Many people that start or run charities are often influential or well-connected and can usually afford the luxury of devoting hours, even days, of their time to ensure its success.
Florence Mwende, 24, was nether influential nor well-connected but saw a problem she could not ignore and knew she had to do all she could to help, even if it meant starting a charity that donates nothing else but compassion.
This was during the August 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, during which she worked as an enumerator, a job which opened her eyes to the problems buried deep in her community and which many who could help were oblivious to or wilfully turned a blind eye to.
“I learnt that there are way too many people in my community that still cannot afford to put food on their tables, that many children go to school on an empty stomach and that many girls miss classes because they can’t afford sanitary towels,” she says.
This is how the ‘Kitui Food for All’ initiative came about; from the dreams of a then university student touched by the pain of those around her.
Today, the initiative advocates for activities that improve food security especially for school-going children, as well as menstrual and mental health in schools in Kitui County, which is home to about half a million extremely poor people.
According to the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis, food poverty in Kitui is estimated at 39 percent, compared to the national average of 32 percent, and nearly half of the population here live in absolute poverty.
Florence, a Chuka University graduate of Economics and Statistics, says that even though she knows she cannot completely alleviate the problem in her home county, she tries. Her initiative, supported by friends, family and a few well-wishers, occasionally organises fundraisers to buy food, sanitary towels and other basic supplies to support school-going children who cannot afford them.
In September last year, they held an event where they donated sanitary towels to girls at Kawala Primary School in Kitui East sub-county, accompanied by a dozen of friends and well-wishers who contributed towards the course.
A little over a hundred girls turned up wearing their white and green uniforms despite being on holiday, at the instruction of their head teacher, to receive the much needed help Florence and her friends had extended.
John Kyungu, the head teacher, told MyNetwork that he is conscious of the challenges the children experience and therefore saw the need to recall them from holiday when he heard there was a team bringing some help to the school.
“There are so many children that have dropped out of school because they can’t keep up on an empty stomach, among other challenges,” he said.
One of the girls, a candidate, after the initiative said, “Initiatives like these are a life-saver to most of us, whose parents cannot afford to buy enough pads to keep us in class.”
Florence and her friends donated sanitary towels worth just over Sh7, 000, but left the pupils with smiles that lasted over the next one or two months.
However little though, Florence says the amount wasn’t easy to raise. Unemployed, she mainly relies on contributions from friends and close relatives to support her course and occasionally reaches out to those in the public eye to help, which she says isn’t always successful.
“Getting organisations to support our initiative has been the biggest challenge we face. There are very few charities in this region as many are concentrated in North Eastern and government officers are very reluctant to partner with small independent charities like us,” she explains.
In spite of these hurdles, she is hopeful that the initiative will grow to help more people with time, drawing the county, classified as Arid and Semi-Arid Land (Asal), draw close to realising the Sustainable Development Goals 2 and 4 of zero hunger and quality education.
“If I had the power, I would ensure no one in this country goes to bed hungry. It really pains me that so many are struggling to eat sustainably while many others have more than they need.”