Cup of Uji Francis Otieno Omonde, Lets Drift founder Alex Kamau

From left: Founder of Cup of Uji Francis Otieno Omonde, Lets Drift founder Alex Kamau and Joy Shammah who founded Footprints of Hope Foundation.

| Nation Media Group

How the youth are influencing positive change

What you need to know:

Young people are far more than tomorrow’s leaders as they are already in the game of changing the world.

The youth are tired of waiting for ‘tomorrow’ in order to improve the quality of living.

Young individuals are creating important positive change on all fronts of society, devoting themselves and their resources to tackling some of the most pressing challenges of our time, both as a line of work and way of life.

Much focus has been placed on young people being the future – the future leaders, future workforce, and future decision-makers. But recently, there has been a growing movement recognising young people as key stakeholders in the present, in addressing the issues of our day.

Young people are far more than tomorrow’s leaders as they are already in the game of changing the world. In some areas, young people are the change-makers.

Young individuals are creating important positive change on all fronts of society, devoting themselves and their resources to tackling some of the most pressing challenges of our time, both as a line of work and way of life. Changemakers, activists, social innovators, disruptors, dreamers, and doers alike, show us that positive social and environmental change is possible.

Francis Otieno Amonde, 31, Cup of Uji

Francis Otieno Omonde,

Francis Otieno Omonde, is the founder of Cup of Uji, a school-feeding nonprofit organisation that primarily seeks to support less privileged school children in public primary schools across Kenya, through the provision of daily nutritious porridge.

Photo credit: Pool

Francis Otieno strives to keep children in school with a cup of uji.

Cup of Uji is a school-feeding nonprofit organisation that primarily seeks to support less privileged school children in public primary schools across Kenya, through the provision of daily nutritious porridge.

“I started Cup of Uji in 2011 to fight hunger among disadvantaged primary school pupils by providing one cup of uji for every pupil every day. I aim to fight short-term hunger for learners in schools while driving their education. We are currently feeding 10,173 learners daily,” he says.

The Journalism and Mass Communication graduate from Mount Kenya University, Thika says that the initiative started in one school in Homa Bay before the program expanded.

Depending entirely on well-wishers and corporate donations, the organisation provides sorghum porridge in the morning before class and rice with yellow beans for lunch.

“We count the number of students and supply for all of them every month. The supply usually includes rice, beans, uji flour, sugar and oil. The schools pay for the cooks and firewood,” he says and adds that they have other programs, one tailored specifically for boys’ wellness and another for girls’ menstrual health.

“We also pay school fees for brilliant but very needy children,” he added.

But how exactly did the initiative come about?

In 2011, Francis had gone to visit his mother, a public primary school teacher at Nyatwere Primary School in Homa Bay County when he noticed that some children appeared malnourished. He learnt that many of the children arrived at school without having had breakfast or even dinner the previous night.

“I was deeply touched. At that time, I was a student and could not do much, but I wanted to do something. A first, I considered a lunch of rice and beans, but it was too expensive,” he says.

It was then that he started an initiative to serve affordable and substantial porridge to children before their school day.

“I wanted to fight hunger faced by these children, which in turn would drive education for them and ultimately lift their families out of poverty,” he said.

He began with personal resources. He rented a studio apartment with three campus friends and the balance of cash meant for the hostel he would use in buying white maize, grinding it and delivering to the primary school in Oyugis to provide nutritious porridge to slightly more than 100 pre-school children at the school daily.

“We have a full-time staff of seven and currently partner with Prudential Kenya who have committed to feeding 1,000 children for one year. Currently, we serve 10,173 school children daily, spread across 11 public primary schools in Nairobi, Kajiado, Kilifi, West Pokot and Homa Bay counties,” he says, and adds that they are targeting to feed 100,000 school children by the end of 2024.

Their biggest challenge is fundraising and getting partnerships necessary for them to feed as many primary school children in Kenya as possible, and also getting partnerships that can enable them to set up clean cooking kitchens for the schools they support.

“We look forward to partnering with the national government of Kenya, county governments, more corporates, development organisations, nonprofit organisations, and individuals, to see to it that the over eight million primary school children spread across Kenya receive nutritious meals in school, daily,” he concludes.

Alex Kamau, 30, Lets Drift

Alex Kamau

Alex Kamau founded Lets Drift, which celebrates and brings together curious and creative adventurers. 

Photo credit: Pool

Alex Kamau, a graduate of Art and Design from Kenyatta University founded Lets Drift, Kenya’s premier adventure platform and community, in 2018 with a mission to make adventure affordable and accessible.

“We organise outdoor and wellness experiences like hiking, biking, mountain climbing, and outdoor wellness experiences on a subscription-based model. Motivated to give people, especially city dwellers, a healthy escape from the hustle and bustle of work by introducing them to the calming and healing power of the outdoors,” he says.

