Kayiwa champions education, social change in Kibera

Kayiwa leads an entertainment session at the school  in Kibera, Kenya. PHOTO/EDGAR R BATTE

What you need to know:

  • Lucy Najjuma Kayiwa is a teacher whose heart beats for vulnerable children. Kayiwa is turning lives around in Kibera, Kenya.

Lucy Najjuma Kayiwa from an early age admired her parents’ career— teaching.

“I loved seeing my parents welcome children who brought their books for marking. Above all, we also had fruit trees which kept them busy as they came  under the guise of having their books for marked. The pupils felt like our siblings,” the 78-year-old teacher recollects.

Today, the Ugandan-born teacher is giving an education to young people in Africa’s biggest slum- Kibera in Kenya. Kayiwa welcomes the destitute and counsels many to live positively and productively. Like any average slum, Kibera is at the backwaters of Nairobi and the place where the city hawkers and casual labourers in Nairobi and its suburbs live. 

In there, Kayiwa, a mother of five, lives and runs a project which fends for some children and tutors others as she creates a more homely environment. She welcomes friends and strangers alike because homelessness is almost a given in Kibera where shelters are largely semi-permanent, and active parenting is not guaranteed.

Kayiwa cut her teeth in the teaching profession after completing primary education at St Bernadette Primary School, Nkozi in 1966. She was admitted to Nkozi Teacher’s Training College for a three-year-course.

“I loved teaching because it ran in the family,” she explains adding that her love for children motivated her to teach lower primary school pupils. At the college, she was tutored to be all-round so she could teach all subjects. For the first two years in college, they were trained to teach all subjects. It was during the third year that she specialised in infant methods.

Her first year of teaching was at Busubizi Demonstration School in Mityana. Her uncle had crossed paths with the missionaries who were searching for a certified teacher. 

She seized the chance, but because there were no staff quarters, he in the meantime would drop her off and pick her up from the school. She worked for 11 years after which her boyfriend, who had returned from US proposed marriage and they wedded in 1968.

Her husband got a job at the meteorological department of  Kenya. Thus, Kayiwa had to relocate.
“Before we left, my father had asked my husband if I was going to continue teaching. We moved to Nairobi by train in 1969,” she relates. 

When they settled in Nairobi, he searched for a teaching position for Kayiwa. Luckily, she got placement, but because she only spoke, Luganda and English it was bumpy. 

Also, schools were divided according to race but that same year, the government overturned this and said Kenyans would attend any school of their choice.

“This helped me to learn Swahili and Asian languages and I taught up to 1975 when my husband was transferred to Uganda. However,  the murky politics could not let live and, my husband was transferred back to Kenya,” she recalls.

Despite the measly pay, Kayiwa enjoyed her vocation. 
“At times, things would be difficult and my friends helped. Beyond this, I also got involved in community work with the church. It is here that I got an idea of starting a mission to take care of the needy. There had been a group who had been taking care of the sick and elderly. So, they asked me to join them, and I obliged,”she recounts.

Looking after vulnerable mad her appreciate her life more. 
Around 1981, HIV/Aids had ravaged many in Uganda and had also started spreading to Kenya leaving many orphaned children.

In the process, under the St Vincent De Paul Community Programme Kibera Community Initiative, they received children. 

“I taught during the week and spent my other time doing community work. At church, I would mostly do bible classes for children as well as taking care of the elderly. During our meetings, we came up with a feeding programme through which we wanted to bring children in one place.”

She retired from formal teaching in 2004, but continued serving the mission alongside 10 members of the church. These, as one way through which they would manage the orphaned children, they started a nursery school. St Vincent De Paul Community Programme Kibera started in 2000. The church had no funds for such a project, so Kayiwa and her team mobilised resources and, Comboni Missionaries came through with financial support.

“We had to go through tedious processes for approval of the programme in order for us to create an enclosure where the children would be fed,” she says.
Today, Kayiwa goes about superintending the community social work, and teaches children.

As a teacher, she had never handled a class of more than 40 children. Under the Kibera programme, they have handled classes of more than 80 children. 

In 2005, the programme started a rescue centre to accommodate children who lost their parents and relatives. 

“We have a well-structured nursery school and have prioritised these children. The  people we work with ensure to make these children feel loved. Some of them are sick, but we must find a way to handle them in a manner that will make them feel okay,” she explains.

Almost 60 years later, life has taught Kayiwa to reach out to those in need of education and social support. 

She admits that all is not rosy. 
“I have been overwhelmed. Many people think that once they come to me, I must solve all problems, yet some issues need resources which in most cases I also lack,” she reveals, adding; “Despite all this, many people have returned to appreciate my support through challenges. I have done all these things in Kenya but I feel bad that because of age, it will be difficult for me to do the same in Uganda.”

“Whenever I travel  to Uganda, I meet people going through challenges. I would love to be part of their solutions. Even with age, I have plans that seek to help young people understand life,” the veteran educationist says.

She says the world (today) has not helped young people, adding that many of them are being misled by politicians who misuse and dump them at the slightest of opportunity. 

“Children need education to change their lives,” the educationist concludes.

“Despite the challenges, many people have returned to appreciate my  support through challenges. I have done all these things in Kenya but I feel bad that because of age, it will be difficult for me to do the same in Uganda," Lucy Najjuma Kayiwa