By Esther Kanyua
There are those who “say” and those who “do”. Every once in a while, I run into a sayer who is now doing. Here is his story…
I recently spoke to Shem Orwenyo who is the founder and executive director of Nuru Center, a non- profit organization focused on educating the underprivileged children in rural Kenya. Nuru Center is based in Atlanta, GA and has an office in Nairobi, Kenya.
In 6 years Nuru center has helped more than 20 students get a high school education it has gifted Christmas meals to over 520 different families, including more than 200 patients at Molo district hospital.
It costs about $600 per year to sponsor one child for one year.
In this interview, we talked about what inspired him to start the organization and what it takes to keep it going.
E. What lead you to start the Nuru Center?
S. I grew up in rural Kenya. I remember going to class and noticing that some of my classmates were bare footed and wore tattered uniforms. It was not a surprise when many of them where not able to complete their high school education. I was determined to help change this.
Something most people don’t seem to know, is that despite public primary education being free, high school is not, many of the children often fail to continue with schooling as their parents can’t afford the cost of high school.
E. What does the Name Nuru Center mean?
S. It means light in Swahili. A friend told me that it actually means divine light, which is very appropriate since out aim is to shine a light on children, educate them so that they can help their families can break out of the cycle of poverty.
E. Tell me a about the programs Nuru Center has?
S. We have the Elimu (Education) scholarship: it’s a scholarship fund that covers the tuition, school supplies, boarding, school uniform and books for the four years the child is in school.
It cost about $600.00 a year for a full scholarship for one child, which can be broken down to $50.00 a month.
We also have the Holiday Kikapu (Basket): This event only happens over the Christmas season. After fundraising, we purchase food items, fill a Kikapus (baskets) and volunteers deliver them to homes of the underprivileged during Christmas.
Holiday Kikapu ( Basket)
E. What’s in the basket?
S. We fill the basket with food and some Christmas treats, for example; 2 kilograms (kgs) of sugar, 1kg of Salt, 2kg or rice, 2kg of beans, 2kg of lentils, 2kg of wheat flour, 2kg of cooking oil, 1 box of cookies, 1 bottle of juice, and a bar soap.
One basket cost about $25 and can provide about 10 meals to a single family.
E. How do you go about raising funds?
S. We have several events that are held throughout the year that help raise funds.
I’ll being by recognizing the efforts of the board; we have an engaged board that contributes over 40% of the donations.
We host an Annual Gala which gives us an opportunity to not only socialize, but to also show our supporters what we have accomplished in the past year.
We also have an Annual Golf Tournament. Golf enthusiasts come to show off their skills while helping us raise funds that go towards the Elimu (Education) Scholarships.
And finally, we have host a Family Day in the park each year, which is our way of thanking those who support Nuru Center.
Nuru Center in Action
E. How is Nuru Center managed?
S. May I begin by stating that Nuru Center is registered as 501(c) (3)- non-profit organization. With that said, I have to point out that Nuru Center is controlled by the public and guided by its mission.
It has board members that oversee the activities of the organization. Because we value transparency and accountably, anyone can find our annual reports on our website: http://www.nurucenter.org
We are always looking for volunteers to join the board or to help with the different aspects of running the organization.
I should mention that we are registered in Kenya as well – as Nuru Kwa Watoto – we weren’t able to get the same name. It is also run by a board of trustees – they take care of day-to-day activities.
E. What are the Goals and vision of Nuru Center?
S. We hope to touch the lives of as many underprivileged children as possible, by getting them through high school.
It is documented that anyone who has finished his or her high school education has a better chance of succeeding in life. We hope by getting the children through high school, they will be better positioned to tackle the challenges they will face in life and even break the cycle of poverty that many families are trapped in.
E. What inspires you to keep going?
S. In the first group of children that we sponsored, I was fortunate to meet Susan Wangui who instead of dropping out of school after class 8, since she didn’t have the money to continue to high school, she re-took the class again in the hope that something would happen or change that would enable her to go to high school.
Well, thanks to the Elimu scholarship Susan graduated from high school in November 2012 and is currently in collage. Her story, tenacity and her passion for education keeps me inspired
Nuru Center Scholar
E. Tell me what your biggest challenge has been so far?
S. We have a lot of work to be done, but never enough people to do it. There are so many lives to be changed, but not enough resources to make it happen.
E. Tell us an important lesson you have learnt so far?
S. I actually learnt that “Important lesson” while I was volunteering at another non-profit organization. I was gravely disappointed by how they managed the organization; things were kept private, there was no accountability… let’s just say it was a mess.
That is when I knew I had to go back to University where I pursued my Mastered in Public Policy with an emphasis in Non-Profits. I wanted to start a non-profit and I wanted to be able to run it right.
E. There are other non-profits educating children in rural Africa, how do you ensure that Nuru Center Stands from the Crowd?
S. It’s simple. 100% of donations go to the different causes, be it the Elimu (Education) Scholarships or the Holiday Kikapu (Basket) – no one gets paid.
We also truly value accountability and transparency; we will walk anyone through out process address and questions they may have.
What does the future look like for Nuru Center?
Well, we are looking to expand our programs by developing a mentoring and entrepreneurship program. We also hope to build a community center in the next 3-4 years provide organized after school and holiday programs and nurture talents at a young age.
E. What is the one thing you wish people knew?
S. That feeling that one can’t put in words, here is how I see it, we have the ability to change not just one child’s life by educating them, but the lives of generations to come. It’s a great feeling.
E. Thank you so much for giving me and my readers and insight into your word… one last question are there any upcoming events and how can we support Nuru Center?
S. We accept donations though out the year, one can choose to be a sustaining donor by scheduling monthly contributions.
You an also make donations on our website and If someone is interested in volunteering one can contact us via social media or by by email. Here are the links below…
For questions email us at
On Twitter : https://twitter.com/nurucenter
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nuru-Center-Fan-Page/130112263719633
For upcoming events go to our website for details
2014 Annual Gala – June
2014 Annual Golf Tournament- September