In 1969 when James Wilber Williams from the United States of America arrived in Tharaka under the Peace Corps Volunteers program, he expected to create change that would last long after the programme.
Mr Williams, then 24, was sent by the Methodist Church of Kenya Presiding Bishop, Lawi Imathiu to help start Tharaka Boys’ High, the first secondary school in the current Tharaka constituency.
However, his legacy has over the years outgrown that of Tharaka Boys’ High School he initially set out to establish; Mr Williams was on Saturday installed a Tharaka elder and mandated to make decisions on behalf of the community.
Fifty years ago, the first Tharaka Member of Parliament, Njeru Nteturiandu and a few community leaders had organized a fundraiser and raised Sh50,000 for the school’s infrastructure but they had very little knowledge of running a school.
When Williams reported, he found that the pioneer students who included the current Tharaka Nithi County Deputy Governor and Wiper gubernatorial candidate, Nyamu Kagwima and former Methodist Church of Kenya Presiding Bishop, Stephen Kanyaru were housed at a nearby Marimanti Rural Training Centre.
The community had already donated 100 acres of land for the secondary school but the Sh50,000 was not enough even for the basic infrastructure.
Mr Williams recognized the needs and approached then Minister for Education, Mr Taita Towet who provided funds for the construction of classes and staff houses.
Later, Williams mobilized funds both internally and outside the country and was able to establish a water processing and irrigation project and after two years, the government took over the school and posted teachers.
Because of his immense contribution, the community elders recognized Williams by making him a Tharaka warrior in 1970 and named him M’ Mugiiraa-meaning a person who delivers goodies to the community.
With the installation, Williams was made a son of the Tharaka community and could enjoy the rights and privileges of a person born in the community.
Later in 1972, Williams's tenure of service in Kenya was complete and he went back to America but remained dear to the school.
He continued supporting the school for many years and in 2009 he funded the renovation of dormitories while in 2018 he aided putting-up of a bio digester for the improvement of school sanitation and provision of cheap and safe energy.
In 2019 he came up with the idea of constructing a Sh30 million multi-purpose hall which he sorely funded.
On Saturday, Mr Williams accompanied by his wife Janet visited the school to commission the completed hall that has completely changed the face of the school with a current enrolment of over 600 students.
Impressed by his help and love for the community, Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders led by the council’s national vice-chairman, Alphonse Kamwara installed Williams a Tharaka elder.
As an elder, Williams can now participate in making decisions on behalf of the community, curse or bless.
He was given the traditional regalia including dried skin-clothe and a three-legged stool that elders use when on official administrative duties.
He also received a two-acre land near the school donated by Mr Kagwima for the establishment of a home.
Speaking during the event, Mr Williams said when he came to Kenya in his youth he never thought he would still be connected to Tharaka community over 50 years later.
“I thank God that He led me to Kenya and Tharaka community in particular which is now my second home,” said Mr Williams.
He said he will soon establish a home at the donated land so that he can continue helping the community and performing the bestowed elderly duties.
Mr Chabari Gituma, the principal Tharaka Boys’ High School lauded the contribution of Williams in the progress of the school and especially its infrastructure.
“This school has greatly improved over time in both infrastructure and academics and with such a modern hall, we hope our students will be very comfortable for better performance,” said Mr Gituma.
Tharaka Nithi County Narc Kenya gubernatorial candidate, Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia and the county’s Jubilee Party senatorial candidate Paul Mugambi who are also old boys of the school, urged students to work hard for better performance as an appreciation of the great work by Williams.
“As you become more comfortable here, we also expect better academic performance,” said Mr Mugambi.