From Rural Kenya to America: Lessons in Leadership, Philanthropy and Education

Asante Africa

Raised and educated in Rironi, a rural village in Kenya, Charles Waigi studied at Kenya’s competitive Mangu High School where during his sophomore year he wrote an essay that earned him a trip to America as Kenya’s delegate to the World Youth Forum sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune. This invaluable experience opened his eyes to what lay beyond Kenya’s borders and ignited a hunger to see more and do more. Charles returned to America to complete his last year of high school at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High near Boston, Massachusetts and went on to receive his undergraduate degree with Honors in Political Science at Williams College, and a graduate degree in Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

With a passion for his homeland fueled by a world-class education, Charles returned to Kenya and served on the global stage as well as the local one. He began as an Assistant Secretary in the Trade and Economic Division of Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This became the launching pad to a long and respected career in the Kenyan Public Service. Charles traveled the world serving on Kenyan delegations to many international conferences and worked to enhance Kenya’s voice in international economic affairs to propel the country into the international marketplace. Charles’ role and knowledge of Kenya’s government system led to several positions of high responsibility and trust. After the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Charles served briefly in the Central Bank of Kenya before moving to Kenya’s Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC) where he spent 24 fruitful years fostering local economic development via start-up loans for small business owners and joint ventures with large local and international corporations.

Charles’ passion and involvement also included the visualization and implementation of community-oriented projects. He was concerned about the Kenyan government’s inadequate understanding of the development needs of local villages, resulting in consistent failure to optimally allocate funds to the villages. He believed local village communities needed a stronger voice to identify priority projects for Government funding. As a result, he eagerly accepted an invitation by his member of parliament to serve on the Management Committee of the government funded Limuru Constituency Development Fund (CDF). On the CDF he utilized his policy strength by providing a way to give local communities some sovereignty in deciding which projects to fund and prioritize. Schools, health centers, police posts, school toilets and desks, community halls, among many others were, and continue to be funded by the CDF. In this way, community ownership of the projects is assured and the benefits accrued from the funds are maximized.

Charles also turned to his childhood home of Rironi to help solve a fundamental problem: access to clean water. In Rironi, women and children walked 3–4 kilometers to reach the nearest water borehole, and what little they brought home on their backs had to be rationed for drinking, bathing, laundry, and livestock. This daily trip took hours of time and left the women and children physically exhausted. Through his leadership in the Rironi Self-Help Water Project spanning over some 15 years, Charles revamped and maintained out-of-use water boreholes that were closer to Rironi. Moreover, he directed efforts and resources into a program that extended piped water to homesteads. This project not only provided Rironi’s community with increased health benefits, but was also a significant step towards greater socio-economic progress in the area.

Another critical issue that Charles wanted to address was education. Kenya’s primary schools lacked resources and qualified teachers. Consequently, most children could not pass the national exams to continue on to high school. In 1999, Charles and his wife, a teacher, founded the Jeremy Academy in Limuru, Kenya. With the help of Asante Africa Foundation and its donors as well as his classmates and friends from Williams College, the tiny nursery and primary school that began in the couple’s backyard has since grown into the best school among twenty-one in their zone. In 2011, Jeremy Academy placed second among sixty-seven in the District. Moreover, Jeremy Academy held position 183 among 22,154 primary schools in Kenya in 2011. Every student in Jeremy Academy’s recent history has met the qualifications to enter high school.

Mr. Waigi will be in the US to receive the Williams College Bicentennial Medal for humanitarian recognition and alumni achievement. He will be accepting opportunities to educate and engage audiences and work groups from September 14th to October 12th, 2012. LEARN MORE

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