From house girl to children's champion: A story of hope

Susan Nandwa’s NGO has helped poor and needy bright students in Kakamega county. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

She almost lost hope after dropping out of school in 1980 for lack of school fees. She was in Form Two.

Susan Nandwa, who is now the head of the Save Children of Hope (SCOH), was shunned by relatives when she returned home after dropping out of Shikoti Girls in Kakamega. She decided to move to Nairobi where she landed a job as a house girl.

Going to school on an empty stomach and eventually dropping out of school inspired her to start an organization to help children in rural areas who were facing similar experiences.

“After working as a house help, I got a job at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and even got married. I later went to Belgium. Then I remembered the suffering of children in Kenya,” Nandwa told The Standard

She added: “I shared my experience, growing up in difficult situations in rural Kenya, and convinced the Ostend community in Belgium to help form the organization to feed and clothe underprivileged pupils. This was in 2008. I didn’t want to see another child suffer the way I did.”

The initiative has since benefited hundreds of children from Ebutayi and Eshitoyi primary schools in Butere constituency. She feeds the children and buys them uniforms. This has improved retention and seen many children completing school and transition to secondary school.

“These children become family, and you can’t just leave them along the way. After starting with them at the elementary level of education, we go all the way,” she says.

“There is an unbelievable sense of satisfaction seeing them all grown up and fending for themselves. I have touched the lives of at least 396 learners, supporting them up to the university level,” she told The Standard.

Agnetta Chelagat’s daughter of Selpha Kwenjere, is a beneficiary of SCOH which helped her finish her secondary school education at Bunyore Girls last year.

“She (Ms Nadwa) identified her while at Ebutayi primary and ensured the girl had meals at school. She bought her uniform. That motivated my child and she did well in KCPE, getting 384 marks out of 500. She joined Bunyore where she scored a B plain in KCSE,” she says.

“She paid her school fees through secondary school and even bought her personal effects. She’s like a mother hundreds of children she has helped,” said Kwenjere.

Brian Catonga, who graduated from university last year courtesy of SCOH, says Nandwa took over his education while he was in Class Three as his parents could not manage.

The Butere Boys High School alumni said Nandwa would encourage him to study hard so he could uplift the standards of living of his family.

“I will soon become a teacher. Even then, I am already thinking of furthering my studies so I can become somebody better in life and even help the less privileged the same way Ms Nandwa is doing,” he says.

Nandwa, who believes education is the greatest equalizer in society, is a holder of a degree in Business and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in psychology. She sat her KCSE as a private student in the 1990s.

Her influence is not only in Butere where she was born but also in the Coastal county of Lamu.

When she landed in Belgium, she developed an interest in the renewable energy business and that is how she got linked to Bahari Wind Power Project, a venture that is jointly owned by Kenyan developer Kenwind and Elicio NV from Belgium.

Ms Nandwa is a director at the company which has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Kenya Power for a 90MW wind plant in the coastal town of Lamu.

“We hoppe that soon, the 2020 moratorium placed on the renewal of expiring Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) will be lifted so that the company roars to productivity and help build the economy,” she says.

“The company has potential and will have the largest turbines in the region. It is set to be the third biggest wind firm in Kenya after 310MW Lake Turkana wind and 100MW Kipeto.”

Locals like Mary Wamboi Nderitu, 63, of Mpeketoni, say Ms Nandwa’s philanthropy has seen many students in Lamu get an education, widows get houses, and farmers get farm inputs.

“I am a widow, and she built me a house and helped my children get an education. We hope when the firm she works for starts operations, more people will benefit,” she says.

As the world marks International Women’s Day today, Ms Nandwa has invited Kenyans of goodwill to help underprivileged children get a quality education.

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