The ‘Shelia from Bulahdelah’ finds Joy in Kenya Slums

Little Joy and her classmates eating beans and rice provided at school.


NORTH Arm Cove hosted a very successful International Women’s Day High Tea this year.

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One of the two keynote presentations was by Joanne Trotter, retired principal of St Joseph’s Primary School.

Joanne delivered a powerful and often sad insight into the daily challenges faced by girls and women living in the Kibera slums in Kenya.

Here is a shortened version of her presentation.

“I first visited Kenya in 2018 as part of the Australian Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders program.

The project I decided to support was the “Undies Down Under” which collects and distributes underwear for young women in Africa.

So I left North Arm Cove bound for Kenya with a suitcase weighed down by 28kg of knickers all donated by locals.
Why knickers?

In Kenya, the government does not look after everyone.

The Kibera slum of 1.5 million people is not even recognised as a suburb.

As such, necessities for people can be scarce.

This includes food, medicine and clothing, including undies.

I was told that if my suitcase was searched the Nairobi Customs Officers would seize the undies and fine me.

I was scared but cleared Customs unscathed and shared those undies.

The first night I met Joy, a happy, positive, young woman who gives her time to make a positive difference for young people and children living in, and often overwhelmed by, the slums.

She told me about maternity wards where three women share just one bed.

They take turns standing while the other gives birth.

Their newborn babies are at risk of human trafficking.

I also visited women in crisis centres, in slum schools and in shanty homes.

I was overwhelmed and kept fighting back tears.

Joy took me to visit women in the Kibera Youth Group.

It was a wonderful experience and they all formed a circle to sing and dance.

They asked me to dance as well.

So, I did my version of the hokey pokey.

On completion, I slunk away but then a little hand wrapped around my leg and I saw a tiny shaven head and a little girl called Joy smiled up at me.

It was a life changing experience and I could not forget both big and little Joy.

Last July, my husband and I went back to visit little Joy’s school called Fairview.

It has 350 children crammed into three small rooms built of corrugated iron.

Thanks to modern technology we keep in touch and sustain support.

This is not a tale of sadness, rather an insight into how communities can look out for each other and care.

The lives of both Joys and the other women in Kenya’s slums are incredibly hard, but they have purpose.

They look out for each other.

When I left, the women gave me my new Kenyan name, the Sheila from Bulahdelah.”


By Sandra MURRAY


Joanne Trotter with big Joy in the slums of Kibera, Kenya.

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