Armed with a camera, a backpack, and hiking boots bought for him by his parents, Kamau would hike across his home area, take photos and share on his social media platforms, where he got his first members.

Lets Drift's clientele are people of all ages seeking healthy and adventurous fitness alternatives, companies and corporations looking for eccentric team bonding experiences, expatriates and travellers from across the globe in search of authentic and well-curated places to explore, among many others.

“Hiking to Everest Base Camp in April 2022 is my most incredible experience to date. We have a total of 15 guides working with us every week and a network of over 50 local guides across more than 120 trails that we have created and curated,” he says.

Lets Drift is regulated and licensed under the Tourism Regulatory Authority (TRA). Their guides are professionally trained and certified by the Administration Police Leadership and Sports Centre (APLC), the only police outdoor /experiential school in Kenya.

“Our focus on community and our irresistible subscription business plan makes it possible for everyone to go on adventures. Referring to our 2020 annual data, over 600 people use our platform every month, adding up to as many as 7000 adventure seekers yearly,” he says, adding that shifting culture has been their biggest ambition and is still their most insurmountable challenge.

“We dream of a time when Kenya and Africa become hiking nations/continent. This means challenging mainstream culture about what people do with their free time or what they do on weekends, by selling outdoors as the best, healthy alternative to binge-watching, clubbing or overworking.

Other challenges they encounter are similar to what upstart businesses in Kenya face, including regulation, financing, and operational constraints caused by the rising cost of goods and services.

Lets Drift takes pride in providing hundreds of locals with a way to make income by offering their services from logistics, food, and guiding services while educating people on environmental and conservation issues.

“The world is changing, and so is travelling. People used to plan for holidays and vacations months in advance, pay a lot of money, and wait for months before they travelled. Today, however, people want to escape often, in small groups and on accessible budgets,” he says.

This shift informs their decision-making in terms of the future they are creating with his team, summarised in a simple but powerful mission - To make adventure more accessible and affordable.

Joy Shammah, 26, Footprints of Hope

Joy Shammah

Joy Shammah founded Footprints of Hope Foundation, to work with different communities and like-minded organisations to lobby/advocate for girls and teen mums in the community. 

Photo credit: Pool

Joy Shammah founded Footprints of Hope Foundation (FOH), a non-governmental organisation, to work with different communities and other like-minded organisations to lobby/advocate for better and more sustainable community empowerment programs for teenage mothers and girls.

“Our goal is to enlighten inspire, motivate, and encourage the girl child to focus on attaining their dreams and goals in life; mentoring them how to address and shun issues related to menstrual health hygiene, gender-based violence, and also the issue of HIV AIDS prevalence in vulnerable communities,” she says.

Joy— passionate about community health systems, alleviation of poverty at the rural level, quality education especially for girls, and economic empowerment of the youth— is a graduate of Political Science and Public Administration from Moi University, Eldoret.

She is part of the Young Women Founders Network Kenya where she serves as the partnerships and collaborations manager.

“I am part of the GIMAC Youth Network that works closely with the African Union to promote the gender agenda. Currently working for the CDC-African Union Covid-19 vaccination initiative, the Bingwa Initiative is a platform of African youth from across the continent brought together to promote public health, specifically championing the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine,” she says, adding that the initiative is investing in youth engagement and empowerment, and shared value partnerships.

Footprints of Hope was founded in the heat of the pandemic. Owing to the sudden indefinite closure of schools, Joy says there was an increased rate of teenage pregnancies in her community. Hence, there was a need for an organisation that offers economic empowerment avenues for the youth, mentorship, health talks, especially on menstrual hygiene and reproductive health as well as embracing the young mothers and offering them a second chance.

“We run a separate mentorship program for teen mums and we have been able to impact 14,300 girls and women so far, making an impact in more than 13 villages in Busia County. We hope that through FOH we may collectively work towards alleviation and eventually eradication of poverty at the rural level,” she says.

Inadequate funds to effectively run the program and being a young female leader in a patriarchal society are challenges Joy deals with.

“Not every program is openly welcomed in the community. Some projects are visibly fought just because it's a young woman spearheading the conversation.”

But she takes pride in her ability to have been able to run eight activities from the beginning of the year to date.

“We have hosted the International Women’s Day celebration in Busia, the Tech-innovation hackathon, the Art for Menstrual Hygiene, the Bonga na Bodaboda program, the International Menstrual Hygiene Day, the International Youth Day among others.”

Joy sits on the Busia County Menstrual Hygiene Management steering committee convened by the USAID-WKSP. “As a youth, I know that we are the majority population in the continent and we have the energy and power to influence change and challenge the status quo.

For the last quarter of the year, FOH is focused on the teen mums program and the menstrual hygiene approach by the USAID-WKSP. We hope to widen our scope from next year so we can have more impact,” she concludes.