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Written by Maryknoll Lay Missioner Judy Walter
St Patrick’s Dispensary, where I work as a nurse in Mombasa, Kenya, offers an outreach clinic at Kiberani every other Friday. This location is to better serve a population located about four miles away from our regular clinic, and is held at the St Francis’ school where Maryknoll Lay Missioner Teresa Villaruz teaches in the upper grades.
Last year, we arrived for this outreach clinic and learned that a new child had been enrolled in the school. We were asked to complete a wellness check on her. The child’s name was Betty. Our first impression of Betty was that she was intelligent, clever and seemed to be older than the age of seven or eight, even though she was very small and underweight. We could see that Betty was a survivor and knew how to take care of herself in very harsh circumstances. She was homeless, living in the dump with her father, coping with her father’s mental illness and trying to find food for them to live on.
Betty’s situation is unique in regards to other children in Kenya. Abandoned by her mother when she was a baby, brought up homeless in the dump by an incompetent father who needs more care than she does and without extended family to turn to is not a typical scenario. Most children are cared for by single mothers who are poor and who may struggle, but they provide for their children as best as they can. These children are loved and know they belong to someone. Betty didn’t have any of that.
The Head Mistress described the father as “insane,” the word that we would use would be, ”mentally challenged,” a condition aggravated by local brewed alcohol and drugs. According to the Head Mistress, the father came to see her in one of his more sane moments, begging for Betty to be accepted in school and that she was in danger. She was admitted to school, but because St Francis is only a day school, had to return to the dump at night.
She was treated for her health problems and the Social Worker from St Patrick’s Dispensary began to make inquiries into Betty’s situation, looking for extended family members. There was only a half brother that was unable and unwilling to care for Betty. There were no other family members. The story was that Betty’s mother had abandoned her as a baby.
Revisiting with Betty, Judy and Teresa find her happy and thriving
Because of the situation that Betty was living in, our Social Worker began in earnest to find an alternative living situation for her. She met with the Government Child Welfare Officer, she met with Elders of the area, she met with the father and half brother, and all agreed that Betty needed a new home. Norah, our Dispensary’s Social Worker, filled out all the legal papers, met with authorities, obtained signatures, but could find no adequate orphanage that could offer Betty a safe home. Through the intervention of St Patrick’s Pastor, Fr. Gabriel Dolan, Betty was accepted to Good Life Orphanage and now lives in a very loving and supportive home, something she never had before. She has a resilient spirit, is quite intelligent and is presently learning to read.
It was through the hard work and persistence of our dedicated Social Worker , who refused to take no for an answer, that opened the way for Betty’s new life. We are delighted by the continuing reports that Betty is adjusting well to her new home.

Erik Cambier
Erik Cambier served as Maryknoll lay missioner for 25 years, in Tanzania, the United States, Venezuela and El Salvador.