General Waruinge Street, Nairobi.
Providing wholesome education to students; Transforming the Society.
Early in 1959, a young civil servant, Dr. Geoffrey Griffin, was attempting to raise funds for a private venture to help boys who were homeless or needy and to draw public attention to the enormous social problem existing among juveniles. With the assistance of Joseph Gikubu, who still serves to this day, and the late Geoffrey Geturo, and backed by the Shell/BP Oil Companies and the Sheikh Trust, he set out to establish a small residential centre in the crowded and depressed eastern locations of Nairobi City.
Starehe Started as a Youth Club
It was on the tiny Starehe site that two huts were erected in July 1959 to serve as dormitories for the first waifs to be brought in from the streets. Kenya was passing through a difficult time – although independence was looming ahead, the City was still clamped under the Mau Mau Emergency Regulations and it was amid suspicion and even hostility from some of the authorities, the local people and the first boys themselves that the centre was officially opened on the 14th November, 1959.
Dr. Geoffrey William Griffin was awarded the Milele award by the Kenya national Human Rights Association a short time before his death
Primary education and simple trade training began at once but it was four years before Starehe was able to attain legal recognition as a school and was permitted to enter its pupils for recognized examinations. Meanwhile the quest for international support had begun in earnest and Starehe’s first backers were soon joined by many others. The Save the Children Fund of Britain became Starehe’s largest overseas supporter and was instrumental in interesting its counterparts in other countries. Starting with the Dulverton Trust and Oxfam, various trusts, foundations, charitable bodies and the technical assistance, volunteer agencies helped to build up the teaching staff, and a growing number of private individuals, schools and societies contributed to the running costs of the Centre by ‘sponsoring’ particular boys.
Many prominent Kenyans came to take a personal interest in Starehe to take a personal interest in Starehe and the Ministry of Education has given increasing encouragement and support. As time went on, the Centre became national by opening its doors to the rural, as well as the urban, poor. It was realized that disadvantaged boys should not be raised in isolation from the rest of the society, but should live and learn, work and play with the sons of normal families, so it was decided that fee-paying pupils could occupy one third of the places while the other two thirds remain free and are strictly reserved for the poor and helpless. The number of boys in Starehe’s charge now stands at nearly eleven hundred. Boarding Houses Starehe’s boarding houses are named after its major supporters throughout the year as well as notable individuals in Kenyan history associated with the school. Starehe Boys Centre is familiar to us all with its much publicized and well deserved reputation.
This evening we have the pleasure to share in its journey of faith with its founder Mr. Geoffrey William Griffin, whose own story begins far before Starehe. If I look back down my own life, I think it all begun when I was 11 years old, and a boarder at the Kitale. And I can remember a whole series of evenings as I prayed, kneeling beside my bed in the dormitory, and I was asking over and over again the Lord to give me something in my future. And then in the end, suddenly I had this tremendous conviction that my prayer was heard and that it would be granted. And really I think this was when my spiritual life begun to become real. I wanted to do something positive with people .And at that time, they were beginning a new ministry in Kenya, Community Development and Rehabilitation, and it seemed to me that perhaps, this was going to do something positive in this country. So I applied and I was taken, and so this is really when the trail begins because on the day I walked in to report for duty, it so happened that the churches and the Red Cross had discovered that in the biggest of the detention camp, Manyani, where they had over 20,000 people locked up, there were children among them, there were boys among them. So, this pushed me into a particular kind of work, it brought me into contact with young people and the trail which eventually led to Starehe Boys Centre begun then. From that, the colonial government made me colonial Youth Officer, and they brought me here to Nairobi, and I was given the job of planning youth centres all over Kenya. And, we had over 200 such centres all over the country by the time I left the job. These are what later became harambee schools and youth polytechnics, and that kind of thing, after independence. But although I am good at administration and I was able to do this perfectly well, to me it wasn’t real. I wanted to continue dealing with real people. And I begun to look round Nairobi, and in Nairobi there were many of what today we would call street boys. In fact, at that time these were all orphans.
