Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Ed Langlois

11/30/2007 (7 years ago)

Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)

67 Year Old Vicki Smith is called "the bringer of light" by those in Kenya to whom she ministers with the love of Christ.

Highlights

By Ed Langlois

Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)

11/30/2007 (7 years ago)

Published in Africa


PORTLAND, OR (CNS) - To get to her job, Vikki Smith sometimes wades through floodwater fouled by human waste. At other times, she must make way as men carry dead bodies down narrow pathways.

In sub-Sarahan Africa's largest slum, the small but fiery 67-year-old woman from Oregon is known as Shushu, or grandmother. Some call her Namutenya, which means "bringer of light."

Smith, a Maryknoll lay missioner, directs nine Catholic schools and the only public library in Kibera, a crowded 550-square-acre district in the middle of Nairobi, Kenya. Home to about a million people living in small huts and without utilities, Kibera is troubled by pollution, crime and disease.

But in partnership with the local Catholic parish, Smith tries to maintain bits of culture and joy.
Many residents come to her to solve problems and get aid of every kind. Often, she spends five or six hours with people in the lobby before even entering her small office in the teeming slum.

"This ministry allows me to live out my obligation of meeting Christ," she said in an interview with the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Portland Archdiocese. Smith was back in Oregon for several weeks to get some rest before returning to Kenya.

She is associated with Christ the King Parish, which has two churches, five outstations and the schools. The Fathers of Guadalupe, missionaries from Mexico, lead the operation.

The majority of people in Kibera live a half dozen to a hut. The shacks, 14-by-14 feet or so, usually have a single bed and a wax-burning stove and few other furnishings.

Residents earn less than 70 cents a day. Most families can barely feed their children or afford medicines and health care, let alone pay school fees. They eat one meal a day.
Young girls -- many who have been forced into prostitution -- give birth on the streets and leave their babies lying on the ground. Rescue workers do what they can.

Corruption and tribal conflict complicate the already-tough environment.

"I notice the smiles on the faces," said Smith. "They are not really happy but they still smile. Life's a constant struggle for them."

The Kenyan government has no schools in Kibera. There is no running water, sewers or electricity.

In her work, Smith serves about 1,200 students, 47 teachers and 17 school staff members. She provides formal and informal education and resource materials to school-age children, young adults and dropouts. She ensures students get a full range of subjects taught by qualified teachers and a chance to participate in sports, drama, music and other extracurricular activities. They also can visit a real library.

"Some of these kids had never seen a library," she said. Students come from all over to study, even from universities.

Her dream is to help students pass entrance exams for admittance into higher learning institutions, while preparing them to be responsible, self-sufficient and concerned citizens.

Smith has begun a new project, trying to help Kibera's poor women start small business enterprises to support themselves. Some pedal charcoal and others sell food or recycle paper. The money helps the women support families in general or pay school fees for their children.
A resident of Salem for 40 years, Smith became Catholic in 1991, but was involved at the Benedictines' Mount Angel Abbey well before that. As a Presbyterian, she was the abbey's first Protestant oblate.

She still lives by the Rule of St. Benedict, which teaches one to balance good works with prayer on a daily basis. It also calls disciples to hospitality, greeting others as if greeting Jesus.

She lost one of her two sons to cancer in 1983 and divorced her lawyer-husband in 1993.

She has been a paralegal and a professional photographer and taught English as a second language in Italy.

She joined the Peace Corps and spent 1998 through 2000 in Namibia. When civil war began in nearby Angola, she was forced out. She returned to Oregon to have a hip replaced before taking on a new assignment.

In 2001, she went to Ghana with the Peace Corps, developing a butterfly sanctuary as part of building an economy of ecotourism. She also became a Peace Corps manager.

In 2003, she began a six-month backpacking tour of Europe, including a pilgrimage walk in Spain. "I was observing, looking at God's people, my brothers and sisters," she said.

She decided she wanted to work within the church and headed back to Oregon. In 2005, she joined the Maryknoll Lay Missioners program.

---

Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops



Comments


More Africa

NO IMPROVEMENT: Egypt falls far in protecting female population, report says Watch

Image of Egyptian authorities had failed to prevent, investigate and punish violence against women and girls, according to a new report.

