The presence of the Holy Ghost fathers in Kenya has had a number of key moments in their history. December 30th 1889, the first Catholic Mission was founded at Ndera on the Tana River by Fr. Gommenginger and Brother Acheul. From there Fr. Le Roy later Bishop and Superior General founded the first Mission at Mombasa in September 1891. On August 12th 1899 three members of the Holy Ghost Fathers, Bishop Allegayer, Fr. Hemery and Brother Blanchard, arrived in Nairobi on the newly constructed railway. St. Austin’s Parish was established and the mission to the Kikuyu was begun. In September 1912 Fr. Leconte and Fr Blais set up a camp at Kombe / Kabaa and so began the mission
to Ukambani.During the ninety years from 1889-1979 the Holy Father missionary effort in Kenya was concentrated on the three Dioceses of Mombasa, Nairobi and Machakos. Basically covering the three foundations mentioned: 1889, Mombasa, 1899 Nairobi and 1912 Machakos.
THE MISSION TO POKOT 1980 -2015
An enlarged District Council meeting was called by the Superior Fr. Oliver Ellis from 12 to 14 November 1979 at which all the extended communities were represented and the following decision was taken. ‘’The meeting strongly and unanimously agreed that the District should undertake a new missionary work. After consideration of three possibilities, priority will be given to the East Pokot region of Nakuru Diocese”.
This meeting was followed by another on the 25 -26 February 1980 at which the following decision was taken.‘’The Principal Superior reported on negotiations with Bishop Ndingi (of Nakuru) regarding our taking on of a mission in East Pokot. This will be at Kositei near Nginyang North East of Lake Baringo. Gerry Foley will move to Kositei at the end of his present tour in Mombasa (1980 August) and Sean Mc Govern will join him in September. The District will undertake the financial support of the confreres there.’’ And so began the mission to Pokot in August/September 1980. On arrival in Kositei there was no Catholic presence nor was there any throughout East Pokot. It was a pre – first Evangelisation situation, and though the first missionaries had several years of mission experience in Kenya this was a new situation for them. However, it would have been similar for Fr. Le Roy in Mombasa, Fr. Hemery in Nairobi and Fr. Blaise in Machakos.
But like them we were clearly in the Spirit of our rule of life : “We go to these who have not yet heard the message of the Gospel’’ and we ‘’accept tasks for which the Church has difficulty in finding workers.’’ While we were clearly told and we were determined that evangelisation would he our primary concern we very soon discovered that evangelisation to the exclusion of all other occupations and needs is not easy to pursue. While we believed that the people needed the Gospel, the people were very clear that they needed many more things besides. And so we were ‘sidetracked into several other occupations. Education was clearly one of the most pressing needs. In fact it was close to non-existent. Medical facilities were in a similar sorry state of neglect. Water supply was confined to digging in the dry river bed, often occasioning women to walk distances in oppressive high temperatures.Truly they were a forgotten people by both Church and State. ‘The evangelisation of the poor is our purpose (rule of life No. 4). The first need to the addressed was education. We built and staffed 8 schools during the first 10 years. These were at Kositei, Barpello, Tilingwa, Loiwat, Kipnai, Chepturu, Kolloa and Lake Baringo. Attendance at the schools was slow for several years. It was estimated that in the 1980s less than 10% of Pokot children ever went to school. Our schools raised that percentage somewhat but there was no great enthusiasm on the part of the parents.
Then around 2000 the members going to school increased dramatically and continue to grow apace todate. Medical services were seen as one of the most pressing needs of the area. In fact mortality rates were at a very high percentage mostly due to the prevalence of preventable diseases. So the main emphasis of the medical project which was started in 1980 was preventive health care : vaccination of children, ante natal care and health education. While this was very successful it very soon became evident that with so many sick people it could not be pursued in isolation. And so very soon it became necessary to extend our services to curative care but not to the neglect of the vaccination programmes and preventive health care. The sisters of the incarnate word have been primarily responsible for the success of this project which continues to this day, into its 35th year; a remarkable longevity for any project. There are several other on-going projects being implemented. Since 1987 a programme of camel breeding and re-stocking has been on going. The Pokot have kept camels for generations but numbers were small and milk production poor. Our project has brought in from the larger herds of Somalis and Turkana up to 300 camels for Re-stocking of the local people. Also we brought in by plane 26 camels from Pakistan for increased milk yield and new blood lines. That took place in 1991 and their progeny are still very sought after.
