Peter Macharia had every possible reason to fail in life; he grew up in a life of lack but this did not stop him from finding and carving his path in life. Now serving as the Africa Director at World Concern, a Christian global relief and development agency, he is extending opportunity and hope to people in communities facing extreme poverty. He walked ESTHER KIRAGU through his life experience, a thriving career life and passion for youth mentorship.
It is difficult to envision the man who now sits at the helm of an international organisation overseeing the African region once wanted to be a matatu tout. “What were you thinking?” I blurt out before realising that my mouth has betrayed what I thought were my silent thoughts. A modest Peter goes on to explain he didn’t know any better than that at the time. “For a young boy who grew up in the village marred with poverty, seeing a tout swinging skillfully on the door of a matatu while flashing a wad of cash, was the only reality of success that seemed plausible to me. There weren’t many people to look up to in the village and teachers, meat inspectors and touts were among the few considered successful,” Peter explains and adds that he has expounded more about this in his book: Created for Greatness. His formative years were spent in the care of his grandmother in Murang’a County, as his mother was still a student in college. Peter recalls sitting at the fireplace with his grandmother who loved to pray and sing Christian hymns. Her faith influenced Peter who became a Christian at a young age. He later on reconnected with his mother after relocating to Laikipia County in 1978 where she was posted for a teaching job. A believer that no occurrence in life goes to waste, Peter says it was this life of lack that shaped him into the man he is today, a testament that one’s present circumstances don’t determine how far one can go in life. This formed a passion in him to help the youth and today he mentors and gives motivation to the young people in his church and field of work. He is currently mentoring a group of students who are transitioning from high school to college to reflect and identify their purpose in life. His book, Created for Greatness, is geared towards giving inspiration to the youth by urging them to take charge of their lives and grow into greatness by discovering what they were created for and pursuing it. Determined to rise from poverty, Peter enjoyed his schooling years and did well in his studies. At one time, his mother urged him to repeat a class despite being the top student on the basis that he was the youngest in the class. “The truth is that she had very high hopes in the 8-4-4 education system, which had just been introduced and knew by repeating a class, I would be in the first batch of students who went through the new education system. I didn’t fully grasp it but I obliged to her advice,” he says. None of his family members had been to university and Peter was keen to break this record. He worked hard and secured admission to Kenyatta University in 1990 to study for bachelors of Education degree specialising in geography and religious studies. He remains indebted to one of his high school teachers who always encouraged students to aspire to join the university.
Identifying his purpose…
Although he didn’t know what career to venture into, Peter admired those in the banking profession as they always looked smart and seemed to have money. And so when he completed his university education, he applied for a job in various banks in Nairobi. His many applications were not successful and instead he landed a teaching job in a remote area in Tharaka Nithi, Meru. Ironically, it was here that he identified his life’s purpose. “While teaching and interacting with my students, it dawned on me that I was keen about influencing the youth and helping them discover their potential. In addition, I was very interested in the community around me. My attention was particularly on a Swedish international organisation that worked in the locality,who helped reduce poverty by providingclean water to the villagers in TharakaNithi and as a result transformed thecommunity,” he explains.So drawn was he to the impact madein the community that he desired to workwith communities so as to empower them.In 1997, Peter resigned from his teachingjob and enrolled at Egerton University inNjoro, Nakuru County to pursue a Mastersof Arts degree in geography.
