Wawira Njiru, founder of Food For Education

Wawira Njiru, founder of Food For Education

Wawira Njiru, 29-year-old nutritionist from Kenya, founded a non-profit organization called Food for Education in 2012. The program is located in her hometown, Ruiru, which is on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

Njiru’s mission is to provide cheap and nourishing lunches to primary school children. Since being founded, the organization has provided over 1 million meals. She says she has been feeding more people than ever since schools closed a month ago. Her focus has shifted to how to support the children while they are at home. Food for Education is supplying dry staples such as rice, beans, and corn for the 10,000 kids enrolled in the school’s meal program as well as their families.

Food for Education has completely restructured its operation from meal planning, to sourcing, to delivery. This was done in order to make the shift from cooked school lunches to dry foods. At its core, the mission of the organization remains the same, which is making sure no child has to learn on an empty stomach.

Njiru came up with the idea for Food for Education in 2012 while studying nutrition at a university in Australia. She realized her skills could make a difference in her home country where, according to UNICEF, over a quarter of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition.

The program started with just one stove and enough food for 25 kids. As of now, the program has grown into a 24-hour kitchen that delivers meals to 13 different schools. The meals are full of nutrients that the kids might not be getting at home. Njiru says protein is often missing in children’s diets because it is “more expensive than carbohydrates and vegetables.”

“Our meals provide 40 percent of the recommended daily allowance for a child,” Njiru said.

Ruth Wanjiku, the head teacher of a school participating in the program, said that the lunches have also helped bring up test scores. “In Kiambu County I think we are the most improved school,” Wanjiku said.

Technology has been a large part of the success of Food for Education. Last year, Njiru worked with a local tech company, Terra Software, to design a wristband called Tap2Eat. The wristbands are linked to a virtual wallet that parents connect to using a smartphone. The kids can tap their wristbands which prompts a 15 cent contribution towards the cost of their lunch. The percentage of students who cannot afford the contribution receive lunch for free.

This technology has proven itself to be vital during the current pandemic. While schools were open, the Tap2Eat app was able to collect data that identified the families most in need of meals. Njiru said, “We have an algorithm that helped us determine [and] predict vulnerability based on frequency of payments for lunch.” The parents who could not contribute to their children’s lunches in the past will now receive money for groceries.

Njiru says her experiences have taught her the importance of tailoring any help or aid to the community it is meant to help. “If you have data that’s specific to individuals… you’re able to really target interventions towards what’s useful,” she said.

Food for Education plans to continue to expand in order to reach more children. They plan to open a second kitchen following the end of the pandemic, and this will allow them to feed up to 30,000 children a day. Njiru said, “Our goal is to reach a million kids a day by 2025.”