Wawira Njiru Honoured as UN Person of the Year 2021Tirus Wainaina
(Nairobi, 25 October 2021)- A Kenyan Nutritionist and Food Scientist Wawira Njiru has been named the UN in Kenya Person of the Year 2021. Ms. Wawira was recognised for her commitment to providing meals to over 33,000 public school children in Kenya from humble backgrounds at subsidized prices. The plaque which read “In recognition of her leadership and personal sacrifices in ensuring thousands of meals are served daily so that children don’t go to school hungry,” was handed to her by WFP Kenya Resident Representative, Ms. Lauren Landis and UNON Director-General, Ms. Zainab Bangura.
Commenting on the UN recognition, Wawira Njiru said, “I am really grateful for the recognition, such things are never taken for granted. The time is now for every Kenyan child to have access to nutritious meals in school.”
Wawira is an entrepreneur and philanthropist, who serves as the Executive Director of Food 4 Education, an organization that cooks, prepares and distributes nutritious meals, at subsidized prices to over 33,000 public school going children in Kenya.
2020 was a unique year with the global pandemic disrupting life and learning as we know it, with the vulnerable families that Food for Education serve everyday being the most affected. Wawira and her incredible team rose up to the occasion and were able to serve four million (4,000,000) meals since the advent of the pandemic when schools were closed and after they re-opened. She did this in the midst of school closures, uncertain re-opening dates, lockdowns and on-going dusk-to-dawn curfew offering the needed leadership in a crisis. Through Food for Education’s innovative tech, Tap2Eat, Wawira was able to set up food distribution centers, facilitate cash transfers to many families that were bearing the ravaging effects of the pandemic.
2021 marked the official resumption of in-class learning for all students across the country, a decision that was celebrated, albeit cautiously after a year of schools being closed. Wawira immediately knew that if there was one thing that would guarantee that kids would come back to school, it would have to be the assurance of a meal.
Bearing this in mind, the question according to Ms. Njiru became, “How can we safely deliver meals to the kids we serve and reach even more kids whilst protecting our staff every day?”
Taking up the challenge, Wawira began by setting up handwashing stations in all the schools they serve with handwashing being known to be a proven preventative measure against COVID-19. More so, Wawira believes that her team, that would be at the forefront of schools resumption needed all the support they could get. Wawira embarked on ensuring that her team had adequate training, the needed personal protective equipment and mobilizing the need for vaccination amongst her team, with 100% of the entire team now vaccinated.
Fuelled by her work mantra that “no kid should go to school hungry,” Wawira used school reopening as an opportunity to ensure more kids have access to nutritious meals. Wawira set up 3 additional central kitchens across the country, the first one being in partnership with the local government, a first of its kind. The kitchen feeds an additional 20,000 children in the area, a true testament to the collaborative success that can be achieved as government participates in making investments that will ensure children are able to have a meal as they study.
The second kitchen began operations in the coastal town of Mombasa, with a pilot kitchen that serves 3,000 children in a day. According to Ms Njiru, the schools in the area did not have any currently running school feeding program hence the urgency to commence operations. The impact of the feeding program is already being felt in the community with parents, teachers and even students lauding how transformative the program is. One parent, Ali Rubea, a beneficiary of the program in Mombasa says, “I cheered when I heard of Tap2Eat. Finally, our kids can be safe in school. They don’t have to cross the highway everytime looking for a meal. I can go about my work because their safety is assured.” Wawira and her team are now getting ready to commence work on a mega kitchen in the area later this year that will feed an additional 40,000 children.
Finally in their aggressive expansion plan for the year, Wawira completed the 3rd Kitchen located in Kiambu county. The ultra-modern kitchen that is fully equipped with steam gas technology is set to be a centre of excellence in modern ways of preparing meals. Ms Njiru notes, “the kitchen capacity is set to increase our capacity to meet the demand for nutritious and affordable meals for children in school.”
Millions of Kenyan children go to school hungry every day and 51% of the country is food insecure. Many children like Khadija live out this reality, “there are days l never used to get lunch because l couldn’t afford food,” and with the pandemic, food became an even more scarce commodity owing to job cuts and job losses. Lunch to many of these children is more than a meal, it’s an opportunity to live to their full potential. For Khadija, the dream to be a TV journalist is no longer a far-out dream, it’s now within her reach because of every meal she gets to enjoy.
Wawira and her predominantly youthful team keep thousands of children in school by serving approximately 33,000 meals a day. Each child is issued with a smart wristband linked to a virtual wallet into which parents deposit money. This Tap2Eat innovation enhances accountability and efficiency in their operations.
“I am feeding the future of Africa because I believe in a generation that is well-nourished and educated,” Wawira said.
Wawira realized that a lack of food and nutrition made learning in the classroom difficult, which creates a profoundly unequal education system, and that addressing this gap could vastly improve educational outcomes.
While Kenya has removed many of the financial barriers to school, Wawira said the country has yet to address the nutritional barriers. Even though more kids are going to school than in the past, they’re often not able to get a quality education because of chronic hunger. Her organization, Food for Education fills this gap with a streamlined, cost-effective system.
“We source directly from farmers who are partners, prepare it in our kitchen, and deliver it to schools,” said Njiru.
Each meal that the organization provides costs 15 shillings, Njiru said. She added that parents provide the bulk of the organization’s operating budget, followed by grants from other organizations. Since the meal is so nutritious and cheap, parents are eager to join the program.
A typical meal consists of rice, beans, vegetables. lentils, maize, and fresh fruit also regularly make it into the daily meal rotation.
“For a lot of kids, they won’t have breakfast or dinner, so the meal will provide the most nutritious meal they have,” she said.
Wawira Njiru is the first-ever Global Citizen Prize for Youth Leadership awarded at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in South Africa and was 2nd runners up for UN person of the year 2020.
The Award was introduced in 2002 as the collective UN family of agencies to honor individuals or institution for succeeding to bring to public notice significant issues related to the Sustainable Development Goals, that serve as an inspiration to all Kenyans, and in keeping with the ideals of the UN.
Previous winners have been Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta for her beyond zero initiative, Founder of Safari Doctors Umra Omar, Marathon Runner Eliud Kipchoge, Teacher Tabichi and Kenyatta University students.
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