The project is on-going, mostly now as a demonstration programme with all the relevant veterinary services available.
By the time we arrived in Kositei in 1980, a site for a second mission had been chosen at Barpello some 40 kms from Kositei. Work on the construction of a house for sisters was immediately begun as Bishop Ndingi had invited the Incarnate word sisters from Mexico to engage in education and pastoral work in Pokot. The sisters duly arrived in 1981 led by the indomitable mother Rosa Martha. She led the sisters through the early years in Barpello with great zeal and common sense. She is basically responsible for the beginnings of education in that mission. Meantime a priest’s residence had been established and projects and evangelisation begun. Over the next 20 years Fr. Gerry Foley was primarily responsible for the development of Barpello. In 1999 Fr. David Conway arrived on first appointment in Barpello and his enthusiasm and foresight and courage have been responsible for its more recent growth.
The secondary school begun by David in 2008 is now not only the leading education institute in East Pokot but its results in public examination rank among the best in the country. There are presently over 400 students in 3 streams of classes. Over 50% are Pokot boys and girls. What a remarkable development from the very tentative beginnings in the 1980s The next mission to be opened was Tangulbei in 1991. Fr Michael Begley was the first one to live there permanently. In the previous years Gerry Foley and Sean Mc Govern had arranged with the local community for the allocation of a sizable plot of land on a hillside overlooking the then small village of Tilingwa. A mission house was constructed and very basic domestic utensils made ready for the starting the new mission. Sean O’leary arrived in Tangulbei in 1993 on a two year mission experience appointment. His arrival in Tangulbei clearly came as something of an eye opener to say the least. He described it as a ‘’vast, hot and dusty place where basic facilities like running water, electricity, public transport, shops, post-offices and telephones were clearly absent’’ Despite these initial surprises Sean did eventually settle down to be charmed by the place and the people and do Trojan work there. From 1997-2013 Trangulbei was administered by Fr Paul Leyden.
Through these years Paul got the medical programme running on a self –sustaining basis. There wasn’t great expansion but a sound foundation was laid for future positive development. In education Paul had the foresight and the courage to establish a private primary school on a very spacious plot some 3 kms from the town. Both those projects were inherited by Fr. Fred Wafula when he took over from Paul in 2012. Fr. Fred has brought the medical and education establishments in Tangulbei to a new level. A new fully equipped health unit has been constructed. Brother Sebastain from a congregation of Brothers founded by Fr. Witte CSSp. in Nyeri in the 1940s is new working in the medical project as its fully qualified “daktari” and administrator. The school named St. Paul’s, in the recent primary school public examination had absolutely excellent results, the vast majority of their candidates qualifying for secondary education. After an understandably slow start, Tangulbei is flourishing. This has been the case in many missions not only in Pokot.
The official visitor from the Generalate in the 1930s declared the mission to the Kikuyu a failure and that after more then 30 years of missionary endeavour. Fr. John Kevin, Geny Foley and Sean Mc Govern worked hard in many projects in Kositei especially evangelisation, medical and education. But it was only after 11 years that the first Baptisms took peace, and only after 20 that the numbers of student attending school began to increase substantially. When Fr. John Mbinda came to Kositei as father in charge in 2005 he found solid foundations to build on. And his achievements were enormous. He sank bore holes in the driest parts of the parish to alleviate the hardship that woman endure in those remote places. Amongst his several other undertakings most note-worthy of mention must be the Claude Academy at Chemolingot.
