When 62-year-old Mary Wanjiru Wakogi wanted to start an orphanage, her family and friends thought she was insane.
However, Wanjiru’s passion to see all children in school regardless of their background was growing bigger everyday, compelling her to leave her teaching job in 2006.
She sought early retirement in December 2005 to start a children’s home in Gatundu North after seeing many vulnerable children suffering.
“When I was a primary school teacher, I could see many children miss studies; others faced sexual exploitation and financial constraints,” she says.
When she got her benefits in 2007, the mother of three children – a son and two grown-up daughters – used the money she acquired to furnish a rental house she secured in Igegania village and admitted orphans.
“I later applied for the requisite documents before rolling out the initiative, which even my late husband had intially fought, claiming I would abandon my home chores,” she says.
Her efforts begun bearing fruit after she started admitting neglected and abandoned children through the children’s department in Gatundu North constituency.
In 2008, the rental house became congested as more children continued to seek assistance at her home – New Vision Rescue Centre.
“I took another bold decision and sold a prime plot in Landless estate in Thika. I used the money to purchase a one-acre land in Kamwangi village and relocated the children’s home. Since I did not have donors, I continued to seek help from well wishers. In March 2011, after living in a shanty iron sheet house, I got a well-wisher who built a six-storey building,” she says.
In 2012, Wanjiru got a huge blow after her husband died in an accident along the Thika-Naivasha highway.
“My husband was travelling to Kieni forest in search of firewood for my children’s home. His death almost brought everything to a standstill as I relied on him for both material and psychological support. I asked God so many questions, but because death is irreversible, I had to move on,” she says.
Wanjiru, who until now has not employed an assistant, save for the older girls of the home who help out, remembers how the children enjoyed plain cabbage meals for two weeks after her husband’s demise.
“I remember begging for help from a business woman in Thika Town who instead of encouraging my efforts rebuked me questioning why I started something I could not manage. She told me that I should rest to enjoy my pension at my age,” she says.
Service to humanity
Wanjiru’s day starts at 4am when she prays with the children and prepares them for school. She later feeds the younger ones before she starts thinking about where their next meal will come from.
Even as she exercises service to humanity, Wanjiru says that a few people still speak ill of her.
“Although some people are supportive to an extent of supplying the home with farm produce and other house appliances, some people still think I make money from this orphanage,” she laments.
Wanjiru says since instituting the project she has sold 11 of her plots worth millions of shillings in Thika and Ithanga village in Machakos to fund the home. Six of 50 children are now in universities and colleges, seven in secondary while others are in primary and nursery schools.
“If it was not a calling, then I could have left this project long ago. In fact, after facing so many challenges, I once wrote a letter to the children’s officer seeking to dissolve the orphanage. I was, however, counselled and I changed my mind,” she says.
Wanjiru says that although the government has tried to help the less unfortunate, much still needs to be done. She proposes establishment of a kitty to help vulnerable children living in orphanages.