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Wawira Njiru

Wawira Njiru

ALUMNI AWARDS RECIPIENT

Founder And Executive Director of Food 4 Education – Kenya
Bachelor Nutrition & Food Sciences

Wawira Njiru arrived at UniSA knowing she wanted to make a difference back home in Kenya, but not quite sure how. By the time she graduated she didn’t just have a clear vision; big things had already started.

While studying for her Bachelor of Nutrition and Food Sciences, Wawira decided to organise a community fundraiser. She charged $20 for what she confesses was “probably not the best Kenyan food in the world” and used the $1680 she made to build a make-shift kitchen in Ruiru, near Nairobi, and buy a stove and utensils.

This allowed her fledgling organisation to provide healthy meals to 25 students in Kenya each day. Six years on, Food for Education provides 1200 meals a day, and Wawira has a dream of increasing that into the millions over the next decade and of taking her ideas into other parts of Africa, where the need is just as great.

Her drive and commitment are not going unnoticed. She was named a Spark International Changemaker in 2012, a Transform Nutrition ‘Nutrition Champion’ in 2013 and an Ibua Africa Changemaker in 2015. Last year, she was selected to participate in the Leading in Public Life Programme at the University of Cape Town and has been recognised by Stanford University’s d.school for her use of design thinking in solving critical development challenges.

Wawira chose to study in Australia because she wanted to know more about the world and “being a teenager I wanted to do it as far away from home as possible”.

“Life in Australia at UniSA was great,” she said. “I learned so much and made some really good friends in a multicultural environment. I’d never met anyone from South Korea or Hong Kong or China before.

“The experience was rich; it was very intensive. I loved my lecturers and my lectures. I gained so much knowledge through getting my degree.”

One particular bit of knowledge had a profound impact. Wawira was introduced to the concept of stunting, and the impact that poor nutrition has on a child’s development.

“I learned that one in four children in Kenya is stunted. That is an injustice that I couldn’t stand. One in four will never grow properly, physically or cognitively, because of poor nutrition and that formed the basis of my work with Food for Education.”

Talking to teachers, Wawira learned that one of the main reasons students did not come to school was that they were hungry. In some cases, they might have to leave early to work to try to raise money for food.

Food for Education was a targeted, practical response that has received great community support and had an immediate impact. “We’ve really seen food directly impacting education in the way that it’s improved their concentration in class, their attendance, and their discipline as well.”

As well as meals, Food for Education, which is based in Ruiru Primary School, provides basic amenities and runs a mentorship program with local university students who give the children someone to look up to and aspire to be like.

Of course, this hasn’t all been done on the initial $1680. Recognising early on that she needed a sustainable business model, Wawira started a pig farm with donated land and used the income to hire two cooks and purchase fish and meat.

The farm itself did not flourish, but it provided the funds to open the Double Portion Restaurant, which provides subsidised meals to the local community but still makes enough money to fund the schools program.

“The kids inspire me the most,” Wawira said. “They work hard to be able to get opportunities that come so easily for others. I am so privileged to have the opportunity to contribute to their future.”

And that is not the end of the story. Wawira, who is still only 26, is exploring the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases in Kenya through a Masters of Public Health at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.