Very Sad News from Gatoto


We regret to inform Gatoto’s many friends around the world that Betty Nyagoha, beloved Project Director of the Gatoto Integrated Development Program (GIDP), passed away on Friday March 12, 2021 at the Metropolitan Hospital, Nairobi, following a diagnosis of Covid-19 on March 9. This comes as a great shock to everyone associated with Gatoto. She was so central to the school – from its inception in 1994 – that the loss is unimaginable. She was a remarkable and irreplaceable woman whose commitment to caring for the children of the Mukuru kwa Reuben slum neighborhood will forever inspire us. One of Betty’s former students observed this week: “It is indeed true what the Bible says. God gives sleep to those He loves. He has called his best soldier home, to rest.”

The school has in large part avoided the ravages of the pandemic and had successfully reopened – partially last fall, and more completely this year. With immediate effect, Joseph Shitandi Oloo – a long-time teacher and administrator at Gatoto – has agreed to serve as Interim Director of GIDP. Joseph will be supported by the GIDP Management Team and by the GIDP board to ensure that the school continues serving the Gatoto Community. Jackie Bafirawala, GIDP Accountant, and Paul Sugut, Chair of the Board, will assume control of all Income and Expenditures and will jointly authorize and report on all uses of GIDP funds. Peter Omimi will postpone his retirement and stay in the position of head teacher for the time being.

In 1994, Betty teamed up with the village elders of the Mukuru kwa Reuben neighborhood to found Gatoto Community Primary School. Over the following 25 years Betty and her team built a high-performing elementary school in the heart of one of Nairobi’s largest slums – where the Government of Kenya does not provide educational opportunities for children.

Betty was born in what is now Lugari Sub-county in western Kenya on February 20, 1969, the youngest of ten siblings. As a high school student she excelled at drama, netball and basketball. After high school, Betty studied at Kilimambogo Teachers College. Before joining the school as its inaugural head, Betty had run a thriving business selling maize and beans. She had been a teacher earlier in life, but was made redundant by the government. She told The Guardian in a 2016 interview, “I was passionate about education from a young age. I really admired teachers. The way they spoke, the way they dressed, I liked everything about them.” When Betty returned to teaching and to establish Gatoto, she took a significant pay cut, with a starting salary at Gatoto of $10 a month. She found the going very tough in the first few years. The school’s nearly 400 initial students were crammed into a single church building, with children sitting on the floor in different corners. After Gatoto’s inaugural year, the school was ranked last in a divisional exam across the largest district in eastern Nairobi. A few years later, the land where Gatoto now stands was acquired, and the school began its steady ascent. It now has modern classrooms, many dedicated and able teachers and staff, and an enviable reputation among slum schools. Its exam results are impressive. Many of Gatoto’s former students – supported by GIDP’s secondary and university scholarship programs – have continued their academic achievement and gone on to professional success. Gatoto regularly competes – and succeeds – in musical and other competitions at the national level. So much of what Gatoto and its graduates have achieved is due to the vision and perseverance of Betty Nyagoha. May she rest in peace and may we all do our best to serve her legacy by helping Gatoto’s 1000 current students, and generations of Mukuru kwa Reuben children who will follow in their footsteps.

Please consider making contributions to the American Friends of Gatoto in memory of Betty Nyagoha. We will forward your donations to the Gatoto Integrated Development Program, the registered Kenyan charity that governs Gatoto.

We will provide information about an online memorial at a later date.