As acknowledged in our most recent edition of Reaching Out, the close of the year brings with it the retirement of Br Barry Callan after eight years as Director of Ruben Centre (Nairobi, Kenya). The Foundation office has worked closely with Barry and wishes to add its tribute to those already expressed as we are very much aware of his outstanding contribution.
To begin to understand Barry’s contribution we need to look back. When the Christian Brothers accepted an invitation to take on responsibility for the management of Ruben Centre in 2000, they inherited a school on the verge of collapse and a clinic in a very poor financial state. In addition, there were serious health risks on account of inadequate drainage from the adjacent slum.
Barry brought organizational and administrative stability to Ruben. He defined the Centre’s focus and integrated its vision, creating cohesion between its different units, the school, clinic, vocational training and community development units. Ruben staff interviewed for the 2008-9 review commissioned by East Africa District highlighted their strong sense of team spirit and they spoke of Barry as friendly and caring, who treated all people equally and with a deep commitment to the local community.
Ruben village, from which the Centre takes its name, is officially known as the Mukuru Kwa Ruben, which means the ‘Valley of Ruben’. It is one of six sprawling slums along a stretch of the Ngong River. Mukuru occupies an area of around twenty hectares approximately ten kilometres from central Nairobi. Community infrastructure and public facilities are poorly planned and totally inadequate for the population of about half a million. Available water is subject to contamination with resultant outbreaks of typhoid from time to time. Sanitation is substandard and exacerbated by poor drainage, flooding, and inadequate means of waste disposal.
It is in this environment that Barry and the staff of Ruben Centre have worked alongside a vulnerable community and provided life changing services and opportunities. Barry has overseen the development of these services and opportunities. The education and training of Centre staff has been significantly enhanced. Facilities have been expanded and greatly improved. The school now accommodates around 1700 children from nursery to Grade 8. The clinic, which was rebuilt in 2003, is the only community health facility in the Ruben village and provides a range of medical services including, nurses, HIV testing and counseling, laboratory testing, a pharmacist and TB clinic. Close to 50,000 patients are treated annually for a range of presenting illnesses. Through training in sewing and tailoring and through the micro-credit scheme the Vocational and Community Development Units enhance self-employment opportunities for local people.
It has been said that, “It doesn’t matter where you go in life, what you do or how much you have. It’s who you have beside you.” This very much epitomizes Barry, who has built relationships and who has stood in solidarity with the people of the Mukuru Kwa Ruben.