Compassion in the slums of Kenya: Trauma and Transformation

Returning from my trip to Kenya with Compassion has left me with a lot to process. I’m not a total newcomer to situations of poverty, and I’ve visited both slums and a refugee camp in the past, but what I saw in Mathare slum in Nairobi was well beyond my previous experiences. At a personal level I would sum the trip up in two words: ‘traumatic’ and ‘transforming’. I am still processing what I saw and heard.

One leader, returning from visiting a slum family, remarked that he felt like he had been on, “a walk through hell”. Entering the slums to visit people in their iron sheet and tarpaulin ‘homes’ gives a fresh perspective on life. (We were escorted by armed guards).

The Compassion Child Development Centre

The Compassion Child Development Centre, run by a local church based in the slum, is turning child sponsorships into real life action. They are doing a fantastic job putting their faith into action and transforming lives and families, but the issues they face daily are hard to think about.

 On one wall we spotted a poster that teaches children how to respond to rape:

Compassion Child Sponsorship | Mathare Nairobi Kenya | Steve Petch Blog

A friend asked a development centre worker about the poster, and we thought she replied, in a thick Kenyan accent,

17% of the girls growing up in the slum will be raped.”

Stunned we responded,

“Did you say seventeen percent?”

The worker replied,

“No! Not seventeen percent. It’s seventy percent. Seven Zero.”

I had to walk away and regain my composure at that point; just one of several occasions.


That evening we heard testimonies from students who have graduated from the Compassion Leadership Development Programme and are now looking to be a blessing to their country and community. The final testimony was very moving. The young woman told us how her single mother had worked as a prostitute to provide for her and her sister; she told us about being homeless and sleeping in shop doorways and railway stations; and then she told us how she and her sister were sexually abused from 4 years old by an uncle who supplied food … and demanded to be paid.


Compassion Child Sponsorship | Mathare Nairobi Kenya | Steve Petch BlogEnrolment in a Compassion Child Development Programme, with a sponsor from the USA, created a context for her whole family to be lifted out of extreme poverty. It also created a safe place where the abuse could be understood for what it was, and be disclosed to someone who could help. She told us how, when the centre taught them about STD’s, she realised what was wrong with herself and her sister. She was able to ask for help and both sisters were taken to a doctor and successfully treated. And now she has graduated from university. Trauma … and transformation.

Grace Church’s role in Compassion

Compassion Child Sponsorship | Mathare Nairobi Kenya | Steve Petch BlogAnd one more thing to add. As a church, between us so far, we have sponsored around 170 children in the Philippines. Seeing projects in action in Kenya, similar to the ones we support, was a great opportunity. Let’s keep up the sponsorship and the letter writing.

In a quiet moment I asked one of our Compassion representatives from the UK if this was the worst poverty she had seen. Worryingly she replied that the only place she had seen worse poverty was … the Philippines. Our trip there leaves in April 2018.

Let me know if you want to come and see not only the trauma, but also the transformation we are playing our part in achieving in that place.