Jane Kiarie, 30, was orphaned at an early age. She dropped out of school to work as a house girl to support her ailing mother. Things were so bad, that Jane and her younger sister nearly became street children.

Through patience and God’s providence she rose above the challenges to become an administrator. Fully aware of the plight of the needy as she walked that route for many years she has devoted her life to helping them.

“To celebrate my changed fortunes, I walked into a bakery and bought some pastries for breakfast. I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that I would one day enjoy such a luxury. Dropping out of school and working as a house-help and often being mistreated was the psychological torture I went through for many years. But by God’s grace my circumstances had changed and I was now earning a salary and could afford to buy breakfast.

As I walked through the bakery door I noticed a street boy begging but was too engrossed in my own happiness to give him a second glance. But as I placed my order, I looked out and was met by the boy’s hungry eyes, obviously hoping I would notice him and drop the change in his hand as I walked out. Then I heard a little voice telling me that if it were not for God’s mercies I would be in that little boy’s shoes. A wave of guilt hit me and I placed a second order. I walked out, gave the boy his pastry and the little change I had.

I was in tears as I walked back to my office at Lifewords, an international organisation that publishes and distributes Christian reading materials. The innocent face and hungry eyes of the little boy I just bought breakfast for wouldn’t leave my mind. I was restless all day, feeling there was much more I could do for children like him.  My life changed from that day. I was touched in a way that brought a deep passion inside me to share my changed fortunes with the poor. And this is what my life is today, born out of my bitter personal experience.

The story of my life

Though my late mum was an absentee single parent, she provided for us. She was a businesswoman in Nairobi and often left my younger sister and I under the care of our grandmother in Juja, Thika. Life changed in 1995 when mum didn’t come to visit or send money for about a year. In December 1995, we found out that mum had been jailed for handling stolen property. I had just completed class four and our grandmother couldn’t afford to pay my school fees, so I dropped out of school.

Mum was released from jail after serving her term but she came back home a different person. She was sick with tuberculosis (TB) and there wasn’t money to buy her drugs. Disheartened at mum’s suffering, I went along with grandmother’s idea that I get a job as a house help to financially assist the family.

For the two years I worked, my wages were paid directly to my grandmother to buy mum’s drugs. Her condition was not improving and my fear was that she would not pull through. Her greatest wish was for her to see my sister and I return to school but unfortunately she passed on in 1996 before her wish could be fulfilled.

Things get tough

To honour my mum’s wish, my grandmother enrolled my sister and I back to school soon after our mother died. I joined standard five and my sister standard three. Life was very difficult. We didn’t have enough to eat at home, leave alone school fees and other necessities such as books and uniforms. Through intervention of our local chief, Plan International, an NGO that helps needy children, took over the responsibility of paying our school fees. This kind action saved us from the streets, an option my sister and I were contemplating.

I nearly failed to register for KCPE in 1999 because I didn’t have registration fees but the school headmistress came to my rescue on condition that I tilled her shamba on Saturdays to repay the debt, which I gladly accepted. However, just before the examination, our grandmother moved to Juja leaving us alone in Ruiru and, as if that was not enough, the NGO stopped paying our fees. I dropped out of school for the second time. My grandmother secured me a house help’s job with a family living in Nairobi’s Buru Buru estate.

My grandmother insisted that my salary be paid directly to her, though I had hoped to be paying my sister’s school fees with it. The work was frustrating and the fact that grandmother kept the money to herself and my employer refused to pay me directly didn’t make it worth toiling for. I quit and went to live with my aunt in Juja. I later got a job with a wonderful couple living in Githurai estate where I worked for one year. They were a God-fearing couple and through their influence I got saved.

Beam of hope

My aunt was unhappy that I worked as a house girl and financed my training as a hairdresser. I started working in a salon, though earning very little, and my faith in Christ continued to grow. I worshipped at the Fountain of Life Church in Juja. The pastor and his wife were sympathetic on learning that my sister and I were orphans.

My sister followed suit and dropped out of school before taking the KCPE for lack of fees and started working as a house help. My pastor’s family offered her a job as their house help in 2000 but she asked for time to give her current employer time to look for a replacement. I volunteered to stand in for her at the pastor’s home not to disappoint them. For personal reasons, my sister eventually didn’t take up the job and so I continued working for my pastor’s family.

This was a blessing in disguise. They treated me like one of their own and their desire was for me to go back to school. The pastor’s wife referred me to Plan International in Thika to plead my case for school fees. Unfortunately the NGO only paid for primary school education. The pastor’s wife encouraged me not to give up and not to accept or even believe that I was doomed to be a house help for the rest of my life.