Starting from scratch he built up this school in true Holy Ghost Tradition of the highest level of academic achievement. Chemolingot has grown into the metropolis of East Pokot. Its establishments, both political and civilian are expending by the day. Both school and church need added attention to keep pace with the growing population. In 2012 The Bishop of Nakuru, Rt. Rev. Maurice Mahatia in consultation with the Holy Ghost administration took over the mission of Kositei. Fr. Daniel Keriti of the Diocese was posted there where he remained for the full 3 years of his agreed appointment. He did good work and fitted in very well with the Holy Ghost Fathers in the area. Chemolingot school though within the parish boundary of Kositei, is still under Holy Ghost administration. In negotiation/consultation with the Bishop, perhaps a new parish of chemolingot would be a positive step forward in East Pokot. In 2002 Fr. Gerry Foley after more than 20 yrs in Barpello opened a new mission at Tungomoi in the Kerio Valley. In 2006 Fr. John Kevin joined him.
Tungomoi was not an easy venture. The mission is surrounded by long established protestant establishments. Gerry did great work there in particular the building of local schools. But evangelisation made little progress. Fr. Gerry left in 2013 to help the Franciscan brothers establish a new mission and agricultural project in Western Uganda. Well in his 80s Gerry’s missionary spirit remains undimmed. John Kevin left in 2015 April to retire to Ireland. The upshot us that now Tugomoi mission is vacant! This is not a satisfactory situation and though it is a difficult mission and personell are few it should not be allowed to remain vacant much longer. The last of the missions to we established in East Pokot has been Rotu. The first tentative steps in this vast area took place in 1998 when Sean Mc Govern and Sr. Rebecca came up with the East Pokot medical project to care for the people in Akoret. We would camp there for 3 days at a time.
This continued for some years till it became clear from the many needs of the people that a more permanent base was needed. In 2002 Sr. Rebecca Janacek, who had been in the East Pokot medical project since 1987, with Fr. David Conway put up 3 pre-fabricated wooden houses in Rotu as a first step towards establishing a more permanent presence among these next neglected people. The fact that this area is the most northerly part of Nakuru Diocese and borders Turkana, makes it extremely vulnerable to attacks from Turkana rustlers. Many people have been killed in such encounters. Over the next few years an amazing amount of development took place. The houses, a dining room and two bed rooms, have been used on regular occasions by Sr. Rebecca. She was stationed at Barpello during this time but came requently to Rotu for several days work. One of the great achievements was the sinking of a bore hole at Rotu, and another at Chesawach. Both have perfect potable water. At Rotu this was essential for the people and for the permanent settlement of the mission. By 2011 in November we were ready to begin living at Rotu on a permanent basis. Sean Mc Govern and Sr. Rebecca are both here now for almost 4 years.
Further developments have taken place not least the establishment of the medical project with a very fine well equipped health unit. Also a great addition has been the construction of a sizable hostel for guests and indeed for any staff that may be employed in the medical or other projects. All of this to the great credit of Rebecca. Since the permanent settlement of Rotu mission in 2011 there has been consistent Kanisa, Mass and instruction every Sunday from 10. AM – Noon. Attendance has been consistant at around 50. Over the past 4 years we have noticed that a small core of people is regular in attendance. 2 are wazee, 3 are women and 6 are school children of about 10 yrs of age.
These 11 are preparing to receive the first stage of Baptism when the Bishop cames on pastoral visitation in October this year. They will be the first Catholics in this mission. When we arrived here in 2011 not one person could read or write. Now those 6 young students from standard 4 in Rotu school are very capable readers in the Church every Sunday. Much has been achieved. Much remains to be done. The mission to Pokot is new 35 years old. Great progress has been made on many fronts, education, health services, water supply, food security etc. But personnel remains at a very fragile level. Tangulbei, Barpello and Rotu have one priest in each. Tugomoi is vacant. There are sisters at Barpello and Rotu and a brother at Tangulbei. More are clearly needed. Most of all at Tugemoi and chemolingop. And room for expansion is unlimited. The harvest truly is great and the labourers are few.
Sean McGovern. 10th October 2015.