Noble act: Teacher sets out to offer the poor, elderly decent houses

Masons put up a three roomed house for James Njeru, an initiative by Cathlyn Wanja who has built houses for more than 50 families since 2016. [Martin Rwamba, Standard]

When schools close, most teachers spend the holiday with family attending to house chores, but not so for Cathlyn Wanja. 

Ms Wanja, a headteacher at Mukuria Primary School in Runyenjes constituency, spends her time moving around Embu County to identify needy families living in poor conditions.

She said she has passion to provide better housing to the poor as this directly or indirectly affects education standards in the region.

"I move around the interior parts of the county identifying families or individuals living in very, very poor conditions. I've come across a family of eight with teenage adolescent girls living in a one room shanty," she said.

The desire to put up decent houses for residents was realised when she visited pupils from her institution who had missed school during the rainy season in 2016.

"I wondered how does the Big Four Agenda cascade to the grassroots, particularly on housing, when I saw the shanty which was hosting three of my pupils and their parents," she narrated.

Missed school

The jovial teacher resolved to build a better, cheap but modern house for the family.

She noted that academic performance of the three pupils was poor as they missed school and their house leaked adding to their misery.

The head teacher approached a few friends and together they pooled resources and built a three roomed brick house for the family of James Njeru.

Teacher Wanja said Mr Njeru's case was dire as he was living in a one roomed shanty with his three children.

She noted that such families suffer from low self-esteem and stigma.

"I built a three roomed cheap decent house. Putting up such a structure takes approximately between a week and twelve days," she said.

The desire to build decent houses for the needy in the community has exposed Wanja to the real world of the desolate members of the community.

"Since I started I have realised there are those who need things that we take for granted. For instance, as you pray for silent sleep, there are others praying for a place to sleep," she said.

Wanja has no foundation or a registered non governmental organisation but she has put up decent houses for more than 50 needy families in Embu County.

To sustain the noble project, she relies on friends who donate building materials.

When we met her in December last year she had mobilised friends to build a house for an 80-year-old granny who had been neglected by the community.

Wanja said Eugenia Marìgu, who is a widow, was neglected by friends after her husband passed away 8 years ago. 

Her two houses at Kiaragana village in the outskirts of Runyenjes town were allegedly razed by arsonists.

"The poor granny has been struggling to raise her grandchildren and great grandchildren after one of her daughters died a few years ago," said Wanja.

Cathlyn Wanja confers with builders putting up a house for an 80-year-old grandmother at Kiaragana village in Runyenjes. [Martin Rwamba, Standard]

The head teacher has formed a Whatsapp group dubbed Touching Heavens where she shares the needy cases and mobilises for funds.

Purity Mugo, also a teacher, said they aim to see every member of the community have a roof over their head.

"....not just a shelter but a permanent modern house that is habitable and decent," added Ms Mugo.

Another driving force for Wanja's initiative lies on the belief that children coming from better houses tend to perform better in school.

She believes that a child living in a good environment grows positively without public criticism.

"You will find children from under privileged families having the perception that they cannot move forward, children from such families tend to suffer inferiority complex," she said.

The teacher, who is also an expert in early childhood, added that she sponsors bright pupils from such poor families to join boarding secondary schools.

Wanja said this gives the children a chance to mingle and interact with others from different backgrounds.

"Some are in universities and colleges such as Kenya Medical Training College and others are now employed," sha said.

However, she admitted that at times she is overwhelmed by needy cases and lack of resources to complete projects within the stipulated time.

"There are times I start a house and run out of resources to carry on and most of my friends are equally down, this puts me in a very tricky corner," she said.

She urged leaders and other well wishers to embrace the initiative that is key in driving the government's housing agenda.