James Shiraku Inyundo was born to a poor family who could not afford for him to go to school. Aged just 15 he set off on foot from his home near Kakamega for Nairobi over 300 km away looking for work. In 1924 he secured a job with the East African Railways & Harbours Company.
James worked tirelessly for his British supervisors picking up English from them and in turn teaching the Swahili. The money he earned was saved until he had enough to build the first permanent brick house in Western Kenya.
After 32 years’ service James became the first African supervisor on the East African Railways and was presented to Princess Elizabeth during her visit to Kenya in 1952. The Princess was taken by James’s achievements vowed to visit his home.
History intervened and Princess Elizabeth learned the news that she must return home to become Queen.
So three years later, it was Princess Margaret who would make good on that promise when she carried out an “official opening” of James’s home in Mundeku village.
She presented him with the original 16mm film of the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway, a precious gift which now rests in the Kenyan National Archives.
That home remains today, now named Martha’s Guest House after James’s late wife. His story and the history of his home continue to inspire visitors, who are able to stay and visit the heritage museum that it has become.
It was here in 2011, that I learned that local families still experienced the same poverty that afflicted James’s family and meant that many simply couldn’t afford the “luxury” of schooling for their children.
So a scholarship was established for one bright young boy (John) from nearby Mundeku Primary School to attend Namasoli Secondary School, with his school and boarding fees covered.
Those foundations first laid by James Shiraku have been maintained by his son Gibson Shiraku. Martha’s Guest House has become the base for The Red Rubber Ball Foundation in Kenya.
And with Mr Shiraku’s support, we have been able to establish our educational farm nearby, providing a home to young orphans, producing food to establish a feeding programme at Ebubala Primary School and developing the farming skills of nearby villagers.