PITTSFIELD, Maine — Kindness and caring is what brought Sammy Gachagua to Maine from Kenya and changed his life. Kindness and caring is what he’s giving back to his adoptive and native communities.
Gachagua, a 19-year-old senior at Maine Central Institute, decided to collect shoes for Tumaini Children’s Home in Kenya for a senior project. It’s the same organization that took him off the streets of Nyeri, Kenya, and sent him to the United States through a scholarship.
He set out to collect 1,000 pairs of shoes to send home. He explained that shoes are required for children to attend school there.
“They need shoes. [It’s like] universities in America don’t let you come to school if you have bad grades,” said Gachagua. “In Kenya, they look at uniform. The most things that students don’t have [are shoes], so they don’t go to school.”
Gachagua said his dad died when he was in third grade and his mother left his family two years later.
“She said she would come back, but she never did. We were left for the dead, I call it,” said Gachagua. “We would go around trash to try to find food.”
He said other family members wouldn’t take him in. He ended up at the Tumaini Children’s Home, where he was given a chance.
“That’s where I met two awesome ladies who changed my life. Then I got a scholarship to come to MCI,” he said.
The shoe drive was a way to give back.
“I can’t even explain [the reaction I got from the orphanage]. They started screaming [for joy],” said Gachagua of his plan to give shoes to the orphanage.
The school and community have embraced Gachagua’s idea, he said.
Although Gachagua set out to collect 1,000 pairs of shoes, he had more than 3,000 pairs on Thursday morning. After he and classmates had finished loading a truck to take them away, another 100 pairs were dropped off.
“I didn’t expect this much response from it. It’s just overwhelming. I want to thank everybody,” said Gachagua.
“It’s been an uplifting project,” said Jodi McGary, MCI director of counseling and Gachagua’s senior project adviser. “The kids have been great. Sammy’s been great. The community has been so giving.”
McGary said the shoes have come from Pittsfield and beyond.
“We’re getting shipments from Waterville, Houlton, all over the state,” she said. “Now we have to figure out how to ship them.”
That’s where Gachagua has run into some trouble. C.M. Almy, a Pittsfield-based church and clergy outfitter, has allowed him to store the shoes at its facility and agreed to help ship them. But the price to send them to Africa is higher than expected.
“Because we’ve raised [shoe donations] fantastically, … the expense is so much higher than we thought it would be to ship them,” said McGary.
To help raise money, Gachagua and MCI put together a 5K road race that brought in $1,600. Other donations from the community has brought the total to $2,800. That’s short of the $4,000 needed to ship the shoes.
“We’re still looking for donations,” said Gachagua.
Gachagua’s influence has gone beyond the shoe drive. He has also helped form the Kindness Group on campus, which consists of 12 students and a few teachers.
He also started a kindness competition at MCI. Students are encouraged to do a random act of kindness. If a teacher sees the act, the student is given a piece of paper in recognition. In a competition of the four classes at MCI, Gachagua said the freshmen class won.
“I think Sammy is a good role model and a good humanitarian,” said McGary. “He has a good vision. He’ll change the the world. I have no doubt about it. It started here in Pittsfield. We’re lucky to have him.”
After graduation, Gachagua said he will join Global Citizen Year, which is like a Peace Corps for students, he explained. He will likely be stationed in Brazil or Ecuador, he said.
Anyone interested in donating money to ship the shoes to Kenya is asked to visit MCI’s website and include “Kindness Drive” in the application.