By Kieran Guilbert, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Token legal reforms have failed to end widespread public, domestic and state violence against women and girls in Egypt, who face sexual abuse, mob attacks and torture in custody, a rights group report said on Wednesday. LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Despite ... continue reading


'Tip of the iceberg' Boko Haram leader warns MORE DEATHS are coming in latest video Watch

Image of Leader of the dreaded terrorist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"This is just the beginning of killings," warns Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau in Boko Haram's latest rant video. Following Boko Haram's most deadliest massacre, killing 2,500 people in Baga, the terrorist group is after those who have shown pity on France and the ... continue reading


Criminal network roils in the Sahel: Arrests made by Algerian law enforcement Watch

Image of The investigations of the A.N.P. or People's National Army of Algeria have led to the arrest of criminals operating in the Sahel region.

By Kaci Racelma, Catholic Online

The investigations of the A.N.P. or People's National Army of Algeria have led to the arrest of criminals operating in the Sahel region. Operating in the areas of Tamanrasset, Bordj Badji Mokhtar and Guezzam in the Sixth military Region, twelve smugglers - ... continue reading


Algerian army standing fast against tide of terrorism Watch

Image of Accomplished

By Kaci Racelma, Catholic Online

The Algerian army, confronted by the harsh realities as experienced in the Sahel and Nigeria, with large swathes of land under the iron fist of jihadists, remains steadfast in its stance against terrorism. The eradication of terrorist groups is essential in ... continue reading


More than a million Nigerians may have been forced to flee due to Boko Haram, U.N. says Watch

Image of The militants' attacks may force even more people to flee, both internally and to Cameroon, Niger and Chad, which could destabilize the region.

By Misha Hussain, Thomson Reuters Foundation

More than one million people may have been forced to leave their homes in northern Nigeria by the five-year-old insurgency of Islamist sect Boko Haram, a United Nations agency said. DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The militants' attacks may force even more ... continue reading


BOKO HARAM MARCHES ONWARD: Attacks in Cameroon cause thousands to flee for their lives Watch

Image of Troops from Chad began to arrive on the same day, to support their fight against the militants.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Ten thousand Cameroonians have fled with their lives after incursions from the dreaded terrorist group Boko Haram along the border regions with Nigeria's Borno State. The Islamic militant group has massacred over 2,000 people in two northeastern towns over the ... continue reading


When will the West wake up? Nigerian Bishop says only Western powers can defeat Boko Haram and save Christians from genocide Watch

Image of Boko Haram has waged a war of terror in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, often targeting Christians and killing them or burning down their houses of worship.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri, who leads a diocese in north-eastern Nigeria, says that the only way in which Boko Haram -an Islamist terrorist organization operating in northern Nigeria - can be defeated is by intervention from Western powers. LOS ... continue reading


BREAKTHROUGH? Peace talks in Mali could lead to end to terrorism in Sahel region Watch

Image of The Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramtane Lamamra has reiterated his country's efforts to settle the conflict in the north of Mali in talks scheduled for next month.

By Kaci Racelma, Catholic Online

The African nation of Algeria has been working with both Malian government officials and Tuareg rebels in order to end the roiling civil war in Mali. The Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramtane Lamamra has reiterated his country's efforts to settle the ... continue reading


Niger declares war on Christianity! Boko Haram incites violence following Charlie Hebdo publication Watch

Image of Niger erupted in protests which resulted in 10 deaths, hundreds of injuries and burning of churches and other Christian institutions over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover of Charlie Hebdo.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Following the recent depiction of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad on the cover of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Niger has erupted in violence that has left at least 10 people dead and 45 churches burnt. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Hotels, bars, a Christian ... continue reading


Is peace on the horizon? After several months of intense fear, warring parties in Libya declare ceasefire Watch

Image of Fajr Libya, or Dawn of Libya, a coalition of Islamist factions announced a cease-fire on all fronts late last week.

By Kaci Racelma, Catholic Online

There is a glimmer of hope in Libya. After several months of war and violence, that has almost brought the nations to its knees. Both the Fajr militia Libya and the Libyan army announced a ceasefire on Sunday ALGIERS, ALGERIA (Catholic Online) - This North ... continue reading


All Africa News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 The word of Yahweh was addressed to Jonah a second ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
4 DIRECT me in your ways, Yahweh, and teach me your ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 1:14-20
14 After John had been arrested, Jesus went into ... Read More

Reading 2, First Corinthians 7:29-31
29 What I mean, brothers, is that the time has become ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 25th, 2015 Image

St. Peter Thomas
January 25: Carmelite Latinpatriarch and papal legate. Peter was born in ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter