She would have created heaven on earth

“With the resources that are available in the counties today, if they were available then, and they were given to her to administer, she would have ensured that no child missed education or suffered poor health that was avoidable. She would have ensured that there was running water and that every person had a home” – Dr Awori

BY DAVID WANJALA

“…Every holiday, all the children in the project would congregate at the mission hospital daily to help with planting trees, farming, making roads, weeding flowers and many other chores. And we would never go home hungry. At the end of the day, we would meet at the nutrition area and have a meal before we went back home.

“We could get cheeky at times working together as a group of young men and women. One day as we worked on the farm, John, a cousin of mine, uprooted a cassava, but before we could feast on it, Sister Marianna walked in on us, we gave John the signal in whispers and he took off with the whole uprooted cassava tree, maneuvered the farm uphill to go and hide the loot. It was a sight to behold as the cassava branches could be seen above others making its way uphill. Sister Marianna saw everything but she did not bother.

“Later she called all of us in a gathering and addressed John directly, “John, I saw a cassava running,” she said cheekily. We all bust out in laughter,” relives Cyprus Olumbe Oluoch, one of the early beneficiaries of Sister Marianna’s social welfare project at Nangina Catholic Mission and who also stuck with the project through its highs and lows to date.  Cyprus has been instrumental in the efforts to try and revive the project to its glorious past after its brainchild’s demise.  

Sister Marianna, Cyprus relives with nostalgia, was never punitive. She had seen and understood what had taken place at the farm. Even though she would let you understand that whatever you did was not right, she handled issues with fun. She warned all of them to not eat raw cassava as they could catch germs and fall sick. Surprisingly however, she wondered why they did it, if the food ratios were never enough. “Are you not eating enough down there?” she pondered. Shockingly, the incident led Sister Marianna to introduce a ten O’clock tea break in the farm.

Here was a Catholic nun who never had children of her own but who, strangely, knew how to deal with a child’s mind. “She knew what a child was,” Cyprus remembers adding that “I don’t want to imagine that Marianna, as I sit at times to think about her, was highly educated but yet I think she was. And I am thinking that her education could have been about the university of life. She knew what life is.”

Zipporah Adala’s house in Wahungu, built by Nangina Family Helper Project in mid 80’s. The Octogenarian has since passed on (about two years ago). In those times, grass-thatched houses were the norm even for the middle class of the society. A permanent house for the old, sick and widowed was thus a treasure.

It is His Excellency Hon. Dr Moody Awori, the former Vice President and long serving Member of Parliament for Funyula Constituency, however that is the vault of the treasure that is Sister Marianna’s social work in Funyula.

Dr Awori, a social philanthropist himself, met Sister Marianna, a medical missionary sister in 1961 at the Nangina Holy Family Mission Church. Their collaboration however kicked off around 1969 and 1970. The occasion, as fate would have it, was in the course of social philanthropy. Dr Awori had taken clothes that his children had outgrown to the church so that they could help the needy when he encountered Sister Marianna in her social work sphere. 

It wasn’t long after that Sister Mariana registered the Nangina Family Helper Project as the number of those she helped grew. The intention, Dr Awori remembers, was just to assist the poor children particularly in good organizing for a proper nutritious diet using traditional foods, hygiene in very simple ways like insisting on washing hands before eating and brushing teeth every morning by merely using the traditional sticks and Dr Awori was involved henceforth by bringing on board whatever he could in donations. 

In 1971 while visiting the USA, Dr Awori met an organization called the Christian Children Fund (CCF), initially, China Children Fund. It was an American organization of missionaries that helped the many dispossessed and displaced children in China by asking ordinary individuals back in America to donate a dollar for a child. As such they could provide food, soap, clothing for the Chinese children. This had gone on for 20 to 30 years until the Chinese cultural revolution when Mao Tse Tung, popularly known as Chairman Mao took over power and expelled all Americans from China, not sparing the missionaries. Back in America, the missionaries changed their name to Christian Children Fund and tried to replicate the mission elsewhere for instance in West Africa. Dr Awori helped them set up office in Nairobi in 1972 and introduced Sister Marianna. After she applied, Nangina Family Helper Project became one of the projects funded by CCF.

The two organisations’ objectives were the same; nutrition, hygiene, clothing, education. At the time, Dr  Awori relives, a dollar was equivalent of KSh20. CCF thus undertook to sponsor one child at Sh20 per month. Sister Marianna had her ways of soliciting for funds. Mainly, it was from her family and friends back in the Netherlands. CCF, Awori recollects, only came in to compliment her work and it only sponsored a project for a maximum of 15 years within which it promoted self-reliance.

The numbers grew. The Nangina Holly Family Mission Hospital for which Sister Marianna worked as an administrator became weary. It beseeched her to let go of the social work and concentrate on hospital administration or quit the latter altogether. She chose to quit. She had opened within the administration block a social work office from where she recruited needy kids more so through nutrition. She hired staff and constituted a board that hired locals in administration.  Martina, Agness Olale, Rafael Obonyo all came on board.

Cyprus joined the project while in class six in 1976 alongside many others. “I know very well there were about 15 students on full sponsorship of the project in various high schools. I used to admire them because at that time to be in a high school was not an easy thing. After my period, around 20 of us who did very well joined high school in 1978,” he recollects with nostalgia.

Between 1978 and 1979, the numbers became unbearable for the hospital. They asked Sister Marianna to either let go, or move her operations from the hospital precincts. With the help of CCF, Nangina Family Helper Project bought two five-acre pieces of land adjacent to each other two or so kilometers away from the hospital where she put up a huge administration block. Hilly and rocky, the medical missionary sister was to later turn it into a near paradise from sheer hard work and determination.

