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It’s nine o’clock in the morning as I wend my way through the Kianda School compound to the orginal Kianda College cottage, now dwarfed by the surrounding school buildings. It retains its old charm and sports a banner “Kianda Foundation at Sixty”.

Front entrance of KF building
Kianda Foundation at 60

In 1961 my present office was a classroom with three tables and chairs for 15 students and a built-in cupboard where my bed was hidden away and pulled out at night. Here I taught commercial English and other subjects. Now I write from my computer and participate as Trustee in the Foundation activities.

Olga outside the lower primary building with Kianda School girls
With Kianda School girls

There is never a dull moment. Penninah Maina works from behind her desk at the entrance doing the Foundation accounts and attending to callers. Today there is a woman sitting on the bench outside the office of the Director, Mercedes Otaduy, where there are often women to be found, anxious for help to find some employment or way of solving their problems. After listening to her story, Mercedes brings her to a store where she keeps clothes, shoes and all kinds of items donated by well-wishers, and shortly afterwards the woman leaves happily, carrying a huge bag full of children’s clothes she has selected to sell. These are much in demand, and will be a start for her business.

Dorothy Khamisi telephones from Tewa Hospitality Training Centre in Mombasa. “There is a woman here who lost her job on account of Covid, and has been put out of the house for not paying rent. She lives with her two children and the four children of her deceased brother. A neighbour has given her a corner of her house to stay for the moment…” Mercedes remembers three ladies she knows there and suggests that Dorothy contact them to see if they can each employ the lady several days a week for cooking and housework while she looks for a permanent solution.

A call comes in from Kimlea Clinic, where the CHEP (Children’s Health Program carried out in different Primary Schools) has been underway for 12 years. “The Standard 8 students in one of the schools are graduating,” reports the Program Coordinator, Wairimu Njuguna, “and the Headmaster would like to stimulate them by offering prizes to those who have performed best…” We stop to think of possible gifts and donors.

Wairimu examining one of the students under CHEP during a routine school visit in 2019

A little later on Lynda Kasina, Principal of Kibondeni College, calls with a suggestion. A Nairobi-based Company had given 100 scholarships for girls to do the hospitality course. “Do you think we could offer 25 of them to Tewa Training Centre at the Coast? They need them even more.” Mercedes thinks it’s a very good idea.

The office of Sylvia Wamalwa, Project Manager, is just opposite mine. We work together on the Foundation website. She has just posted an article by Stacey Sang, a past beneficiary from the Kianda School scholarship fund “Peperuka” (“fly away” or “soar up”), who is now studying Financial Economics in Strathmore University. Stacey writes “I can describe Kianda using three words: holistic education, family environment and academic excellence. That in a nutshell describes my time in Kianda.” The school has organized a Peperuka Marathon for 27th November 2021 to raise funds for other deserving girls to have a place in Kianda School.

Sylvia during a meeting

By now it’s lunchtime, and as I walk across to my home in the Samara staff house, I meet Susan Kinyua at the parking lot, getting into her car. Susan is the Director of the Outreach Programs of Kianda Foundation. “Where are you off to?” I ask. “We have the Business Women’s Support Program on today in a Kiambu church hall. There are 104 ladies whom we are teaching business and life skills, so they can plan to promote their own small businesses.” As I wave Susan off, I recall that program that has already empowered thousands of women in the rural area.

Susan during a session in Kiambu
Susan during a session with the women in Kiambu

Coming to work in the afternoon, I find Jackie Wambua with several women in the corridor around the corner from my office. She introduces me to Waithera, Njoki, and Jane who are among the nine Business Women’s Support Program mentors that she tutors to look after the 104 women in Kiambu. They meet with Jackie regularly to resolve questions and prepare material for their meetings with mentees.

Before the end of the day Penninah comes with a question for Mercedes. Elizabeth, one of the women from the Business Support Program, has prepared a good business plan and wants us to introduce her to the Micro Finance institution we work with that facilitates loans for them. We approve the plan and she goes away happily with her introduction letter.

As I stay on till after five to finish a piece of work, I am the last one to leave the cottage. I take up the great padlock and front key, and as I lock the door I think of the many times that door has been locked by me and so many others over the years and of those who will lock it up in the future…Sixty years and beyond.

A painting of Kianda Foundation original cottage in 1964
Kianda College cottage (1964) painted by Olga’s mother, Hilda van Stockum, now occupied by Kianda Foundation

Dr. Olga Marlin is a founding Trustee of Kianda Foundation

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