The Beginnings of the SVD Mission in Kenya, By Brother Karl Schaarschmidt

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Brother Karl with John Cardinal Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi

Beginning of starting

a New Mission.

It was in 1984 when the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) Generalate decided to open a new mission in Kenya a country in East Africa. Three confreres namely Fr. Tony Rebello from India, who was born in Kenya and was working in Zambia, Fr Mike Egan from Ireland and myself from Germany, were assigned to the new mission.When we arrived we were invited by the then Archbishop of Nairobi His Eminence Maurice Cardinal Otunga, to start a parish in Kayole situated in the Eastern outskirts of Nairobi City. We also got another invitation by the then Bishop of Meru Diocese, Bishop Silas Njiro, to start a new mission in Galba Tulla.

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Present Kayole Parish

I arrived in April 1985, and I was sent to help build the infrastructure for our new mission Stations. We were first staying with the Holy Cross fathers in Dandora parish. Fr. Rebello, who was the mission leader, and myself, went to start a mission in Garba Tulla an outstation Isiolo Diocese that was then part of Meru Diocese.  Fr. Mike Egan remained in Nairobi. Garba Tulla is located 120 km from Isiolo town; the roads were very bad especially during the rainy season, which made it extremely difficult to access the mission.

Bro. Andre Hotchkiss from the United States of America arrived in August 1985 and was assigned to Garba Tulla. At that time, we had a small house with three rooms, a toilet and shower, but with no running water and no power.  We had an open round shed for a chapel.

 The Inhabitants

The inhabitants of Garba Tulla were the Borana people who were a nomadic tribe and 100% Moslems by faith.  A few District Administration employees were Catholics. There was also a national Secondary school build by German Protestant organization where there were some Catholics students. There was also a Methodist orphanage and a Government Health Clinic.

History of GT.

The area where our mission was situated lived a mixture of Borana and Somali people who had tried to separate from Kenya, but the Kenyan army thwarted this.  The Somalis escaped to Somalia and local Borana inhabitant were put into camps. Many lost all their animals and became poor. Many men were killed leaving the women and children without animals or food.

The Catholic Mission had started a feeding program for children, supported by “Canadian save the children fund.” Br. Andre started an “animal restocking program”; each family got two female one male cows. Fr. Mike and I went for a 3 month Swahili Language Course in Tanzania with Marynoll Fathers. During that time, we bought a house in Gigiri Nairobi from the Jesuit Fathers.

Fr. Mike continued his language classes in Nairobi.  I had forgot most the little Swahili I had learnt because in Garba Tulla the spoken language was mostly Boran. My main job was to establish the mission station, secure water supply, put solar powered electricity and rebuild a teacher’s house, classrooms and a Convent for the FMM Sisters who arrived in mid-1986 to take care of women and girls, teach catechism in secondary School and start a Kindergarten.

Community life

We conducted our daily Morning Prayer and mass together with the sisters in their chapel. We conducted Sunday mass out in the open with the Catholic community in the little town of Garba Tulla.  Fr. Tony was very active and enthusiastic to get the Borana people into the church. He had established a children’s choir and went on Saturday evening to the villages to sing and preach. He used to tell the mothers whose children were in the feeding program, that “if we feed you children, then you should also come to Church; otherwise you take them and feed them yourself”. Therefore, every Sunday, more and more people came to Church and the soon it was fully packed. Even some Moslem girls became the altar servers.

By that time, we had established three outstations in the surrounded villages. We started to build a primary school that started as a Catholic School, and as such no madrasa classes. Those who wanted Islamic teaching had go to other schools, since there were many others schools around.

We started a polytechnic for boys where they learnt carpentry, masonry, mechanical repair, welding and electric installations. We made different things for the local people such as beds, stools, solar cookers and donkey carts, as well as help the locals build houses, with the hollow blocks and Cement roof tiles that we made in the Centre.

For the girls, the sisters gave sewing classes, uniform and dressmaking, knitting and making pullover for the schools, and batik technics for cloth. The two communities joined together for prayers and meetings and on Sundays we had meals together, alternately in the sister’s house and our house.

