Food4Education, the Thorn Tree Café – a visit to Nairobi

Saturday, 18 May 2024
I’ve just spent a month in Africa, in Kenya, South Sudan and then, with Médecins Sans Frontières, in Nigeria. I started my travels with a brief visit to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
▲ Where I met Wawira Njiru at her Giga-Kitchen. This remarkable young woman studied Nutrition Science at the University of South Australia in Adelaide in Australia. She returned to Africa with a vision to feed school children. How could they concentrate on their studies if they were hungry was her view when she set up a kitchen to provide 25 daily lunches to a local school. That grew to 100 to 1000 and we played a small part in helping her project get off the ground by funding a visit to India for Wawira to see the Akshaya Patra project in Bangalore (Bengalaru) which feeds huge number of Indian school kids every day.
▲ Today Wawira’s Food4Education operates 17 kitchens including the Giga-Kitchen which turns out 60,000 meals a day! Or rather a night since the action starts at midnight, 3am is peak activity and at 5 am the trucks load up and head out to the schools. The Guardian recently ran a major story on this amazing project and there’s also a video for when she won an award from the Skoll World Forum in 2024. There’s a lot of government backing now, but parents still have to pay about 15 cents US, half the cost of their kid’s daily lunch, which is essentially rice, lentils, beans with assorted vegetables. The rice comes from India, pretty much everything else is locally sourced. Kids like the rice, they generally don’t get rice at home, but everything else is same-old same-old. Ask them what they’d like to have and the answer is ‘meat!’ Too expensive, meat is a once in a long while treat.
▲ I was blown away by the Giga-Kitchen – big, efficient, spotlessly clean – but if anything I was even more impressed by the yellow Tap2Eat watch. Kid on the program are given the watch and that 15 cents US is deducted from their lunch account when they ‘Tap2Eat’. It’s Kenyan technology and ingenuity at its best, well they invented m-pesa, the mobile phone payment system that’s streets ahead of anything we have in the west. And it looks good on my wrist.
▲ I also visited Thomas Odhiambo at the Ruben Centre in the Mukuru slums, an ‘informal settlement.’ They’ve got a big primary school, health centre, maternity ward, their own ambulance and Planet Wheeler helped launch Ruben Radio, they’re one of 67 community radio stations in Kenya and they reach 350,000 people every day.
▲ My two mornings in Nairobi I had breakfast at the Thorn Tree Café in the Sarova Stanley Hotel.
◄ I remember the Thorn Tree’s noticeboard from my very first visit to Africa in 1989 and in 1996 the name was used for Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Travel Forum which grew to become the most popular travel forum on the internet. Sadly the Thorn Tree died in 2021, another pandemic victim, but that original noticeboard is still there in the Thorn Tree Café, although these days travellers keep in touch via social media, no notices pinned to a thorn tree necessary.