By Jake Harriman, Founder and CEO of Nuru International
If you’ve ever been told your big idea is “too ambitious” or “too audacious,” I know how you feel. I was told the same thing when I wanted to create a community development organization where Kenyans would lead other Kenyans out of extreme poverty. I didn’t give up and neither should you.
The story of Nuru Kenya, a locally led organization transforming Southwest Kenya by helping to lift thousands of people out of extreme poverty, will inspire you to achieve the impossible.
I moved to Kenya in September of 2008 to launch Nuru. My first week in Kuria West was really tough. I was attacked by thieves and black widow spiders, contracted a severe case of malaria, and was struck by lightning. This was my first week! I felt powerless and defeated. I had never quit anything, but I was ready to throw in the towel and head back to the U.S.
I walked to the house of my friend, brother, and Nuru Kenya co-founder, Philip Mohochi, to deliver the bad news that the project was over before it even got started. He invited me in and offered me a cup of chai. Philip had grown up in extreme poverty in Kuria West. He did well in school and built a successful career in Nairobi before moving back to his village to sacrificially serve his people. He listened intently to my story of the past week and how I needed to leave. Finally, he looked up with compassion in his eyes…
“Rafiki, you have indeed had a very difficult week. But I want you to consider something before you leave. The farmers who are waiting for us to help them…they have bad weeks, too. Except they have a bad week every single week.”
“Mothers go months without knowing how they will feed their children the next day,” he said. “You took medicine after you contracted malaria and feel better now. They don’t have medicine, and their children get malaria and die. These farmers need us. They need the chance to have choices in their lives. If you stay, together we can transform these communities so the farmers never have a bad week again. You can’t give up.”
I left his home changed, with a dramatically different perspective and understanding of our work, of Philip, and of the farmers I was to live alongside and work with.
Since 2009, more than 300 Kenyans and 40 expats have partnered with more than 78,000 people in Kuria West to transform their communities with lasting meaningful choices. At a quiet ceremony in this past June, I officially handed the reins of Nuru Kenya over to Philip’s successor, Pauline Wambeti, and her team.
I know that she and her team are ready, and I know that Nuru Kenya has now become what Philip and I had always intended it to be: Kenyans leading Kenyans out of extreme poverty.