Nyakio Kaniu-Lake, CSJA Serves Women in Kenya

By Barbara Roberts

It was an email from Sister Ruth Stuckel in 2011 that motivated Associate Nyakio Kaniu-Lake to consider formation in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet’s associate program. “I really heard the little voice nagging at the back of my head,” Nyakio recalls. As a young girl in Naivasha, Kenya, she contemplated becoming a nun, so S. Ruth’s invitation was inspiring. “The sisters have a comfort they bring in their presence that you just feel,” she says. “You really know that there is something bigger.”

Ultimately, it was her relationship with the CSJ community that called her to do more for the marginalized women of Kenya by founding two organizations, Empowering Minds International and the Agatha Amani House, both supporting victims of sexual and domestic violence. Empowering Minds International provides mental health services for survivors of violence and other people in the community, while the Agatha Amani House provides comprehensive services at the shelter.

Nyakio and her husband, Joe Bob Lake, had participated in K2K (Kansas2Kenya) mission trips, but she says that her formation in association inspired her to do more. “I felt this renewed energy to do something,” she says.

So, with her mother’s donation of land along with an unfinished building, the roots of the Agatha Amani House were established. The house was named in her mother’s honor. Nyakio and Joe Bob then set about renovating and completing the building to fit their needs. The first residents came in late 2014.

The house is totally off the grid, using solar panels for electricity. A biogas digester recycles manure, capturing the methane gas for cooking and providing organic manure for fertilizer. In spring 2017, a well was drilled to provide water; the house formerly relied on rainwater collection and expensive deliveries by truck or donkey.

Due to lack of skills, many women stay at the house for up to one year, gaining needed training to become self-sufficient. Residents learn Permaculture techniques; rabbits, chickens and cows are raised for meat and eggs, while goats and cows produce milk and manure. The women are also trained to bake bread. Diapers are made from used cloths that are cut and sewn together. In 2015, the house received a Tabitha Grant from the Sisters of St. Joseph to buy a machine to help produce low-cost sanitary pads, a project that is hoped to provide job training for the women.

The house is staffed by two social workers who live with the residents, as well as volunteers. They also employ a community outreach coordinator to help spread the word about the shelter. Nyakio travels to Kenya for up to six months at a time. Joe Bob stays for about a month, then returns to Kansas City to find support for their program. “It is a life mission,” he says.

For Nyakio, this life mission of serving women in her homeland was fortified by the sisters’ charism of serving the dear neighbor. “I remember the charism talking again and again about the dear neighbor. This neighbor can be your neighbor next door, but it can be your neighbor across waters, across the ocean. And so stretching allowed for me to move farther. It really got ingrained in me, spreading the love to the dear neighbor we might not actually see or meet.”