From city slums, teen takes social justice campaign to the US

Natasha Wanjiru (center)
When 13-year-old slum girl Natasha Wanjiru boarded a flight to the US in August 2016, she was worried about her siblings and other children in Kabiria slums in Kawangware.

Wanjiru considered herself lucky to escape shackles of early marriage that befell other girls. Jane Wanjiru, her single mother, was finding it hard to pay her fees, and that of her four other siblings.

Thus, despite her good luck, Wanjiru stepped into the prestigious Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, to begin her ninth grade on September 2016 haunted by the memories of her likes wasting their lives on the streets.

She had obtained a full scholarship of Sh6 million per year at the US school after garnering 364 marks in the 2015 KCPE examinations.

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In the US, her unrelenting determination convinced the Episcopal school community to support Kenyan learners from humble backgrounds through her “change4change” project.

“Teachers and my schoolmates are passionate about changing the lives of children in Kenyan slums. They have been contributing to the course and we have managed to sponsor 30 students. There are 18 others with individual sponsors,” Wanjiru told Sunday Standard.

Wearing a smile, Wanjiru recalled how her wishes to continue with her education came true in 2016. “I was uncertain at first. I was not assured of joining a secondary school in Kenya. Luckily, I got a sponsorship under Kenya Education Fund that paid my fees at Moi Girls High School, Kamusinga,” she said.

She studied in the school for five months before another opportunity came knocking. This time, it was America. “Bridge Academy had secured me a sponsorship alongside 10 other students. I was settled in Episcopal school,” she said.

But America did not only inspire her to become an ambassador of the downtrodden but also instilled feminist consciousness in her.

As an avid reader, she has a crisp grasp of her favorite fiction author Chimamanda Adichie of Nigeria, regarded as a fervent campaigner of women. “I have read We should all be Feminists by Adichie and it really inspires me. My interaction with other students has also enlightened me to advocate for rights of the undermined,” she said.

“The problem with the society is that a single negative narrative of poverty associated with children in slums has curtailed our ability to see the potential in them,” she said in reference to Adichie popular TED talk, The danger of a Single Story.

And as she joined the world in marking the Day of the African Child yesterday, Wanjiru is back to her slum home in Kawangware for her summer holiday. She will meet dozens of ambitious children looking up to her and whose charity project has kept them in school. “I get disturbed at Episcopal when I imagine the number of girls, especially in slums and rural areas, who do not go to school due to lack of fees and end up in early marriages,” she said.

Statistics indicate that about 30 million of 57 million children are not in school in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“I am working towards getting an organisation that is actively involved in social justice issues like education. I am disturbed by issues of rape and defilement. Such shouldn’t be happening at all,” she argued. She cited the alleged rape at Moi Girls High School in Nairobi earlier this month, saying it should be condemned.

“Sex education should be taught. Children must know when it reaches a point where there is sexual abuse and the way to report it,” she said.

Jackline Walumbe, head of communications at Bridge International Academy where Wanjiru schooled, termed her a grade A student and a reflection of what girls from poor families can achieve. “If girls are given equitable opportunities, they can compete and become agents of transformation,” she said.

And as Wanjiru prepares to fly back to the US in August to start her 11th grade, she is optimistic that the future of the children her project sponsors would be bright enough to shine on many others struggling amid poverty.  

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Kabiria slumsKawangwareous Episcopal High School in AlexandriaVirginiaNatasha Wanjirusocial justice