Focus on Fellows: Grace Watiri Njunjiri

Singer-songwriter and burgeoning activist, Grace brings a palpable strength and enthusiasm to the Tatua family.

Grace, pictured at the Tatua offices in Hurlingham
Grace, pictured at the Tatua offices in Hurlingham

Having two younger sisters (aged 15 and 20), Grace has years of experience mentoring and encouraging other girls. However, she wants to reach higher. “I see a world in which girls are unafraid to hold their heads’ up high and accept themselves as they are,” she tells us. Grace hopes that by bringing teenage girls together, and giving them spaces in which they can speak openly and honestly about whatever challenges they are facing, she can create a network that builds strong and confident women.

“I struggled with my self-esteem growing up,” Grace admits, “I know that my own lack of confidence prevented me from pursuing a number of opportunities. I hope that by sharing my story, I can help young girls fight against the mental blocks that may be preventing them from achieving their full potential.”

Grace’s mentorship work is heavily informed by her art. As a songwriter, Grace draws great inspiration from not only her personal journey, but also from her ideals. She hopes to use her music as a vehicle for inspiration. “My music is an expression of myself,” she shares, “Through t I hope to share my passion for empowering girls. I also believe that, if I continue on this path, the girls that I work with will be inspired to pursue their own dreams.”

For now, Grace is focused on her community along Thika road, as well as recording two singles. While Grace has never formally pursued social work before, we have no doubt that she will carry this dream beyond even her wildest expectations. Be sure to keep an eye out for her first single!

Join us in supporting Grace and our other incredible fellows as they build power in their communities. Fill out this form for updates and information about how you can get involved.

Focus on Fellows: Beatrice Njoroge

Beatrice has the sort of warmth and optimism that our modern cynicism has beaten out of us. Her quiet demeanor and natural humility mask her formidable determination and awe-inspiring kindness, but one quickly realizes what an incredible person Beatrice is as she begins to describe her journey through community work.

Beatrice pictured in a Nairobi suburb, enjoying a rare warm July day.

As the youngest in her family of eight with much older siblings, Beatrice often longed for the company of other children; a sentiment she believes cultivated her affection for other children. This coupled with memories of her own deep attachment to her parents, and her family home has meant that seeing a child out on the street has always moved her to action.

Beatrice began informally working to rehabilitate street children about ten years ago, when she and her husband would take in children whom they found on the streets of their neighborhood at the time, Githurai. In an incredible display of dedication, Beatrice would then begin the process of tracing these children’s families and attempt to establish what factors had resulted in homelessness.

Through this work, Beatrice began to realize that problems leading to homelessness among the youth were far from intractable. “Most of the time, the core problem was very easily solved,” she explains, “Certainly, there was a stigma attached to these children when they were returned – especially in their school communities – but it often didn’t take much more than having someone vouch for the child, for school administrators to welcome the children back in.” Her benevolence quickly turned into her life’s work when she joined the Children at Risk Ministries, where she still works today.

Her long career in community service working with street children has revealed to Beatrice the urgency of addressing the systemic roots of this problem. “The Nairobi City Council has redoubled its efforts to get children off the streets and into children’s homes,” explained Beatrice, “But there’s no budget assigned to care for these children once they are taken from the street into these homes, and so the quality of care is really wanting.”

Realizing that rescued children then have no real paths towards recovery or reintegration has spurred Beatrice to take deeper action. Now, paired up with another Tatua Fellow – Sheila – Beatrice wants to figure out how communities can be prepared to welcome these children back home. As Beatrice explains, multiple actors must be included in this conversation. “It’s not just about finding the child’s home; we must also be prepared to mediate between family members, school communities, church communities and all other stakeholders, to make sure that a child who once ran away, is successfully and safely resettled.”

Join us in supporting Beatrice and our other incredible fellows as they build power in their communities. Fill out this form for updates and information about how you can get involved.

Focus On Fellows: Michael Owino Odee

A conversation with Mike will instantly reveal that he is a man driven by compassion and a desire to do right by others. His work through the Tatua Fellowship is the latest in his growing legacy of commitments to his community, and certainly, this will not be the last time that we shall see Mike leading change.

Mike pictured at the Tatua offices in Nairobi
Mike pictured at the Tatua offices in Nairobi

Michael Owino Odee is a self-declared extrovert and workaholic: qualities that he believes brought him to community work. “Talking a lot really exposes the world to you,” he shares, “When you sit down with people, and really take the time to listen to the problems their facing or their reflections on their community, you learn a lot about what it takes to secure progress.”

