CRS worker in Kenya helps needy kids

| Carol Jessen-Klixbull For The Catholic Spirit | March 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

The following is the second in a four-part series

More than 12,000 faith communities across the United States participate in Operation Rice Bowl each year during Lent as a way to respect human dignity and foster solidarity with the poor around the world.

This Catholic Relief Services program combines four components: praying, fasting, learning and giving. Participants are encouraged to prepare simple meatless meals that are similar to those eaten in developing countries around the world and donate the money they would have spent for more expensive ingredients to ORB.

Seventy-five percent of the proceeds help fund food security projects around the world while 25 percent remain in the diocese in which they were collected. CRS believes that by retaining these contributions in local dioceses, Catholics’ responsibility to assist those in need both “around the corner” and around the world is affirmed. To learn more about ORB, visit

In each issue during Lent, The Catholic Spirit is sharing CRS’ work with an e-mail interview and recipe from a country the agency serves. Haiti was featured in the March 4 issue; Indonesia and Honduras will be highlighted in future issues. Visit to read the feature on Haiti.

Johness Mzee addresses a forum for school children in Lamu, Kenya that gathered to voice their concerns in regard to furthering their education. Photo Courtesy of Catholic Relief Services

A Kenyan native, Johness Mzee began working with CRS last June as the program officer implementing the Education for Marginalized Children in Kenya project. He recently answered questions via an e-mail interview with The Catholic Spirit. A former secondary school and college teacher, he knows teachers in Kenya are on the frontline helping to meet the needs of children who aren’t otherwise supported financially or emotionally with their studies.

Q. What has struck you the most about your experience in Kenya?
A. What touches me the most is when you help these children and they say thank you. You can see it on their faces — that honest thank you that comes from within. We support orphans and children made vulnerable by the AIDS epidemic and other difficult circumstances. We work with the communities: the parents, teachers, opinion leaders and the children themselves. Our first step is to learn directly from them about the reality they face. Our support is not intended to take over guardianship of these children, but rather to work with the guardians to help them best support the orphans under their care.

We share notes with the community to see what the needs are. Sometimes that means providing uniforms so that the kids can go to school or helping to reduce the stigma surrounding those who were orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. Other times it means helping the whole community, such as providing furniture or building disability-friendly pit latrines at a school.

Q. What are the critical needs regarding education in Kenya?
A. Right now it is to assist children to stay in school and excel by improving their learning environment — that means both the buildings themselves and the creation of a safe haven where children can grow and realize their full potential. We also need to find ways to promote cross training between teachers at different schools. Special needs education also needs more assistance, because there aren’t enough facilities to meet the current need.

Another major hurdle is that school is predominately taught in English but most of the children in Kenya speak either Swahili or one of the languages native to Kenya.

Q. How do you see CRS making a difference?
A. CRS is making a huge difference by working through our local church partners: We provided more than 13,000 uniforms and child packs to children who would not be comfortable attending school without them, we worked with 20,000 parents and guardians on the needs of orphaned children, and we trained 140 teachers on how to develop school health clubs.

A recent study done by CRS showed that education support to vulnerable children in school reduced their absence from 12.5 days in 2007 to 7.75 days in 2009 and steadily improved their mean score in academic examinations given by the school at the end of each school term.






6 white potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
1 cup watercress,* chopped
1 cup peas, cooked
1 cup corn, cooked
2 tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cube the potatoes and place in a large pot. Cover them with water and cook until tender. Drain the water and mash the potatoes. Stir in watercress, peas, corn, and butter. Mix until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

*Other leafy greens can be substituted for watercress.
Yield: 4 to 5 servings

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Category: Spotlight, The Lesson Plan