A career in the humanitarian field…
When he completed his studies in 2000, Peter secured a community development job in Kisumu at a Christian humanitarian aid, development, and advocacy organisation. His work entailed helping the organisation reach out to communities within the locality and start some microfinance services to empower them. He loved interacting with the communities and improving the quality of their lives. It was also in the same year that Peter married his soul mate, Dr. Diana Njeri. However, being newly-weds, Peter and his wife felt the strain of being apart from each other as he was based in Kisumu and his wife in Nairobi. This informed his decision to relocate to Nairobi after a year of living in Kisumu. Peter believes marriage takes sacrifice and there will be times you will forgo opportunities for the greater good of your marriage. He was fortunate to get a job as a grants and fund raising manager at World Concern in 2003. He took up his new job with vigour as it offered him a chance to network, write proposals, raise funds and oversee implementation of community projects. He says the scope of the job prepared him for a future managerial position as well as focus on people who may be regarded as the last, the least and the lost. He was able to gain exposure and add on new knowledge and skills after attaining a scholarship to Netherlands to pursue a Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Development in 2005. Peter has been at World Concern for the past 12 years and has served in various positions and countries including Somalia, and was also the World Concern Country director of South Sudan for about four-and-a half-years. Later, he became the Africa Disaster Response Director where he served to save lives. The highlight of his career then was managing the 2011/12 horn of Africa disaster that affected about 13 million people. Today, Peter oversees World Concern in Africa and his greatest pride is seeing the impact and transformation happening on various communities, living at the end of the road in different countries in Africa. He describes his experience at the organization as memorable and very fulfilling. “One of the reasons I wanted to serve at the African region is because I wanted to pour out my experience to younger people fresh from college who are getting into the humanitarian field. I am glad that this opportunity has given me the platform to do that and currently the organisation is in the process of launching a development internship programme that picks youth from different African countries and takes them through a hands-on internship programme for two years to produce rounded, well trained persons with practical experience, ready to serve and meet the needs of society,” he says exhibiting obvious enthusiasm. It hasn’t been all rosy for Peter as he admits that at times it can be overwhelming working in the humanitarian field as one feels overwhelmed by the many unmet needs in many marginalized communities despite all the efforts made. He, however, says experience has taught him that rather than trying to do too many things in too many places, it is best to cover smaller bits in a given geographical area and do it well. He reckons that if all parties involved would do their bit, then it would go a great mile in easing efforts by humanitarians. “In many of the African countries we work in, there are a lot of pending issues regarding government policies in addition to issues of poor infrastructure and corruption which often frustrate our best efforts,” he explains adding that with the devolved system in Kenya, one can only hope the counties put their money into good use to promote the development agenda. Peter is against the dependency syndrome entrenched in many communities that wait for the government or those working in the humanitarian field and individuals to come and offer donations and handouts. His wish is that people can look at development from a resource base – working with what communities have rather than always giving donations especially where there is no emergency, which encourages dependency. He is glad to be working with an organisation that believes in empowering communities so that they can help themselves. Having worked in different African countries and exposed to several countries abroad, Peter wishes Kenyans would be more appreciative of their country, the innovations and resources and manage them well, as Kenya is a blessed country. For those wishing to have a career in the humanitarian field, Peter advises, “You must be ready to serve and pour every ounce of passion into it. Humanitarian work cannot be provided in a half-hearted manner, you must do it for the love of service to mankind.”
A thriving marriage…
Peter met his wife, Dr. Diana Njeri while in Tharaka-Nithi. At the time, she was a student at Egerton University, on
a visit to a Christian Union event at the school where both were visiting as guest speakers. Nothing much arose from their
first meeting until years later when they reconnected at Egerton University, when Peter was pursuing his Masters programme.
A strong friendship developed between them leading to marriage in 2000. His face lights up when he talks of his wife whom he holds in high esteem, “She is my best friend and I would still marry her if I was to choose all over again,” he offers. He shares an analogy given to him as advice on his wedding day by the pastor officiating his marriage, which Peter believes has been the glue that has held his marriage for 15 years. “Marriage is like a triangle with God at the top apex while my wife and I are at the two apexes at the opposite ends at the bottom of the triangle. As my wife and I both strive to grow our relationship and get closer to God together, the distance between us as a couple will definitely reduce, as seen in the triangle. This has been our resolve in marriage,” he says adding that they consider Tuesdays as their date nights and even when circumstances such as work engagements don’t allow them to go on a date, they compensate at a later date. The couple, who have three children, view their children as their biggest responsibility tasked on them by God. As such, despite their busy work and travel schedules, they ensure their parental duties are still taken care of. “My wife and I would never want our children to say their parents were not there for them. Somehow, children create a purpose for why you exist, because you know that you have someone else that totally depends on you and it is important to honour that responsibility as it is God-given. As a family, we devote time to prayer and reading the Bible and also enjoy holidays together,” he concludes.
Published in May 2015