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Name: Zoe Kelland, Rebecca Siddall and Annemarieke Blankestein

Business: Nakuru Children’s Project, a non-profit organization that aims to relieve poverty and improve education for children in Kenya.

Industry: Social Enterprise

Location: Nakuru, Kenya

Reason for starting: We met as three volunteer teachers, working in a public primary school in Nakuru, Kenya. The school had been started from the passion of local teachers, who were determined to provide local children with a better education. Largely led by women, they started the school with no money, no government funding, but a huge amount of love for the children they served. When we arrived at the school in 2009, the school had grown to 600 pupils, but was so under-resourced that the majority were learning in falling-down mud classrooms and with 80+ children to one teacher. 100+ children didn’t eat more than once a day, and would spend their lunchtime sleeping in the heat, too exhausted to learn or play. We decided we needed to help, and so Nakuru Children’s Project was born. The goal was to build safe classrooms, to start a free-lunch program, and to help even the poorest children go to secondary school. It was the generosity, optimism and determination of the children, teachers, and their community that inspired us to try to help. How could we be just abandon children who’d become like our kids, teachers who had become our friends, a community that had welcomed us as one of their own? It was their immense generosity of love that inspired us to do more.

Related: Read about another social enterprise entrepreneur here. 

How do you define success? Success to us is not defined by money. It’s defined by individual children, individual families, and the overall success of the entire community. It’s when a struggling mother tells us ‘that free lunch programme has helped me so much. I always know my children will have eaten, even if I haven’t got any money that day’. It’s when we see our sponsored children go from shy, thin and under-performing, to confident, mature and dreaming of growing up to help their community. It’s when we see hundreds of children achieve the best results in the district, receiving a top-quality education regardless of their background. For us, success is in the little moments. We cannot wait for that future day of success where we find our children grown up, living their dreams, and able to build happy and healthy lives.

Biggest Success: Many moments touch your heart as being huge successes, but often they’re linked to the most tragic of situations. Through our child sponsorship programme we pay the school fees for kids who wouldn’t be able to go to secondary school without us. Without education they’d be sucked into child labour, street life, drugs, or child marriage. I think one of the most emotional moments for us was a mother telling us “when my son thought he couldn’t go to school, he said he would hang himself.” The boy then told us “I got to a point where I felt there was no point in living. You struggle and struggle and it’s all for nothing. You feel your God has forgotten you.” Now, that boy is so mature, doing fantastically in school, and one of the most optimistic young people we know. To think that he might not be here without us is both an unbelievable success and a tragedy that he ever needed our help.

In the next five years, we aim to maintain our current projects (feeding 181 children every school day, sponsoring 46 children through secondary school, and building classrooms) and also grow to support other schools. We would like to establish food programmes at two other primary schools, and continue to grow our funds to support as many children as possible.

Related: Read about other women focused on helping children receive the best education possible here.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? A lot of things are tough. Facing terrible situations like the one we’ve just described can be very difficult. As can be knowing that you could always do more to help, and there’s always more children who need support. However, we try to focus on the impact we have made, and the huge achievements our supporters have created. Other issues are cultural, which is why having our projects led and directed by our wonderful Kenyan project managers is so important to us.

Who is your most important role model? Our Kenyan project managers, who never gave up on the dream of helping children even when they had no money and no support. They dedicate so much of their time, energy and love to caring for vulnerable children and expect nothing in return. But above all, we look up to our kids. They stay smiling, they keep working hard, they give endless love, affection, kindness, generosity, friendship, even in the most difficult of situations. If everyone in the world could be like that, the world would truly be amazing.

Twitter   @nakuru_children

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Edited by The Story Exchange