant and they had no seeds, she could give them seeds which they refunded after they harvested. 

She also did dairy farming and brought some of the best dairy animals from the catholic farm in Mukumu. She made silos for feed storage to be used during the frequent dry season shortages and planted enough pastures and forages for the animals and never did she experience any shortage of animal feeds. 

The female calves of the cows were passed over to the project parents at a fee to encourage others to adopt this approach. This gave many people who could not afford to bring in dairy animals an opportunity to have them within their village. 

A fishpond was also constructed to supply proteins and make use of surface run-off water. A poultry project was started to supply eggs to its clients. She had a ready market within the project compound because the tenants took most of her produce.

Sister Marianna also encouraged the keeping of local chicken so that people could take advantage of disease resistance that is very typical of the local chicken. She also liked organic farming where livestock diseases which could be cured using local trees/herbs were applied. This meant no antibiotic residues in products such as milk, eggs and meat.

Farmers and schools around benefited from the project because of being educated and through demonstrations as well as open days at the project.


When it comes to matters environment in Kenya, one person towers above everybody else- the late Prof Wangari Maathai and to her, trees largely defined environment. She once said, “Now, it is one thing to understand the issues. It is quite another to do something about them. But I have always been interested in finding solutions.It just came to me: ‘Why not plant trees?”

In looking for solutions for the plight of Samia people, Sister Marianna must have asked herself the rhetoric question: Why not plant trees? Her response began forming itself when she asked the project beneficiaries to bring with them little soils as they visited the facility. 

“As they brought soil little by little, the rock started disappearing little by little”. From a condemned rocky hill at Nangina, Sister Marianna established a tree nursery in the project premises as well as in schools and so the farmers and the children were able to get tree seedlings to plant and forest land developed. A place that was full of rocks was now high potential. Even rains improved!

As Wangari Maathai said “Nature is very generous but can be unforgiving”. At Sister Marianna’s Nangina Self Helper Project, nature became so generous such that there was a micro-climate for Nangina area where she operated such that as one moved towards the project, there was a great difference in the habitat due to an improved and protected eco-system. It was fresh and cool, full of fruit trees too akin to the biblical garden of Aden. 

Further, the farm won awards by the relevant Government Departments and on three consecutive years the project was the best conserved and one with the best use of water in the whole of Western Province of Kenya.

Housing and Sustainability

In demonstration of her foresight and vision, Sister Marianna appreciated that one day, she would be no more and the project needed to continue. In response, she began focusing on exploring options of how the project would be self-sustaining. She started putting up more rental houses in the project; a total of 34 houses, which teachers and other civil servants working within the division preferred to stay in because of the availability of the basic needs within the place. 

She often had the famous day of the former beneficiaries/children of the project and as they came together, they were actually urged to help support others with shared destiny.

Further, she put the project tractor to commercial use, to ferry building materials and plough land and the proceeds were then re-ploughed into the project. 

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