American Friends of Gatoto: A Closer Look

Gatoto at a Glance

  • Founded in 1994 by community leaders, Gatoto Primary School is an independent, non-religiously affiliated school that provides pre-K thru 8 education and related social services to the children and families of Mukuru kwa Reuben slum in
    Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Students come from varied ethnic and religious backgrounds. Current enrollment is 1,092 students in grades K-8, equally split between gender.
  • Students receive two hot meals every school day, often their only food of the day.
  • Gatoto also provides post-primary scholarships to help its graduates cover the substantial cost of secondary and university expenses.
  • In addition to the regular curriculum, life skills, physical education and creative arts classes are available to students as well as free after-school tutoring to children of all ages who require more individual attention.
  • A full-time social worker provides support and help to the students in the school.
  • Gatoto Integrated Development Program (GIDP) also provides HIV/AIDS counseling and a community nutrition program.
  • An increasing number of Gatoto alums are attending university, pursuing degrees ranging from chemistry to political science. One alum currently works for the National Assembly while another Gatoto graduate is in medical school.
  • The school has made a name for itself with its vocal groups that consistently place in the National Music Festival. In 2017 they won the best overall prize.
  • The school’s budget for 2018 is just over $300,000; the total program budget is just over $400,000.

Impact: Gatoto by the Numbers

  • Students have twice won the prize for the best exam results of a community school in Nairobi.
  • The school has reached a 98.6% annual retention rate.
  • More than 1,000 students have graduated from the primary school since 1994, including 102 successful graduates in 2017.
  • The girls at Gatoto perform equally to boys and graduate with the same KCPE test averages as their male classmates. Gatoto is run by a woman, and women teachers are the majority.
  • For over 20 years Gatoto’s student choir has consistently come first in the country in at least one category in the National Music Festivals and in 2017 won the best overall prize nationally at the festivals.
  • The Community Support Program currently supports 60 families with food, access to medications and counselling. This is critical if parents are to adequately support their children’s education.
  • The school’s teaching staff have all graduated from teacher training college and includes 4 alumni. In addition, more than 10 alumni have worked as teaching volunteers while waiting to receive a placement in university over the last decade.
  • Every year, roughly 160 alumni receive scholarships split between roughly 140 attending secondary school and 20 attending university programs. In 2018, 35 Gatoto graduates began their first year of secondary school with financial support from the school.
  • American Friends of Gatoto, along with other donors, fills the gap between the roughly $12 (1200 KES) average tuition Gatoto charges per student and the roughly $300 it costs Gatoto to educated each child.

Gatoto’s Story

Through community-led, holistic education, Gatoto empowers its pupils to escape the cycle of poverty in which they live so that they may become Kenya’s leaders of tomorrow. The Gatoto community is an enriching environment in which more than 1,000 primary students and their parents can grow. By providing two hot meals a day, Gatoto helps its students focus on lessons and stay in school. Through alumni mentorship and graduate scholarship programs, Gatoto offers a pathway to secondary school for high-achieving students that would otherwise be nearly impossible to achieve.

Gatoto delivers results. At its founding, five untrained teachers taught 370 students in one four-room wooden building. That year, the school came last in national academic results. Over time, the school has steadily climbed the academic results’ ladder and now ranks among the top ten of community schools (non-publicly funded schools) in Nairobi. Notably, the school’s alumni have recently begun securing places in Kenya’s top schools including Alliance Girls, Chogoria, Machakos Boys, Kenya High, Nakuru High and Vanessa Grant.

Gatoto provides essential affordable services. Despite a government promise to provide free universal primary education, free public education is not available within Mukuru Kwa Reuben. As a result enrollment is only 30% in the community, compared to over 85% nationally. This is due directly to affordability issues. On average it costs $300 to educate one child for a year. Gatoto works with parents to ensure that its students can afford the 1200 Kenyan shilling (roughly $12) fee charged to attend. Gatoto does not receive government support and instead relies on whatever contributions students’ families can provide along with a diverse array of donor support both within Kenya and from international partners.