In August 2000, the pastor’s wife assisted me to write an appeal for school fees to the World Vision, an NGO that among other things assists orphaned and needy children. My appeal went through and I was enrolled at Juja Secondary School in form one in February 2001.

I continued living with the pastor’s family and for all practical purposes I was like their child. They provided me with all school provisions as World Vision only catered for fees. Unfortunately World Vision closed their Thika office when I was in form two and this meant no more school fees. My pastor talked to different people to assist me, as well as the school administration not to send me home. In spite of owing a huge amount in fee balances, the school administration allowed me to sit for KCSE in 2004.

A helping hand

In December 2004, I met and interacted with two missionaries from the US who were visiting our church. In appreciation of my music talent, one of the ladies gave me Ksh 42,000 to enroll in a music school and nurture my talent. The money not only cleared my school fees balance but also paid for a music course at the House of Tephilla Music School on Ngong road, Nairobi.

On graduating from the music school I used the balance of Ksh 7000 left to enroll for a marketing course at Skynet Institute in Nairobi. The money wasn’t enough but I had faith that God would provide. My pastor provided me with bus fare from Juja to Nairobi every day. God was working in my life. One of the missionaries I had met in my church returned to work in Kenya and was living in Nairobi South B estate. She took me on as her house girl with a pay of Ksh 2,000 per month. I was empowered to pay the college fees until I cleared the certificate level and enrolled for the diploma level.

When one of her teachers at the missionary school she was managing left temporarily, I offered to teach the pre-unit class and this gave me some additional income. My schedule was very tight since I woke up very early to prepare breakfast for my employer, clean up the house, do the washing and be in class by 7 a.m. My lessons ended at 1 p.m. and I would proceed to take a matatu to town to be in for my marketing class at 2 p.m. After classes, I would rush back home to prepare dinner. I shared time before going to sleep between reading and marking children’s books and preparing lessons for the following morning.

From one blessing to another

In spite of the tight schedule I got distinctions in college and successfully graduated in September 2006 with a diploma in marketing. Soon after, a relative of my employer visited and we became good friends. When she was leaving she gave me money to enroll for computer and driving lessons. When Lifewords, which has its Africa headquarters in Nairobi, advertised for a secretarial position, I applied and miraculously got the job. I have risen in the organisation to the position of administrator.

 Helping others

It was after I received my first salary at Lifewords that I encountered the street boy who changed my life. Lifewords had a project called Pavement that helped street children and I thought I could use this as a vehicle to fulfill my dream. Although the project was outside my docket, I volunteered to assist whenever called upon. I enrolled for training in the project as a counselor to help raise needy children’s self-esteem and restore a sense of hope in them.

Today, I use this unique bible-based counseling process with street children in Ruiru and Juja. My target is to impact and change the lives of at least three children every month through sharing of God’s word. Providing help for street children is challenging because many of them are traumatised by their life on the street or the experiences that put them there in the first place.

They are often alienated, have low self-esteem, and are cautious of accepting help. However, I’m able to encourage children to talk about their deep-seated fears and hurts. Through prayer and Bible stories, children receive healing and affirmation. This allows me and other counselors and social workers to know how to deal with each child.

After counseling, some children are rehabilitated back to society while others return to their families or children’s homes where they have a chance to go back to school.  They change and become responsible citizens.

A month ago, I approached a street girl and struck a conversation with her. She told me her mother’s death had made her very angry. The girl had a low self-esteem and I enrolled her in the counseling session. We make the counseling sessions sustainable because once a child’s self-esteem is raised and then something interferes with it, she regresses to unimaginable levels.

I use the platform of my church, Redeemed Gospel in Ruiru, to host street children, feed, and then share the word of God with them. I hold individual and group counseling sessions and also motivational talks. I have a soft heart for Fountain of Life Support Programme for needy children in Juja that was established by my former church. I often counsel the children and provide material support to the programme.

In addition, I engage youth and teenagers in a programme called Choose Life that teaches biblical values of love, peace, justice, freedom, and concern for others. I empower them to make good decisions for themselves and their communities through motivational talks. Since there are many house helps in the church youth group, I do a self-esteem programme for them and in other churches when I am invited.

I like to encourage house helps that they should not underrate themselves as they can truly rise above their current circumstances. I also encourage employers to respect their house helps.

I thank God for bringing me this far and for enabling me use my experience to help others. This is a lifetime commitment.”

Published on March 2013