The three founders of Starehe
They were boys whose fathers had been killed in the fighting or had been locked up in these detention camps. The girls had stayed at home with their mothers, where they were putting them all into villages in true Kikuyu land. The boys had broken away in life, the modern delinquents who had come into Nairobi to find whether they could find something to do, and above all to try all they could to see whether they could get some education because in those days education was a great thing! Everybody thirsted for education. So I thought, well, here we are, something needs to be done about these kid! So in the end, I just got fed up so I went to my master and said to him, do you mind if I do if I do something private in my spare time. And he said, provided you do not ask the government for spare money, and provided it does not interfere with you proper duties, I do not care what you do. So I began looking round Nairobi for a place to begin. The Provincial Commissioner of the day was a very nice man, and he pointed me towards here at Starehe. I said ok, thank you and I will take it! And then I had to think. Where can I now get the resources I need? And I prayed! And my mind turned to two young men who had been among the older ones I had rescued out of Manyani. They had been with me at Wamumu, and they had been great helpers in the projects there. Both were employed. One had in the end been released and then employed by the government, he was working at Othaya in Nyeri. And the other had been released and then got a job with Gailley and Roberts here in Nairobi. But I thought, let me try! and I wrote to both and said: Look, I want to start a school, to help these poor boys in Nairobi. I hardly got any money; all I can do is maybe offer you ten pounds a month, two hundred shillings each. I do not know how long that will last, the whole thing may fold up within a few months, but will you come and help? Here was a wonderful example of faith, because both those two young men, to their eternal honour, they resigned from their jobs, and they came and put themselves in my hands. One of them is now sadly dead, the other one is still currently with me here, as a deputy in Starehe. Well, we were inundated, with boys of course. The people at Makadara started delivering to us any of their captives.
The juvenile court started sending us any boy that came their way. Boys came in walking by themselves, looking for help, looking for hope. The chief sent us boys! Everybody sent us boys! So the one thing we were not short of is boys, but we were of course desperately short of accommodation, of food, of medical supplies. All the things we needed. But still I felt that the Lord will provide. My colleagues and I had a saying, a proverb which we continually quoted to each other: Faith is a kind of capital. If you have faith, everything else in the end will come. And my word it did! We were given the two little tin huts to be our first dormitories, and they still stand here to this day and remind us of our roots. And people gave us food, or money to buy food, or to buy drugs .Little by little the place began to take shape. We couldn’t call ourselves a school at that time because we didn’t qualify to be registered, so we hid under the name, first of all youth club, and then later on boys centre. It took us five years before we had a permanent building and we able to qualify under the regulations then to become, at any rate, a primary school. And by that time the name Boys Centre was well known, so we thought, even though we are now a school, I won’t change the name; we’ll keep on calling ourselves Starehe Boys Centre. After that came a whole series of wonders! Now, if this happens once, or twice, or three times, you can call it happenstance, or circumstance or something. But when it goes on happening and a whole progression is logical, you can see the wonderful school that has come out of it over the years, you have to believe, that there is a Divine presence that is ordaining this, there in the background. And it’s a wonderful feeling because you feel that you need never be afraid! But never the less, although we feel this is a challenge, we cannot just sit back and do nothing. The Lord expects us to do our best, and if we do, one has that conviction that it will all come alright! Because if we do our best, he will send the rest and everything will be okay.
This has been the pattern of Starehe and it has been wonderful to see now over ten thousand boys have been through this school or are in it at the moment. More than ten thousand, it is an awful lot of joy. And so many of them are now beginning to do very well out there in the world with the education we gave them. And the Old Boys keep in touch, I read their letters everyday, they write to me from all over the world, not just in Kenya. They come to visit me everyday, they come back to get married in the Chapel, then come back to show us their sons! It is really, really wonderful! And they are rising fast in every aspect of public life in Kenya. I know that in another ten years or so, many of them are going to be at, or very near the top. And I think this is gonna be good for Kenya because they are good boys, they are wonderful kids. The character training here, you know, and again thanks be to God, is great. And they are fine young men. I think they will do Kenya a lot of good in the years to come.