A slum in Embu town long known for alcoholism and crime is today a glowing example of what bursaries for needy students can achieve.
Next to Embu town’s clothes market lies Shauri Yako, an informal settlement that was for long identifiable by the ubiquitous poorly built shanties and the squalor that characterise slums.
The slum was thrust into the national limelight in 2014 after a lethal brew nicknamed Kathavuria killed 42 people.
Children brought up here had no hope of proceeding to secondary schools since their parents could not afford the fees.
Young men and women would became casual labourers or pursued menial jobs at best while a good number of them would end up in crime or prostitution.
But now, residents are happy that the situation has changed remarkably for the 3,000 residents.
Lydia Muthanje, who has lived in Shauri Yako for the last 25 years, says life for many residents took a better path after former President Mwai Kibaki’s administration scaled up day schools and bursaries that helped poor children access secondary education.
The 55-year-old mother of five says her eldest three children did not go past primary school as she could not afford to pay their secondary school fees.
Martin Nahashon, her fouth child, was lucky to secure bursaries while at Kamiu Secondary School. He completed his secondary education despite many odds.
The 22-year-old now works as an apprentice electrician and a part-time motorcycle rider while saving every coin hoping to join Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology in September to pursue a diploma course in electrical engineering.
“Every child who has been educated through bursaries or sponsorship from well-wishers is a role model to other kids in the slums,” says Muthanje.
One of the stars of the slum is Embu County Assembly nominated MCA Martin Mwangi, whose ascension to leadership would have been dashed by lack of school fees.
Born in 1988, Mwangi was brought up under poverty in Shauri Yako by a single mother.
His mother died in 2003, the same year he sat his KCPE, and despite doing well, he had no one to pay his secondary school fees.
Mwangi says he had to knock on many doors and institutions until he secured sponsorship from Embu Governor Martin Wambora, who was then the MP for Runyenjes constituency.
The sponsorship and CDF bursaries enabled him to remain in school and complete his education.
Full of gratitude, Mwangi started Youth of Hope Movement in 2017, an organisation that helps counsel and mentor young people as well as help them establish small businesses. Mwangi singles out philanthropist and preacher Mary Kiwanuka, who in the mid 1990s, started a nursery school in the slums.
Grace Marigu, a community leader, who has lived in Shauri Yako for 15 years, says the slum’s story is gradually changing for the better.
Marigu, 58, says her two eldest children dropped out at primary school while the last three have received secondary education courtesy of bursaries. Two are business people, while one is in formal employment.
The effects of education on the slums are being felt in matters to do with security.
Marigu, who is a member of the slum’s community policing, says about a decade ago, it was risky walking through the slums because gangs would way lay people and rob them.
“Educated children have given back to the society and started programmes to assist the rest. They have also helped their parents put up some businesses. We also have electricity which has helped increase security,” she says.
Marigu says many parents can now provide for their children, which has helped lower the number of those turning to prostitution.
Marigu says the 2014 deaths marked a turning point for the village -- residents took it upon themselves to stop the brewing and selling of illicit liquor there.
“I know of a man who was forced to leave the area after he continued to brew alcohol even after the tragedy,” she says.
According to Kimani Mwaniki, an elderly resident, Shauri Yako came into being when government officials pleaded with Mau Mau fighters to leave the forest in 1963.
The former freedom fighters had no place to settle and were given plots in the slum where they could work from and start small businesses.
As the slum’s population grew, social evils associated with urbanisation sprung up but the situation is changing now after children received education and started programs for their former slum neighbours and kin.