Click map to enlarge.

Gatoto’s Home: Life in Mukuru kwa Reuben

Gatoto Primary School is located in Mukuru Kwa Reuben slum within Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. For those familiar with the city, the school sits to the east of Enterprise Road in Embakasi South Constituency. The name ‘Mukuru’ literally means a dumpsite. The neighborhood sits on the site of an old quarry that supported the construction of the surrounding factories and eventually became a dumpsite for industrial as well as household waste.

In Nairobi, more than 60% of the population live in crowded, informal settlements such as Mukuru Kwa Reuben that occupy just over 5% of the land. Here, the urban poor face a wide range of physical, social and environmental problems. Over 70% of Mukuru Kwa Reuben residents live below the urban poverty line as defined by the World Bank. Those fortunate enough to find means of livelihood engage in petty trade or employment in the surrounding factories.

Mukuru’s history can be traced back to the pre-independence era when a white settler and farmer known as Reuben used the area to keep his livestock. He employed a few Kenyan workers, among them “Cucu” Gatoto who built shelters on the land about four decades ago. Gatoto Primary School is so named in honor of this woman who despite not having gone to school herself, had a soft spot for the education of the underprivileged in the community.

The population of Mukuru Kwa Reuben was estimated to be 76,000 in 2009 with a population density of over 17,000 people per square mile. Mukuru Kwa Reuben does not benefit from government services such as sanitation, health, drainage, education, shelter and security services. Evictions of residents occur at the whim of landlords and developers. To mitigate the risk of eviction, Gatoto obtained a land title deed registered to Gatoto Primary School and held in trust for Gatoto by the Permanent Secretary Treasury.

Mukuru Kwa Reuben does not have a secondary school. Instead, students must travel outside the neighborhood to continue their studies – adding to the already prohibitive cost of secondary school. Although the government provides an annual subsidy of 14,000 Kenyan shillings (KES) per child per year for public secondary school fees, the remaining cost of between KES 40,000 to KES 60,000 per child is still vastly beyond the reach of Mukuru residents. As such, without assistance most local families do not send their children to secondary school or vocational training centers after completion of primary education.The community also grapples with numerous health issues including malaria, typhoid, dysentery, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, while Nairobi’s medical facilities are largely beyond the financial reach of most of Mukuru Kwa Reuben residents. Malnutrition is also a problem especially among children. This is primarily related to the high cost of food in relation to the low family income. As a result, many children begin working from an early age to supplement basic family needs.

What Gatoto Means: A Photo Story

Josephine Mbaisi – Class of 2007 Josephine currently attends University of Nairobi with support from Gatoto’s scholarship fund.

“Gatoto means food, education, life, hope…
…literally everything.” -Josephine Mbaisi

GIDP and Financial Accountability

Gatoto Integrated Development Program (GIDP) greatly values the need for transparency and accountability. The GIDP Board approves the annual budget, monitors monthly financial reports and selects the school’s financial auditor. Financial accounts and progress reports are circulated to donors and partners regularly.

GIDP has had considerable success in securing funding for capital costs and donations-in-kind. However, raising funds for core operating costs remains a key challenge. Against the backdrop of major final challenges on the global stage, GIDP has been successful in entering into and maintaining fruitful relationships with several donors and individuals both locally and overseas.

Major donors include:

  • The Iris O’Brien Foundation
  • Feed the Children (Kenya)
  • Irish Aid
  • The Good Cause of Netherlands
  • Tejcheve Foundation
  • Child Fund
  • Stichting Dioraphte
  • Concern Worldwide
  • Aid Link
  • Childslife International
  • World Vision
  • American Friends of Gatoto

Gatoto in the Media

The Gatoto Primary School is a not-for-profit Community School located in the Mukuru kwa Reuben slum in Nairobi, Kenya. It was founded in 1994 and is still run by local residents. The school offers high-quality pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade education and two meals a day to over a thousand of Nairobi’s poorest children. A non-denominational school, Gatoto equally serves girls and boys in an ethnically diverse environment. The wider Gatoto Integrated Development Program (GIDP) sponsors high-achieving graduates continuing with secondary and university level studies, as well as providing food and HIV/AIDS counseling to the neediest of Gatoto’s families. Gatoto receives no funding from the government and relies solely on private donations.

