RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 5


Ruth Nyakerario

African Studies
Oxford University
Charity and Social Entrepreneurship
Isaiah Wellington-Lynn

Ruth grew up in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, in a town called Embakasi, with her parents and three siblings. During that period, her father was unable to find stable work; Ruth recalls relocating several times as a child, shifting schools each time. She estimates she attended more than five primary schools, travelling at least an hour and a half each way, before secondary school. Aged 8, she would have to travel for over three hours each way to get to her school.

As her mother was a primary school teacher, the value of education was never lost upon Ruth. Her mother would borrow books from her students to bring to Ruth to read overnight so her mother could return it the next morning. This experience developed Ruth’s interest in education and allowed her to perform well in her primary school exams, which in turn enabled her to attend a state-funded boarding school for secondary school. After high school, Ruth was one of two students to receive a scholarship to attend one of the oldest private universities in Kenya, the United States International University.

At university, Ruth studied International Relations, which opened her eyes to a lot of the issues caused by socio-economic divide that affect people across the African continent. She remembers sitting in class and thinking that what she heard on the impact of social and economic inequity could not simply remain theory, becoming angry and frustrated but unsure how or what to do to improve the status quo. After reconnecting with some friends from high school, Ruth and her friend, Viney Gisore, decided to co-found their foundation, Out of the Streets.

Out of the Streets is committed to ensuring that homeless children in Kenya get an education, food, empowerment, clothing, and, if possible, can be re-united with their families. The programme started in Feburary 2015 with feeding programmes, with Viney and Ruth cooking self-funded hot meals and sharing lunch and a few hours with the children every week. After a short while, word spread, and they would have 150 - 200 homeless children coming for meals each time. By 2016, the foundation had expanded with more volunteers and started running medical camps, serving more than 1000 people, mostly children, but also members of the wider community in slum areas in Nairobi. Drawn from her interests both in education and community work, Ruth spearheaded talent events at rehabilitation centres for street children and established libraries.

“The whole time I thought of a growing group of young people that’ll forever be marginalized in my society....”

The foundation also established a centre in a very deprived area called Majengo, and would run weekend education sessions for 50 to 60 children, most of whom were not in school during the week. They also had arts sessions and spiritual sessions, which enabled most of the kids to open up and share their aspirations for the future, and this became a turning point for some.

Ruth recalls it being challenging leading a community-based organisation that focused on an overlooked issue, and in some cases, helping the children was actively discouraged by the local government. There was even one incident where a police officer came over to stop one of their feeding programmes, told them what they were doing was illegal, and went on to arrest some of the kids who were there. This was because many of the children they helped were also addicted to sniffing glue, which had a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing. Alongside their other initiatives, the foundation would identify the children they thought were recovering and help to fund their way through rehab. This was not successful for all the children they supported, and while Ruth struggled emotionally with cases of children who failed to escape their addiction and returned to the streets, she didn’t let that change her zeal for the project.

Whilst at university, Ruth developed an interest in youth and migration, following her experience working with the homeless children. She was interested in why they would move from different towns and how young people got displaced by conflict. After university, she worked as a research assistant which offered her great mentorship within academia. Following that, she applied for and was successful in receiving a Rhodes scholarship, which is funding her education at Oxford. In her first year, Ruth read Refugee and Forced Migration Studies and is now undertaking a further Master’s in African Studies. Ruth still intends to go back to the community work; the frustration she experienced made her realise that sometimes, we need to generate knowledge and see the bigger picture before we can affect meaningful change.

Ruth’s Out of The Streets team is working towards establishing their own rehab centre and is currently fundraising, hoping to incorporate the lessons they have learnt thus far into their strategy. They also intend to work in conjunction with other similar community-based organisations that reach out to children in other locales.

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