Fred Outa grew up scrounging for food in the garbage cans of nice hotels and restaurants, as an orphan living in the streets of one of Kenya’s poorest slums. Today, he’s a member of his country’s parliament and the founder of two schools for impoverished “street” children like he once was.
Outa came to speak to fifth graders at on Wednesday as part of a visit to Northbrook for ’s Eighth Annual , an event that raises funds for Outa’s school in a Nairobi slum as well as a second school he plans just for girls in the countryside. The concert is organized by retired Westmoor School secretary Sue Vaickauski, who met Outa during a trip to Africa in 2004 and set up the Fred Outa Foundation to support his schools along with her daughter, Maryanna Gibbs.
“Sometimes you think you can’t make a difference in the world,” Vaickauski told the students. “Always remember Fred and the challenge you have to be all you can be.”
Outa’s mother died when he was 3 years old, and at age 13, his father died, too, making him an orphan. He ran away from the village where he grew up and became a “street boy” in a nearby city, fending for himself by eating out of garbage cans. At age 16, he met a missionary American couple who helped bring him to the United States, where he went on to high school and to college.
Every summer, however, Outa returned to Kenya, bringing his fellow students with him.
“From day one, I said, whatever I get here, I want to go back there and change lives,” he said.
Outa eventually went back to Kenya for good and ran for parliament. He was elected with 90 percent of the vote after he helped irrigate 10,000 acres of land for rice farmers.
While in parliament, Outa helped write a new constitution that outlawed the practice of selling teenaged girls as young as 13 in marriage. He also started Spurgeon’s Academy in Nairobi, Kenya. Based in the largest slum in Africa, the school provides education and food to 420 orphans who range in age from 2 year olds to eighth graders.
“We have a number of [kids] on the street because their parents cannot feed them,” Outa told the fifth-graders. “With that comes a lot of disease and sickness, and this is the life that a lot of kids go through.”
For the past eight years, District 28 and Vaickauski’s Fred Outa Foundation have helped raise $110,000 to support Spurgeon’s Academy and a second new school just for girls. That money has gone to installing electricity in the classrooms, providing breakfast every day so kids can focus, as well as a new playground that doesn’t collect water (and mosquitoes, which breed malaria).
The money raised has also gone toward the purchase of seven acres of land for the establishment of a girls school. In February, the wife of Kenya’s prime minister will visit the school for a groundbreaking ceremony; Outa hopes to begin enrolling girls next fall.
Under the new constitution Outa helped pass, girls can now go to school, and employers are required to maintain at least 30 percent of the minority gender on their staff.
“We want to build a girls high school to empower girls,” Outa said. “They can become lawyers, teachers and better people who can change the world.”
“And you have changed the world,” he added, thanking the students who had helped raise funds for his schools over the years.
“Tell your parents that Mr. Outa says, ‘Thank you so much for supporting us,’” he said.
This year’s Concert for Africa takes place from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, at . Student bands Radio Edit, 7 Cents and The Axidents will entertain the crowd. Admission is $10 and covers the cost of water, pizza and a glow-in-the-dark ring.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include the latest information about the money raised by Vaickauski and District 28.