And certainly, the more he has talked, the more Mike has centered his own life on others. In addition to managing a small but diverse farm in his Kikuyu home area; Mike is an active volunteer with the Kenyan Red Cross, alongside his commitments to Tatua. Not to mention of course, being a husband and father. “I hate wasting time,” Mike explains breezily when we question how he finds the time for it all.

For the Tatua Fellowship, Mike is working on a campaign that aims to address the problem of youth alcoholism and drug abuse in his home community, Kikuyu. The consequences of this problem are clear, Mike tells us: youth unproductivity, insecurity, and an increase in the number attacks on women are some of the problems he says can be linked to youth alcoholism in his community.

“Many people see the problem but the general reaction is, ‘That’s someone else’s life, why should I get involved,’” explains Mike, “That’s what spurred me to take on this campaign; the sense that there was a community spirit that was missing.”

But bringing the community-organizing framework to this work has not been easy. “Campaigning is hard,” admitted Mike, “Our culture is very resource-centered and so often, no monetary resources means little to no support. A lot of people question how change can be made without a large financial sponsor driving that change; and that can be incredibly frustrating.” However, Mike refuses to let these challenges deter him. He remains excited about the prospect of stirring action in Kikuyu, and affirms his belief in the ability of community organizing practices to awaken participation.

In spite of the challenges, Mike remains energized by his love for his home, “I love walking around villages in Kikuyu. The purity of the air and the beauty of all the forest cover are incredible natural therapy.”

Join us in supporting Mike and our other incredible fellows as they build power in their communities. Fill out this form for updates and information about how you can get involved.

Focus On Fellows: Lawrence Njoroge

As we were led through the newly built church in Mukuru (on the outskirts of Nairobi’s city center), we could see the pride in Pastor Lawrence’s eyes as he welcomed us into his thriving community. Thrilled to be spending the time with our ‘accidental’ fellow, we were happy to simply take in Pastor Lawrence’s vision as he painted a picture of the vibrant community space he hoped to create.

Lawrence Kariuki Njoroge, proud husband and father of three, joined the Tatua family after stepping in to propel the work that had been started by a past fellow. Lawrence is currently stewarding a campaign to end the exploitation of women as commercial sex workers in his Mukuru community, and while the campaign may have been in one sense inherited, there can be no doubt that it is Lawrence’s passion that fuels it today. Lawrence was drawn to this work as he envisions his church as an empowering space for the development of the girl child (one simply needs to take note of the young age at which many women are initiated into sex work to recognize that this campaign is central to Lawrence’s vision).

Pastor Lawrence remains devoted to this work as a part of his larger commitment to the growth and prosperity of his community. “Before I was called to serve in God’s ministry, I worked as a businessman; I owned a small shop, as well as traded scrap metal,” Lawrence shares, “However, I increasingly began to feel unfulfilled in that capacity; I felt distanced from my community and I was not invested in the work I was doing. Above all, I knew that I was capable of making a more meaningful contribution to others’ lives.”

Through this campaign, Lawrence and his team hope to create a safe space for women to come together and lift themselves out of entrapment by relying on each other’s strength and encouragement. As he and his team interviewed sex workers, Lawrence found that many women must bear incredible precarity including the constant threat of violence and immense uncertainty about their income. Tragically, they also often feel as though any alternatives are foreclosed. There is a deep sense of desperation that makes many of the women feel as though they are trapped in their current lives.

While working towards creating this space, Lawrence and his team must constantly struggle against the urge to simply offer a “resource exchange.” Indeed, he mentions that he and his team often feel compelled to offer a better material reality for these women, and often feel defeated when they cannot. It is in these times that Lawrence recalls his initial motivation for partnering with Tatua; a shared investment in the power of ideas and knowledge. “If people are able to build a shared understanding about what types of lives they want to and can lead, it opens up new possibilities – the issue of money will become less important,” he reflects.

Lawrence is hopeful for the campaign’s future. “I am humbled by the support that our community has shown for this work,” says Lawrence, “The receptiveness to the campaign proves the power of building a shared hope and remaining invested in the idea that everyone has the capacity and the right to escape desperation.”

Pastor Lawrence pictured outside the structure that houses both the school and his church - he started construction on this structure 3 months ago.
Pastor Lawrence pictured outside the structure that houses both the school and his church – he started construction on this structure 3 months ago.

When he is not mobilizing grassroots power within this campaign, Lawrence is works to strengthen his community through his devotion to the members of his church as well as working to establish a local school – Living Hope Academy.

You can support the work that Lawrence and our other fellows are doing by donating to our recently kicked off Global Giving campaign here.