In 2011, while in campus, Francis Otieno went to visit his late mother, Berrit Kalolo Amonde, who was a primary school teacher in Oyugis, Homa Bay county, at her workstation. He was shocked by what he saw. The classrooms were mud-walled, some children were sleeping under trees and those in class looked weak and unhealthy.
“I decided to get additional information on what was happening and I learnt that a majority of the children were orphans who were staying with their grandparents, who could not do productive work. This translated into most of the children reporting to school every morning, on empty stomachs,” he recalls.
After the visit, Francis could not help, but think of what he was going to do to alleviate the sufferings of the poor children he saw. He thought of lunch, but didn’t know what kind of lunch to prepare for the children, as he could not afford the rice and beans he was thinking of providing. He desired to do something that he could do with meagre resources. That’s when porridge crossed his mind.
“So, I settled on Pporridge for baby class, nursery and pre-unit children at Nyatwere Primary School in Oyugis, Homa Bay county, Kenya. I started with white maize flour for the porridge. That is how I founded Cup Of Uji,” he says.
Cup Of Uji seeks to address Sustainable Development Goals number one of No Poverty and two of Zero Hunger. According to Francis, it is more than just a school-feeding programme for less privileged primary school children in Kenya.
“Hungry children cannot learn, they cannot concentrate and believe it or not, a daily cup of porridge may encourage a child who is not getting food at home, to go to school, knowing they will get a ‘meal’. Through fighting hunger, the children can learn and stay in school, thus in the long term, fighting poverty through education,” he says.
By the time he was starting the organisation, Francis was a student at Mount Kenya University pursuing a diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. One of the major challenges that he faced was inadequate finances as well as personnel.
Majority of pupils supported by the organisation are either orphans or come from extremely poor backgrounds. Once a school has been identified for the feeding programme, all the children within that particular school, from baby class-to-class eight, are entitled to receiving a daily cup of porridge.
Access to education
Currently, Cup of Uji feeds 1,530 children with a daily cup of porridge. They also have five sponsored students in high school and try to provide 150 needy schoolgirls with monthly sanitary pads. Cooks employed by the schools normally prepare the porridge.
“The effect of not having such programmes in schools is that there will be limited access to education, there will be absenteeism and child labour as most pupils leave school to provide for their families. With a daily cup of uji, less privileged schools are able to attend class regularly, concentrate in class as well as build their talents and stay healthy,” he adds.
Currently, the school feeding programme is run at Nyatwere Primary School – 600 children (Homa Bay county), Kasimba Primary School – 700 children (Homa Bay county), Beyond The Vision School – 100 children (Tassia slum, Nairobi county), Balozi School – 100 children (Kawangware slum, Nairobi county), Fikisha Street Boys Centre – 30 street boys (Kawangware slums, Nairobi county), with plans to include Mwiting’ri Primary School – 155 children (Gatanga, Muranga county) and Silala Primary School – 700 children (Ganze, Kilifi county).
The impromptu visits to the schools take place from Monday to Friday. Francis believes the government can do more to support such initiatives to make it possible for the pupils to go to school.
Some of the organisation’s major achievements include having an online fundraising campaign for the feeding programme that Dennis Itumbi assisted in initiating on Twitter in 2014, using the hashtag #CupOfUji. This consequently made it possible to scale up in terms of receiving more sponsors to support the programme.
Unga Corporate Limited has committed 200 kilogrammes of Famila Pure Wimbi Porridge flour for the initiative since May 7, 2018.
They have also received support from Arimus Media Limited with 123 Kilogrammes of orridge flour every month, support from Twiga Tours and Travel who once in a while donates foodstuff for the street boys. They also get support from Gina Din Corporate Communications, which frequently provides them with sanitary pads for the girls and the immense support from Kenyans from all walks of life who support them through prayers, volunteering or donating flour, sugar and sanitary towels.