Population: 41 million
Poverty index: 0.229%
Life expectancy: 59.48 years
Access to clean water: 59%
Adult literacy: 85.1%
GDP per head: $1,600 (2010 est.)
HIV/AIDS rates: 6.3% (2009 est.)
Infant mortality: 52.29/1,000 live births
Religions: Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, Other 22%
Our work in Kenya
Fr Aylward Shorter M.Afr
My experiences in Kenya
My first experience of Kenya was as a young layman aged nineteen. I went there during my National Service in 1951-1952, seconded to a unit of the British colonial forces, the 3rd Kenya Battalion of the King’s African Rifles. I had been thinking of studying for the priesthood but the army gave me the idea of becoming a missionary in Africa. It was an excellent initiation. I had to learn Swahili and was introduced to the country’s major ethnic cultures. When the battalion was sent to fight the Communist guerrillas in Malaysia, I found myself responsible for the discipline, welfare, health and hygiene of 36 homesick Kenyan askari (soldiers), and – alone with them on jungle patrol - I learnt a great deal about them and their country.
I returned to Kenya as a missionary priest 24 years later in 1976, after nine years in Uganda. I was appointed to Eldoret in Western Kenya, where the pastoral institute – to which I belonged – had been evacuated because of the difficulties created by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda. The Pastoral Institute ran an annual 9 month course for 50 RE teachers and pastoral workers. The country round Eldoret climbed from 6,000 feet to 9,000 feet above sea level and I spent my last 18 months with the institute in this healthy climate. I left for a stint in Tanzania in August 1977.
In December 1982 I returned to Kenya in order to take part in planning the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. Until August 1984, when the university opened its doors, I lived in a busy Nairobi slum parish, St. Teresa’s Eastleigh, where more than six thousand people came to the four Sunday Masses. It was a parish with thirty small communities dedicated to pastoral self-care. It had about a hundred catechumens preparing for baptism each year, and it looked after a hundred street children. It also ran a dispensary and had more than fifty home-based health care workers for people living with HIV-AIDS. Every week it offered directed retreats-in-life to twenty or more people. Besides Sunday and week day liturgies, I was asked to start and run a vocation club for boys. Its members included the parish Mass servers and junior seminarians. After I moved to the newly built University, I continued my association with the parish.
Pope John Paul II came to Nairobi for the Eucharistic Congress in 1985 and for the official opening of our Faculty and Campus. I gave courses in Social Anthropology and Mission Studies and had a great deal of administrative work, which included research and publications and acting as librarian. I left in 1988 in order to join the Missionary Institute London.
In 1995 I returned again to Nairobi, this time as Principal of Tangaza College, a constituent of the Catholic University. The seven years I spent in this position were extremely challenging. Not only was I teaching core and elective courses in Social Anthropology and Mission Studies to very large classes, but I had the major task of administering a rapidly expanding college. When I arrived there were some 250 students in the college. When I left, there were around 1,000 students, 500 of them in Theology. These included candidates of the Missionaries of Africa, who were among the 40 religious and missionary congregations, running and participating in the college. We had about 70 teaching staff and there were 56 nationalities among staff and students. There were many material problems: improving the water supply, solving the problem of sewage disposal, providing further class-room and office space, acquiring and registering adjacent land. In the end, it was clearly necessary to build an annexe. Designing, constructing, furnishing and fund raising for this were major preoccupations in my final year. The new building tripled the existing floor space, and contained – among other things – a chapel, laboratories and also studios for TV/video production and sound broadcasting. We already possessed a library of 40,000 volumes. We now received the donation of a complete theology library of 70,000 volumes from a former seminary in the U.S.A., and this was housed in the newly built annexe.
I returned to Britain in 2002 after 30 years as a missionary in Africa, 15 of them in Kenya. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy
“I give thanks to Jesus Christ Our Lord, who gave me strength for my work and considered me worthy of serving him.”
(1 Tim. 1:12),
Aylward Shorter M.Afr.