There were many activities but little pastoral work like in other parishes in Nairobi. No baptism, weddings, funerals, but only Sunday mass, and some catechism classes in the secondary school. This is one of the reasons why many young priests who were assigned to the mission were not able stay there for long time. Therefore, there was constant coming and going of priests, something that was not very good to our SVD community.

Then there was the issue of insecurity from the so-called “shifters” who did highway robbery and overran the village to steal.  These were in constant cat and mouse game with the police. Coming and going to GT had to be with police escort.  The shifters attacked me several times, as I had to supply the mission with material and food.

Another problem was the overzealous leader in of our SVD community. He wanted to have as many children in the feeding program as possible, but they had not been registered with the feeding organization. So he used to spend our community budget money to buy food for the children.  Since he was already 3 years in the mission in Zambia, he went on home leave from GT after 2 years. In his absence, we decided in our team meeting that, instead cooking the food in the mission, we would rather give it to the mothers and have them cook for all of us. This worked very well, but by the time Fr. Tony came back from home leave, there were not as many children in the mission as before.  From that time on, the situation in our Mission went sour with tension and the community split.

A general councilor was ask to see to the situation. When he came, he ask each one of us to write a letter to the General and explain our personal feelings about the situation in the mission.  Fr. Tony was ask to go to Rome to give his side of the story. He never came back to Kenya.  Fr. Larry Finnegan from Ireland replaced him. The situation became quite and we continued as before.

I was able to build a small chapel for the weekly masses and a pastoral center that housed the parish offices, a small Hall that had also a library for children.

Later on Fr. Larry was transferred to be the new parish priest in Kayole, because Fr. Mike Egan left. Fr. Dante from the Philippines and Fr. Leo Fernando were assigned to GT. Later, the GT parish was handed over to the new established Diocese of Isiolo and the SVD was given a parish on the other side of the diocese. In 1996, our province accepted a new mission in Dol dol in the Diocese of Nyeri. Since I had served in the GT mission for 11 years, I asked to be a member of the new mission in Dol dol. I was appointed the community preases, Fr. Stanislaw Roz was the parish priest and Fr. Eusebio Manangbao the ass. Parish priest.

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An Italian Fidei Donum priest and a woman volunteer by the name Maria had started the Dol dol Mission, who had concentrated much on the Maasai children and had established dormitories in Dol dol and in two other outstations. This was because the Maasai children could not walk the long distances to the different schools, as well as the threat by the wild animals, mostly elephants that were plenty in the area.  There was also a team of Comboni sisters in the parish.

I had taken over the administration of the Mission and the sponsorship program, which I transferred from GT to Dol dol. I rebuilt and renovated the parish house, since it was not in good condition for us to stay. The Fidei Donum Priest had their personal apartments. I got two Brothers, my classmate and a retired Brother from Papua New Guinea to do the electric wiring. We had to install an overhead electrical line from the Mission to the water pump at the well in the valley. We used a Generator to run the pump and light the mission.

 

Dol dol Mission 2009

I also started a polytechnic inside the mission and a program to rebuild all the wooden buildings in the mission territory, which were had been destroyed by termites, with the help of the local chief and the people. I was not able to accomplish these projects because I was asked by the new Province administration to transfer to Soweto-Nairobi1999. Fr. Augustin Rodriguez and I were assigned to Soweto by then an outstation of Kayole parish.

 

                       Construction of Soweto Church                  Present Church Building

Since Soweto had only a Church Hall that build by Fr. Hermann Gasser, we had to reside in Kayole parish. We started a small primary school made of timber and iron sheets close to the Nairobi East sewer line as we thought of a proper school building.  We started with four classrooms as sourced for funding for the other classrooms. With time, we were able to build 16 classrooms together with the administration block. I also build the parish house.  Soweto was named a fully pledged parish by the then Archbishop of Nairobi Ndingi Mwana Nzeki.

It has been a wonderful experience for me from the humble beginnings of the mission in Kenya to what we have today.

Brother Karl Schaarschmidt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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