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Fr Joe Kengah visits with news of successes and fresh challenges

In July Fr Joe brought us the illustrated newsletter from Mivumoni, packed with new stories from his thriving parish which is a catalyst for social improvement in this developing district of Kenya.

Fr Joe has now spent 12 years developing his large parish - he is the Bishop's Dean at Kwale pastoral district and can take pride in great progress.

He now has completed another church - the ninth, and had a new roof put on the main church at Mivumoni. He visits each church every week. Fr Joe says two Masses a day, and must allow travelling time for long journeys in his offroader, along unmade rural roads, sometimes rain drenched and barely passable. (The parishioners accept that their Mass Day may also be an ordinary weekday - perhaps a pointer to the future in rural England?).

In Kenya's population of 32 million, about ten million are Catholics. The expected lifespan of village people is only 43 years and the Mivumoni parish continues as a leading member of the campaign against epilepsy - an endemic problem in Kenya, probably caused by mosquitoes. This distressing disease (Kifafa) is now well treated in the clinics started in 2002 by Fr Joe and his team. The social challenge is against the superstitious belief put about by witch doctors, that evil spirits inhabit the sick, causing the patient to be alienated and unemployable. Happily this is diminishing thanks to the pastoral and medical campaigns. The clinic has 145 clients and creates community awareness about the nature of the disease.

A new challenge taken up - deafness

On his return to St Richard's in September, Father appealed at Mass for the other charitable cause he supports -Deafness - a less obvious but insidious health challenge now tackled in his parish. Some people are born totally deaf - two even in Fr Joe's family. Deaf children are thought by some non-Christian families to be “unproductive, not worth educating”. It’s estimated that in Kenya there are 230,000 deaf people of whom only 3600 or so attend school for specialist instruction.. The cause is unknown, possibly genetic or through disease. Fr Joe has supported the local authority's scheme to provide a new school for the deaf, which opened using a primary school starting with 20 students. The new school will deliver secondary and vocational education, using well tried techniques - ranging from formal sign language, finger spelling, speech, "lip-reading," reading and writing – in English as well as Swahili. Students will have the skills to work in the community. The church is again in the forefront of this campaign. The school will be completed shortly - just a few months after the groundbreaking ceremony in February this year!

The spiritual thrust in Mivumoni is strong and the future will be sustained by candidates for future ordination, five at present, though Fr Joe says this is fewer than in some other areas.

(As Fr Kieron found, the influence of early Arab settlers has resulted in fewer Catholics in the Mombasa area.)

Financial help comes from English parishes, including St Richard's, with our projects led principally by parishioners at Our lady of Assumption, Bosham - who contributed to a new namesake church.

Another source of help is given by student Volunteers from English towns - Harrow, Winchester, Sussex and Hemel Hempstead, who are also spending gap years in Mivumoni. They teach in the village school, and work with young people.

The parish is creating a nursery day-school, since children below 7 years are not able to join the lowest class in primary school until they are seven years old so their formative years are neglected.

Fr Joe saw the need could be addressed by working with parishioners to convert outstations into day schools, hire teachers, provide uniforms and arrange feeding during school day. The first class was started two years ago, where parents and the parish council worked together – today this school has 71 children aged from 4-6 years.

Modernisation of some public services is coming to Mivumoni. IT communication is improving - until recently Fr Joe had to drive 50 miles to Mombasa to send emails. Now three mobile companies have arrived - one has a station very near the presbytery, so Fr Joe can more easily keep the world in touch with progress! Mains Electricity will be connected this year.

Last year Fr Joe, then President of Ukunda Rotary, extended Rotary’s borehole well project to Mivumoni, where two wells were repaired and one well put in place. However, running water on tap is a rarity, and children (especially girls) are pulled out of their classes to draw water from the wells for the family.

The world economic downturn is also affecting this remote parish. – Fr Joe's newsletter notes that the church has a plan to build within the church compound to provide shops for small retailers, who are struggling to survive.

Finally, on a rural note, after disappointment with a scheme to import female goats donated from England, the local male goats have succeeded in producing offspring and the flocks are increasing and multiplying!

Fr Joe says Kenya is now politically calm but weakened by corruption. People are hoping for stability from the forthcoming election. There is the promise of new industry creating rural employment - like the huge Canadian opencast mining project, now virtually taken over by the Chinese. This project is slow to make progress, but has purchased land, relocating and compensating 3000 displaced parishioners. Fr Joe reckons that a decent proportion of people there are somewhat better off than before.

But rural poverty remains a blight - families are large and wages are low, particularly where the men are casual labourers. This situation was linked, on Sunday, here in Chichester to Fr Joe's stimulating homily at St Richard's, relating to Christ's feeding of the five thousand. Fr Joe mentioned that in Mivumoni, children from one area were coming to school without a decent breakfast and could not take in their lessons. So the parish is ensuring that they are now fed on arrival at school.

Photos of the ceremonies show the many settings in the nine churches in the huge parish. the record is inspiring to us in Sussex, and a stimulus to providing a flow of help.

What of the future for Father Joe?

Plainly, Mivumoni's people have enjoyed the services of an energetic and successful innovator. For the future, the Bishop of Mombasa has asked Fr Joe to complete another two/three years at Mivumoni before moving on. Fr Joe hopes that after fifteen years his developments will make it sensible to divide the parish into two or more new parishes. He is warm in his thanks to our parishioners for their support and friendship, and delighted to know that he is never out of our minds.

For more details of life in Mivumoni, please see Fr Kieron's graphic account, written during his visit in 2006