On the sun-drenched Malindi coast of Kenya, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have entered into a new ministry: caring for the elderly in the Mijikenda community. These nine minority tribes are considered socially and economically disadvantaged, with traditional religions and superstitions still strong.
For the elderly in this community, life can be particularly harsh. Neglected by their families and society, they are often blamed for any mishap that occurs in the village, including sickness, death, and accidents. Some are even killed because of beliefs that they are practicing witchcraft. The Catholic Men and Women’s Association held a workshop on faith where Father Samuel Kenga shared that the Mijikendas believe that they are born to live forever and that any death is the result of an evil eye.
Sister Vinaya Chalil is making a difference. In collaboration with the Chief and the Village Elders, Sister Vinaya conducted a survey in 19 villages and identified more than 250 elderly men and women above 70. After identifying the target group, she met with the elderly in their villages to listen to their problems. Health issues, lack of food, and delayed social benefits were just some of the issues they faced.
Sister Vinaya is determined to build up credibility and trust among the people by addressing non-threatening issues before tackling the social issues of negligence by the elderly’s families and superstitions. In collaboration with the local Government Health Centre and village elders, she organized health education and screenings for hypertension and diabetes, referring those with chronic conditions to the Health Centre for management and treatment. After the screenings, Vinaya distributed maize flour to the elderly so that they could prepare a meal for themselves and their families.
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are grateful for the generosity of individuals in the US who have donated to support their ministries in Kenya. Vinaya also receives small contributions locally to purchase maize flour. Despite the difficult circumstances, the Sisters are committed to making a difference in the lives of the elderly in the Mijikenda community. Through their ministry, they are shining a light of hope in a community where darkness and superstition have long reigned.