Our History

Tenderfeet’s Ten-Year Journey

2000-2003: Filling the Gap

The Tenderfeet Education Center was founded in the year 2000 by Margaret Nyabuto.  The purpose of Tenderfeet was to fill a gap that existed in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

Kianda area of Kibera

Kianda area of Kibera

Mama Margaret started the school in the Kianda area of Kibera.  The initial focus was on the pre-primary children of prisoners (many of the prisoners were jailed unfairly for such reasons as not paying bribes).

Such children were especially needy and by the end of 2000, she was teaching out of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God Church in Kibera, with 30 students.  The next year, the enrollment grew to 60, and in 2002 there were 75 students ranging in age from 3 to 6.

The year 2003 was pivotal for Tenderfeet and Kenya.  That year in January, primary (grades 1-8) public education became “free” in Kenya.  Public schools doubled in size, utterly overwhelming the system and leading to class sizes of 80-100.

To help close the resource gap, public schools began immediately to introduce various fees like exam and admittance fees.  Moreover, children’s families were still expected to pay for textbooks, uniforms, and lunch.

Now children who were unprepared were coming into a classroom setting where the teacher could provide no personal attention whatsoever.  The need for a school like Tenderfeet became more important than ever.

By August 2003, Tenderfeet had well over 100 students, and had added 1st and 2nd grade as well.  Tenderfeet was receiving assistance from various non-profit organizations, though it was very much a struggle to keep the school going.  Then the first huge setback hit the school when the church facility Tenderfeet was using got bulldozed by the government. Fortunately, Tenderfeet was able to find a few rooms in a residential compound. The school moved there in September 2003.

2004-2007: Tragedy and Perseverance

In the year 2004, approximately 130 students were attending Tenderfeet.

The teachers for Tenderfeet were volunteers from local colleges who were working on their teaching degrees. Though they did not have to be paid, they were also unreliable and inexperienced. The school survived by a combination of help from a part-time side business, a prosperous relative who generously helped support the school, and a few charities that provided assistance with the food program. Overall, 2004 was a good year, though the Tenderfeet budget was quite strained at times.

Tenderfeet was located in this compound for 3 years

Tenderfeet was located in this compound for 3 years

2005 was a very difficult year . The compound where the school was located was sold to a new owner who raised the rent and had a hostile attitude towards the school.

Some of the charities that had been partnering with Tenderfeet discontinued their presence in Kenya, and the generous relative was tragically killed in a road accident. At the end of the year, the building owner began trying to evict Tenderfeet.

However, the year ended on a positive note when Lahash International (the US charity from which the Tenderfeet Foundation is derived) made its first visit to Kibera and pledged a partnership. Because it had lost most of its prior sponsors, and the original Lahash partnership contribution was rather small, Tenderfeet was not able to stay up on its rent. The school was kicked out in March 2006.

Tenderfeet relocated in the ACK church in Kibera, and remained there for the rest of the year. However, the church leadership wanted to take over the operations of Tenderfeet and take the school in a different direction that Margaret did not agree with. By the end of the year, Tenderfeet and the church parted company.

In the beginning of 2007, Tenderfeet relocated to a new church called Christian Harvest. It also saw the second visit from Lahash. However, this church began to find the school was not providing enough rental income to justify the nuisance to its parishioners who wanted to visit the church during weekdays. After three months, Tenderfeet was kicked out again.

Tenderfeet school in the junkyard

Tenderfeet school in the junkyard

Fortunately, Tenderfeet found a new facility in the middle of a junkyard. It wasn’t fancy, but promised more stability. After a lot of construction using iron sheet and plywood, the new Tenderfeet school building was completed around May 2007.

The middle part of 2007 went well, including the first visit from a Tenderfeet Foundation representative in September.

Tragedy was not far away, unfortunately. In December, Margaret’s father was attacked by thugs and killed. A few weeks later, the presidential election of December 2007 was stolen, causing mass riots through Kibera.

Mama Margaret and Tenderfeet were endangered, and many of the children attending the school became refugees, eventually resettling in the more peaceful Riruta area about 30 minutes from Kibera.

2008-2010: Hope and Renewal

For the next two years, Tenderfeet operated as two schools under one leadership team. The Kibera school served the students who had remained in Kibera, and a new school was opened in Riruta to serve those who had fled from Kibera.

It was most definitely not an ideal arrangement, but was the best plan for serving the children of Tenderfeet.

The new and permanent Tenderfeet school building

The new and permanent Tenderfeet school building

Thankfully, a generous long-term partner sponsored the purchase of land and the construction of a new building.

It took almost a year and half to go through all the planning, legal hurdles, and challenges on the ground to complete the new building, but in mid 2010, the dream was realized.

Upon completion of the new, permanent school facility for Tenderfeet, the 80 students joined together for school for the first time in two years.

All 80 ride the bus, both from Kibera and Riruta, to the new school location which is in the countryside near Riruta.

With a new home, the children of Tenderfeet have the best chance in the history of the school to excel and achieve a brighter future.

2011-present: A Period of Growth

The past two years have been a time where the school has continued growing.  Starting 2013, we now have 125 students.  A new grade level has been added each year, along with about ten children.  The school now goes all the way to the 5th grade.

There have been serious security issues, with numerous school breakins.  The addition of a security fence, a front entrance gate, thorny bushes, and guard dogs has boosted safety at the school and breakins have stopped.

The Kipepeo program was formed by a group in Australia, with the mission to help teenage girls remain in school and finish their secondary education.  This is a fantastic way to break the cycle of poverty.

Several new classrooms have been added, and the kids are performing at the highest level on national exams.  The school is large enough that the monthly budget has become very challenging.  However, with a great team of sponsors, friends, and partners all over the world, we are able to keep the school going strong.