Those who know Ruth Njaungiri fondly refer to her as Mother Teresa because of her passion for helping those in need. She prefers to call herself a billionaire, not because she is rich but because she never lacks something to give to those in need. Hers is a heart of gold, big enough to accommodate anyone and everyone. She shares her heroic story with MWAURA MUIGANA.
Ruth Wanjiru Njaungiri was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, so to speak. As early as her memory goes, her parents, Charity Muthoni Kiarie and Caleb Kiarie Muimbu, owned hotels and shops in Nakuru and Ndundori towns where she spent her childhood. The treasured virtue she learned and inherited from her parents is their caring and loving attitude towards the needy in society.
Ruth’s parents have maintained this virtue through their sunset years – both are a few months shy of their 80th birthdays. Her mum has helped children at Moi Children’s Home in Nakuru for the last 40 years. Her dad surprises street children in Nakuru town many a times, when he slaughters a cow for them to feast on. Up to this day there are at least five needy people who are fed at their hotels free of charge.
Growing up in kindness…
Ruth recalls being touched by the plight of Macharia, a mentally challenged man, who slept in the trenches and streets of Ndundori town, when she was around six years. “I would wake up early each morning to take tea, eggs, bread and fruits to Macharia from my parent’s hotel in Ndundori town. I made it my duty to feed and care for him,” says Ruth who today runs a rescue centre, which she established in 2001. The centre helps the needy in and around Nairobi’s Kibera slums.
Ruth would wait on Macharia to eat his food and would only leave when she was sure he was well fed. She was not afraid of his mental state as most of her neighbours, especially the children, were. Apart from feeding him, she also collected clothes from her father’s wardrobe to give to Macharia. Her parents were impressed with her caring attitude for the downtrodden man and encouraged her to continue, until one day when Macharia hit Ruth with a stone during one of his many violent episodes. Her parents knew it was time for their daughter to cease contact with Macharia for her own safety, as they devised other ways of helping the sick man.
She could not understand why Macharia was so ungrateful, as to hit her despite her devotion and like any youngster would do, she retaliated by withdrawing her generosity towards him. But her heart ached as she felt the need to help and so at the age of eight years she picked a blind man whom she met on her way from school. At first she could not understand why he was blind and asked her parents many questions. “Why would God be so unfair as to deny one of His own the privilege of seeing the beauty of His own creation?” she would ask.
She introduced the blind man to her family and took it upon herself to be escorting him to his home, as well as giving him food. The man became part of her family and today, at the age of 85; he still gets assistance from her parents. When he found a woman to marry he went to her parents for blessings and support. Her parents also financed two of his children’s education at the Starehe Boys Centre.
A heart of gold…
After graduating from college, Ruth got a job as a secretary at Fiat Kenya Limited in Nakuru. Friends and acquaintances would flock to her home and workplace asking her to help them secure jobs. She assisted those she could and their appreciation inspired her to do more.
When she married Major Njaungiri, who at the time worked at Lanet Barracks in Nakuru, she was always at pains to explain why so many people stopped her on the streets, either to thank her or ask for help. She also could never pass a person who was in need. She recalls one time when she was walking down the streets of Nakuru with her husband and a young street girl with a baby strapped on her back was screaming and threatening to kill the child.
She asked her husband to call the police but he could not understand what business it was for them to get involved. Ruth disagreed with her husband and called the police who came and assisted the girl and her child.
Ruth found herself arguing a lot with her husband who didn’t like it that people were coming to their home seeking for help and others staying overnight. For example, her husband became quite irritated when she rescued a mentally challenged girl from a bus stop in Nakuru and brought her to their home and then she started stripping naked one evening. Her husband complained that Ruth was exposing the family but this didn’t stop her from helping the girl to get treatment.
“So incensed by my actions was my husband that he barred me from bringing needy people to our home,” says the mother of three.
No matter how much it displeased her husband, Ruth would not give up on helping the needy. Her conscience would not allow her to turn the other way when someone was in need. She recalls moving to Nairobi and one day finding a seven-year-old girl with a six-month old baby strapped on her back rummaging for food in dustbins close to Kibera slums. When she asked the girl where her mother was, she explained that she was drunk all the time and that she and her six siblings were responsible for themselves.
