Kenya: building local communities

Rapid urbanisation and its impact on communities, cities, economies and policies are among the most pressing issues facing the world today. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) estimates that by 2030 sixty per cent of the world?s population will be living in urban settlements. It is now widely recognised that civil society can mitigate some of the problems by empowering local communities. Fr Gerry Whelan SJ, a parish priest in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, has first hand experience promoting urban governance, which he does by forming neighbourhood Catholic community groups, also known as ?Small Christian communities?. Fr Gerry distinguishes internal community formation from community service, pointing out that internal ?community formation? in these small communities addresses issues of non-domineering leadership, ethnic inclusivity, gender relations and family life. The community service offered by local communities thus formed include providing home-based care for people with AIDS, promoting micro-finance institutions, supporting Alcoholics Anonymous groups, and organising campaigns against the illegal brewing of alcohol. Fr Whelan is also involved in an effective network of Catholic and Protestant parishes in the slums of Nairobi. Called ?The Exodus Network?, this has recently helped stop government demolitions in a large Nairobi slum. His involvement in such issues led to Fr Whelan being invited as a panellist at the World Urban Forum, the bi-annual meeting of UN-Habitat held in Spain, Barcelona from 13-17 September. [HL40901] For more information on Habitat Agency, go to: http://www.unhabitat.org/