CCF helped mainly with the primary school sponsorship and Marianna, her family and her friends especially Jose Van Kasterein from Holland concentrated on Secondary education. There was a big gap in funding for administration expenses. To this, the visionary Sister Marianna responded by initiating revenue-generating projects at the new project site.

“She built 32 rental houses of three, two and one bedrooms. They generated income to assist in administration expenses. She harvested water from the roofs of the buildings into underground tanks and when the community, suffering acute water shortages encroached, other than refuse them, she sunk a borehole for them, one of the first boreholes in Samia that is still working to date. She later bought a posh mill for the parents of the children she took care of. She asked children to carry along soil, a little every day. They did, pouring on to the expansive rocky land. All over a sudden, the rock was gone. She planted trees. It was turned into a forest – a sister-made forest,” Cyprus recollects.

She put up at the project site a full-blown polytechnic with state of the art equipment, which Jose shipped from overseas and Mr Awori helped with application for duty free waivers. 

Sister Marianna, in her efforts to uplift the society that was at that time mired in abject poverty, traditional practices some of which were backward, lack of information and knowledge and poor dissemination of the little information and knowledge that were available especially in nutrition and hygiene, never merely scratched the surface. She went to the root cause.

“Sister Marianna was a great person. She had passion for children and others. Obviously children come from somewhere, they must have a parent, a guardian, so her help was inclusive of the family in which the child came from; a poor parent or a guardian,” remembers the former Vice President adding that after they secured the children’s clothing, health and nutrition, they had to ensure that they were enrolled in school. “We have, today, at least three or four professors who benefited from that,” he says.

“She was very passionate. She came as a catholic medical missionary, but she served everyone. Any child that needed help, any mother, guardian that needed help, she helped,’ he adds.

She involved the parents of the children she enrolled in her project in small enterprising ventures like peasant agriculture. She even introduced fish farming for a while. And then she roped in other organisations to help her work. AMREF, for instance, came in to assist in farming – new crop seed for the mothers, Lions Club, Rotary Club, the American Embassy and many others. The intention, Dr Awori says, was not only to look after the children but also to make sure that even the poor should not be fully, completely dependent, that they must make a contribution. 

She came as a catholic medical missionary, but she served everyone. Any child that needed help, any mother, guardian that needed help, she helped

And they were rewarded in the long run. The project for instance built decent, brick wall houses for the old, the widowed and the sick and harnessed water from the rooftops of the same houses into concrete water tanks on each and every house they built. In those times, grass-thatched houses were the norm even for the middle class of the society. A permanent house for the old, sick and widowed was thus a big deal. Those houses still stand strong to date, scattered all over the villages decades on even as the society has since found some economic liberation thanks to the education that Sister Marianna gifted to the youth back in the day.  

“Her vision was simple; to ensure that disadvantaged children were taken care of. And I think we worked with her for quite some time, several years until her health started failing when she went back and eventually passed away.”

Samia, Cyprus says, is where it is today, endowed with unrivalled human resource, with a larger group of middle and higher-income earners because of Sister Marianna. Because she simply gave education to 3000 to 4000 needy children, people who would probably not have seen end of the day.

If you walked around Samia today, he says, you will see some beautiful homes being assets, be it by extension, of the near 4000 needy children that Sister Marianna uplifted. The multiplier effect of it is huge. The beauty of it is that even their construction; masonry, carpentry, joinery, plumbing, wiring are all done with local skills mostly courtesy of the fruits of Sister Marianna’s Polytechnic.

When Sister Marianna’s health started failing her and she eventually left for her motherland for better care where she later passed on in 2008, the project suffered visible turmoil. Her friend Jose gave it her all but it did not match Sister Marianna’s. Ownership wrangles post Sister Marianna’s times pitying the community, the catholic church and Jose that neither Mr Awori nor Cyprus were interested in delving into also contributed a big deal in bringing the project to its knees in recent times.

There is light at the end of the tunnel though. A truce brokered by Dr Awori and Cyprus in recent years reverted the project back to the community. And Dr Awori, through the Moody and Rosemary Awori Trust, has offered to fully revive and fund the project and endeavour to take it back to its past glory.

“This is something very personal to me. It has troubled me very much. So my wife and I have decided to set up a trust: Moody and Rose Awori Trust. We started to sponsor 300 children in primary school two years ago – fees, uniform and all the requirements they need. 

“Currently we are sponsoring 460 children in various primary schools. This year it has cost the trust Sh1m. Our plan is to ensure that we increase the number of children up to 500. We want now to expand to women coming again, agriculture, fish farming, and dairy. Every thing that Sister Marianna was doing, this Trust has taken over. We want to cap up our funding to Sh5m a year. And the basis, really, is in memory of Sister Marianna,” offers Dr Awori who has also set his eyes on roping in the County Government in reviving the polytechnic.

To the big question of what Sister Marian would have achieved had she the current county governments’ financial muscles; a revolution,  Dr Awori, with a big sigh, says. “With the resources that are available today, if they were available then, and they were given to her to administer, she would have ensured that no child missed education or suffered poor health that was avoidable. She would have ensured that there was running water and that every person had a home”.  

For Cyprus, who has since scaled the heights of accountancy to become an accounting and IT consulting magnet on the Continent and is also pursuing his PhD in the fomer, Sister Marianna would have created heaven on earth. 

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