American Friends of Gatoto was established in 2015 to support GIDP with 100% of donations going directly to Gatoto.

American Friends of Gatoto
Homepage – American Friends of Gatoto
Facebook – American Friends of Gatoto

Gatoto Integrated Development Program
Homepage – Gatoto Integrated Development Program
Facebook – G.I.D.P

YouTube Channel – American Friends of Gatoto
Vimeo Channel – American Friends of Gatoto
YouTube Channel – Suas At Gatoto School

Pinterest – Our Gatoto Community  
Instagram – Suas Volunteers
AFG Photo Gallery

American Friends of Gatoto Newsletter Archive
The $10-a-month teacher – and the slum school she rescued   Oct 3, 2016  The Guardian

Striving to Shine – Gatoto Community Primary School   May 31 2006, Exceptional Lives, Blogspot, Clare Mulvany
Oluchi Porter 2011 classroom volunteer

AFG: About Us

American Friends of Gatoto (AFG) is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit established specifically to raise donations for Gatoto. AFG’s limited direct costs are paid by Board member donations. One hundred percent of all other donations are forwarded to Gatoto.

Board members are in regular contact with Betty Nyagoha, the school’s head. Several have visited the school, and one was a volunteer there after university. One made an extensive fact-finding visit in 2016. Betty also traveled to Washington, DC, and New York in October 2015 and again in October 2017 to discuss the school’s work with board members as well as current and prospective donors.

In 2015, its first year of operation, AFG raised and forwarded $85,000 in donations for GIDP. In 2016, we raised $100,000 to help fund Gatoto’s operating budget; in addition, we donated $45,000 to pay the majority of the cost for the construction of a much-needed drainage trench on the school’s northern boundary. In 2017, AFG donated a total of $165,000 to Gatoto–$100,000 for 2017 school operations and an additional $65,000 for hot meals, secondary school scholarships and other purposes.

In 2018, we will send Gatoto a total of at least $140,000–$100,000 for the operating budget, $15,000 for the morning porridge program, and $25,000 for flood mitigation.  Additional funds will also be donated to support scholarships for Gatoto alums in secondary school or at university. We will also begin to accrue a capital reserve to support a building campaign on the campus.

Supporting Gatoto: How You Can Help


  • You can donate through American Friends of Gatoto (AFG) via PayPal
  • Mail checks directly to:

4320 Tuckerman Street
University Park, MD 20782-2145

  • American Friends of Gatoto is now on AmazonSmile. Please consider shopping on and choosing American Friends of Gatoto as your charity. You can do so by signing into your account, selecting “Your AmazonSmile “ in the “Account” drop down and typing in American Friends of Gatoto. Finally, click select.


  • Follow us on Facebook and ask your friends to do the same.
  • Sign-up for our newsletter and share with your friends & family.
  • Host a group discussion at your school or community organization.
  • Organize a potluck meal in honor of Gatoto and discuss the school’s work with friends and family members.


  • Interested in supporting AFG’s work in the US or making an in-kind donation to Gatoto? Let us know!

AFG January 2023 Update

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Very Sad News from Gatoto

WE REGRET TO ANNOUNCE BETTY NYAGOHA'S DEATH We regret to inform Gatoto’s many friends around the world that Betty Nyagoha, beloved Project Director of the Gatoto Integrated Development Program (GIDP), Continue reading

AFG January 2021 Update

NEW AFG-FUNDED CLASSROOM BUILDING COMPLETED AFG’s largest project to date was completed in November. This new 6 classroom building replaces the last of the old and rotting corrugated iron classroom buildings. The Continue reading