Girl with a golden heart

With no steady source of income, Betty Karambu , a 19-year-old girl from Maigene village in Meru county, has dedicated her life to giving children from disadvantaged backgrounds access to education and basic needs. Her strong desire to make a difference in the society, is fuelling hope and putting smiles on disheartened children

What was your upbringing like?

I took up the role of taking care of my parents in 2011, when I was in Class Six. Being the last born of seven siblings, I spent most of my childhood at home alone with my parents, the rest of my siblings had moved out.  Going through school was difficult due to lack of fees. My father, 80, and mother, 65, initially earned a living selling charcoal and potatoes until they retired when I was still in primary school.  At school, I excelled in athletics and in 2011, Kenya Methodist University offered me a scholarship after discovering my talent during a competition. The money I earned from participating in athletic competitions enabled me complete primary education and support my parents.

How has your life experiences shaped the person you are today?

Having a first-hand experience with poverty inspired me to offer a helping hand to disadvantaged children. Through them my struggles of going without food, being chased from school due to fees arrears and feeling hopeless were reflected. I was deeply moved, when one day in 2011, I came across five untidy, jigger-infested children playing by the roadside as I was going to school. Their parents, a mentally ill mother and elderly father were not in a position to properly take care of the children. In the ensuing days, I offered to wash these children, took out the jiggers and started sourcing for clothes from well-wishers.

What kind of help do you offer to the children?

There are 20 children I am helping. I identified 15 more children from my village from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some were from broken families, orphaned or living with their elderly grandparents. Most of the children were not in school. Despite primary school being free, their families could not afford to pay some amount of money required for the school feeding programme. I talked to the headteacher in a nearby school and requested him to enrol the children while I took up the responsibility of availing the money to keep them in school.

How do you raise the resources to help the children?

The money I earn through casual jobs such as washing clothes is what I use to support the children and my parents. My meagre earnings also enabled me to pay for my secondary education until I completed last year. For the school-feeding programme, each of the 15 children needs four kg of maize and beans each and Sh950 per term to pay the cook. At times when I cannot raise enough money, I plead with the headteacher to keep the children in school. Donations from friends have also come in handy.

What are some of the challenges encountered?

There has been a lot of resistance to the work I am doing from the society and even my family. All of my siblings did not advance their education beyond Form Four. Given that they know the level of need in the family, they just cannot understand how I opt to use the little that I earn to help other people. I always tell them that the little I have is what I will share with the children. Since charity begins at home, I first start by helping my parents and share the rest with the less fortunate in the society.

Your plans

Despite completing secondary education last year, I am yet to join college due to lack of money. My dream is to join college and pursue a course in community development so as to touch more lives in the society. One day, I would like to start a foundation to fully support these children and aid them achieve their highest potential.

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