I initially became involved with the U.S. non-profit, Achungo Community Center, out of my love for Africa and for children. I had no idea what my first steps should be, so the first thing I did was to go to Kenya to visit with the Kenyan founder and director, Michael Nyangi. As soon as I got to know him and he began to tell me his story in his quiet, unassuming way, I felt that he had more integrity and compassion than almost anyone I’d ever encountered. And I wanted to work with him any way I could.
Let me tell you a little bit of his story. Michael grew up in very rural Southwest Kenya in extreme poverty. His mother was one of three wives of his father who died when he was seven, so there was no household income. They survived from whatever they could manage to grow on the land around their hut.
With help from friends and family paying his expenses, Michael made it through high school and moved to the slums of Nairobi to find work. One of his early employers saw his potential and began to help him set aside money for college. In 2003 at the age of 22, Michael Nyangi graduated from college with a CPA for Kenya. As he began his dream job in a bank, he would walk through the slums of Kibera where he was living. One day he saw a woman with a baby by the train tracks and, afraid she was given up on life, he gave her what money he had — about six dollars. That scene repeated itself some days later with another woman and her baby. By the end of the week, he saw those two women sitting together. They had made a fire and had used that money to purchase corn. They were roasting it to sell — they had a business going! A light bulb went off for Michael Nyangi in this discovery that a little help went a long way toward changing their lives.
He quit his job and focused full-time on helping the women of the slums of Nairobi with microfinancing and micro-enterprise development. Over several years that work became a 15-person office of microfinance known as Lomoro. Along the way he attracted the attention of an NGO and in 2008, at the age of 27, they brought him to New York to speak before the UN General Assembly on poverty eradication. The following year, Amnesty International had him speak at their conference on poverty in Italy. The Amnesty International site still has information about Lomoro’s work in Kibera.
Meanwhile, he was going back to his village (over 250 miles from Nairobi) on holidays and noticed small children living on the street. He took them into his home and began to take care of them. By 2005 with a few dozen kids he decided that they needed a decent education, found a few widows interested in helping, rented a shed and the first school of Achungo was born.
Watch a video about Michaels Story.
I began working with Michael in late 2010 and we have built 2 primary schools with about 400 students (the second school is still filling out) in addition to 50 graduates that we support in nearby high schools. I never cease to be amazed at how he hires staff with the same love and respect for these children that he demonstrates. Their school experience is such that these orphans and destitute children are delighted to be in school and feel loved and cared for.
And I am thrilled at the results. We are one of the top primary schools in the county and have some of the top performing high school students in the county. Kenya administers an exit exam at the end of 8th grade that determines if and where a student can attend high school. Our three years of eighth-grade graduates have had a 100% passing rate where the national rate is well under 50%.
We found Clements on the street scrounging wood to survive and within the year he became the top math student in the county. He is now in one of the top high schools in the county (Orero Boys) and has been the top student in his class both years so far. Erick Otieno has been with us since first grade. His father had died and the household was left without income, so we took on Erick. He graduated in 2015 and last year was the top student at Orero Boys high school, with scores of close to 100% across the board. The headmaster and some teachers from Orero have visited Achungo both years to find out where these exceptional boys had been taught.
I visit Achungo now twice a year, typically with a team from the U.S., and all of us fall in love with these children. They seem the happiest children on Earth. And it is a constant delight to me that we can help them progress from lives lost in a survival struggle to a place of real excellence, achievement, and hope.
Click to read why people in poverty must be part of the solution.
Watch the full story of Achungo.