Inspire! With Wawira Njiru - Food 4 Education
- 11 Posts
- Age 27
I remember it was a boring day, I went on Twitter, like I do when I’m having my boring days (which happens a lot) because hello - Twitter rocks! And one particular trending topic that was causing a buzz instantly caught my attention - #40foraplate.
I got more intrigued as I followed the conversation, five minutes later I landed on the Food 4 education website, I was awe stricken. An hour later I was stalking the founder all over social media.
I eventually found her on Facebook - I’m an amazing stalker haha - and immediately sent her a message requesting for an interview because I had all these questions that were begging to be answered. As I was sending that message I remember thinking,
“She is a big deal, she will not respond. Why didn’t you ‘discover’ her earlier??”
You cannot fathom my shock. No seriously, you can’t.
Five years ago at just 20 years old, Wawira Njiru, a young Kenyan girl, set out to make a difference. She yearned to live in a world where the place you are born does not determine the quality of life you live and the opportunities you get. So she took the first step in realizing this ideal world, founding Food 4 Education. An organization committed to giving disadvantaged Primary School children a shot at achieving their dreams by providing them with lunch. If your stomach is growling from hunger, you will hardly pay attention in class resulting in bad grades which may translate to missed opportunities. This is where Wawira and her team come in.
The interview took place at sunset, on the rooftop of Nairobi’s Best Western hotel. We sat there in silence for a few seconds, taking it all in - the breathtaking view of the city, the sunset, the breeze. That is how the interview happened, in my head -haha sorry. It happened right where we met, on the internet.
I’ve read about you, heard about you, but really Wawira, who are you?
Wawira is a simple, passionate, slightly idealistic young woman.
When and how did you start Food 4 Education?
I started Food 4 Education in 2011. I was studying at Adelaide [Australia] at the time and I invited a bunch of my friends to a Kenyan dinner. 80 of them showed up, I charged 20 dollars at the door and we raised around KShs. 126,000. We constructed a makeshift kitchen and started providing food to 25 needy children.
Tell us about your Food 4 Education journey. Has it been smooth or rocky? At the end of it all, what makes it all worth it?
It’s definitely been challenging, but isn’t everything that’s worth it? I was 20 when I started working on Food 4 Education and have grown so much since then. I’ve had to learn many skills that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t running Food 4 Education. The importance of partnerships, asking help and maintaining good relationships. Right now, I’m most grateful for all the lessons I’ve learnt and how they have helped me grow as a person and leader.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love that I get to work with diverse and interesting people on my team and also that we all get to put our skills and passion into creating a better country for those around us. I work with some of the most passionate people and I love watching them create new ways to grow our work and impact.
The 40 for a plate Twitter campaign was a huge success that saw Kenyans embracing your cause, did you know the campaign would be such a huge success? How did you make it make it happen?
We definitely didn’t know it would be as huge a success as it was. It took a lot of ground work and a strong and dedicated team and partners. We planned it out from the beginning and I was so blessed to be working with people who are passionate as I am about the work we do. They pushed the campaign as their own and I believe that’s what gave us momentum. Our success is credited to a strong, passionate team. We are young, a bit idealistic and strongly believe in the Kenya we want to see and each of us is working hard in our various spaces to contribute to a better country.
Many young people battle with finding their purpose in life, when did it happen for you? What was the defining moment in your life when you realized that Food 4 Education was your purpose, your destiny? How do you think youths can discover their true purpose?
I think purpose is one of the best gifts to receive (yes I’m quoting the Justin Bieber song ‘Purpose’ haha #Belieber). Knowing what you are here for and I consider myself so blessed to have that. However, I think all of us have some inkling of what we are here for but I think many are afraid to explore that. We all have something that we are passionate about, feel is our talent or space in the world but we get caught up following the crowd or trying to fit into standards we think we should be fitting into we forget that thing that burns inside our hearts. My advice would be don’t ignore that voice. Step out of your comfort zone and follow it.
People have dreams all the time, executing them however, is a different story. How did you make sure you executed your dream in such a successful manner?
It’s taken a lot of time and patience. Success doesn’t come overnight. Just stick to what you are doing and work hard and smart as you wait. Success is a process.
No man is an island. Usually to be a success you need people supporting you and backing you up every step of the way. Has it been a challenge to get people to be as passionate about your cause as you are?
I’ve been very blessed to work with some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you will attract people who are equally as passionate as you are and you use that to grow the vision. Surrounding yourself with passionate people is so key. They don’t have to be passionate about the exact same thing as you are but as long as they put a lot of love into their work and you share a vision, you’ll grow each other.
What lessons have you learned so far? If you were to have a talk with your former self - Wawira before Food for Education - what mistakes have you done that you would tell her to avoid?
I think of mistakes as lessons and so I wouldn’t change any of them. They’ve helped me learn which for me is the most important thing about any journey. I’ve learnt a lot about managing people and also how to support people to thrive around you. My greatest joy is seeing people around me succeed and sometimes I’m privileged to play a part in that.
You look so kept together, like you have your life all figured out which makes me wonder, do you ever have moments of self doubt?
Not kept together at all. I have moments of self doubt and all but I surround myself with people who believe in me so much that they always get me out of such moments. One of my favourite quotes by Hafiz says:
‘I once asked a bird,
"How is it that you fly in this gravity
"Love lifts me."’
That’s exactly me. All the people around me lift me.
What/Who is your inspiration? What motivates you to fight another day?
I’m inspired by the future I want to see for Kenya and Africa. Food 4 Education is about creating equal opportunity for all young people to access education by ensuring that access to food is not a hindrance to that. In Kenya, 43% of us are 15 years and below. We are a very young nation and access to education is determined by economic power. We work to even those scales and ensure every young person has the opportunity to create a better future for themselves.
What would you say so far are your most memorable moments in your journey with Food 4 Education?
My most memorable moments are always when kids we’ve worked with do well in their KCPE [Kenya Certificate of Primary Education], get into high school and have the opportunity to work to create a better future for themselves and their families. Seeing that impact grow and trickle down to others is always memorable for me.
If you could go back in time and change things, what would you do differently?
I would probably start Food 4 Education earlier and work to grow our impact faster.
The year is 2026 - what do you see yourself doing, what has the organization achieved?
Food for Education aims to feed 1 million kids in 10 years and I want to be a part of making that happen. I see myself having learnt so much through this journey and that is something I’m really excited about. All the lessons.
What are you reading?
On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It's about Jack Kerouac's travel around America on road. My fave quote is : 'The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.'
What’s on your bucket list?
To visit New Zealand. Sky dive. Bungee jump.
If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?
The ability to fly. Nothing beats an aerial perspective and a view from the top.
This is your chance to make a difference, to change the world and to secure a child’s future. Visit the Food 4 Education website and learn how!