Ruth not only provided food for the family, but also sought assistance from the chief. When the chief couldn’t help much because there were many other children like this one in the slums, Ruth helped place them in a home and continued monitoring and supporting them.
“Today five of the children are grown up and supporting themselves. One is still at NPC Children’s Home in Kiserian and I remain very close to all of them,” says Ruth who is also a prominent farmer in Kirinyaga.
After his initial resistance, her husband came to understand that he could not change his wife and that helping other people was her passion. He embraced her actions and today fully supports her in all her endeavors with the needy in society.
Njaungiri Rescue Centre is born…
Ruth, who resides at Nairobi’s Magiwa Estate near Kenyatta Market, rented a cloth stall at Kenyatta Market to use as the base for her philanthropic work. The number of people who flocked her stall seeking assistance from the nearby Kibera slums overwhelmed her. In 2001, she moved to more spacious accommodation on the first floor of Galexon House Opposite Kenyatta Market, to handle the growing numbers. This was later to become Njaungiri Counseling Centre.
Desperate individuals walk into the centre seeking help for a myriad of problems. Some are suicidal, others have suffered domestic violence, while others are weighed down by many social problems including disease, unwanted pregnancies, prostitutions, rape, alcohol and drugs. They are counseled and led to Christ in order to start accepting and believing in themselves. In addition they are also helped to get skills, jobs, financial support, shelter, food and clothes.
Ruth goal is to ensure those who come to her for help don’t leave empty-handed and are eventually helped to become independent. Ruth has opened up her house, which is just behind her office, where she has set up one bedroom and bathroom for use by those who come to her. First she lets have a shower and then over a meal encourages them to pour their hearts out.
“I am amazed at how God provides because I never lack even when I have several people who need help. If they are too many and I can’t accommodate them in my house, I pay for their lodging in Kibera but still cook them a meal in my house,” says Ruth
The people who seek help at the centre have different needs and each case is treated differently. For instance, if they are orphans they will be referred to children’s homes. Because of the numerous cases involving orphans, abandoned and neglected children, Ruth is planning to build a children’s home in Ruai, Nairobi.
“If each one of us takes up the burden of helping at least one person in need, we wouldn’t have street families. If we became our brothers’ keepers, our country would be a better palace. If we all valued work and not be dependent on handouts or ill-gotten wealth, poverty would be eradicated in Kenya,” says Ruth in conclusion.
FROM THOSE SHE HAS TOUCHED…
Margaret’s marriage hit the rocks three years ago and her husband kicked her out and took custody of their two children. A qualified secretary, Margaret had not worked because she couldn’t get a job and remained a housewife since marriage. She was rejected and dejected when her husband kicked her out but all this changed when she met Ruth at Njaungiri Rescue Centre.
Margaret recalls Ruth’s reassuring words when she was at her lowest point: “My house is open if you need a sanctuary.” Margaret was at the time depressed and emaciated and had no place to call home. Ruth not only provided her with a home, but also love and care. This helped Margaret to get rid of the bitterness she carried from her abusive marriage. Through counseling, Margaret was able to forgive her husband, love herself again and move on.
When she was fully recovered, Margaret first worked as a secretary as the centre and also learnt basic counseling skills with which she used to help others like her seeking help at the centre. Margaret is today a confident woman and works as the centre’s manager and is fully taking care of herself.
Priscilla Aina from Vihiga in Western province lives in Kibera slums. A friend referred her to the centre recently. The mother of two and six-months pregnant was distraught after being abandoned by her husband. She was desperate for help. Her mind was set on aborting the child she was carrying, as she could not see how she was going to cope with three children.
Through counseling she was helped to accept the child she was carrying and also believe that God will provide. Today Priscilla can afford a smile as she awaits the birth of her baby. All this is because of the help Ruth has given her. She is now in a residential rescue centre where she is learning various skills that will help her take care of her children. She also has the option of placing her baby for legal adoption once born, if she does not wish to keep it.
Published on January 2013