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OPG employee strives to break the cycle of poverty

Growing up in the rural village of Mbuju in Kenya, Simon Kariuki knew education was the key to escaping the extreme poverty that surrounded him.

But with yearly high school tuition in Kenya ranging from $700 to $1,000, Kariuki’s family could not afford to pay for his and his six siblings’ schooling. That’s where his community and well-wishers stepped in to help send Kariuki and his siblings to high school.

Simon Kariuki standing with a group of students in Kenya. where he strives to end poverty.
Simon Kariuki, left, stands with students during a 2017 visit to Kenya.

Buoyed by his education, Kariuki would go on to university and further studies in Germany, working his way to a successful career as an engineer. He has been with OPG since 2009, where he currently works as a Senior Performance Improvement Officer based at Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. His job involves performing root cause evaluations for both Darlington and Pickering Nuclear, and helping establish actions to help improve the stations’ performance.

Looking back, Kariuki marvels at how far he has come.

“It’s entirely unbelievable,” he said. “In a nutshell, working hard and education pays off, but you need support to provide a little bit of light wind under your wings.”

In 2014, with the help of his OPG colleagues, Kristina Bramma, Mike Ruffolo and Bill Scott, Kariuki decided he wanted to provide that support for the youth of Kenya by establishing the Bidii Children’s Charity. The registered charity aims to raise funds to help send impoverished students in his home village to high school for four years.

“The people around me helped me when I was younger and I wanted to give back to where I came from and help kids who were in my position,” Kariuki said. “This charity empowers, through education, the needy but bright and gifted kids in rural Kenya.”

Bidii means resilience in Swahili, and the kids of Mbuju definitely live up to this. The children walk long distances to school and can go for days without a healthy meal. Many trek into forests to fetch firewood and walk to rivers to retrieve water before their school day even begins. For these youth, day to day life is about survival.

“We know and they know education will provide a chance for them to break the poverty cycle and become self-sufficient,” Kariuki said.

Every year, the charity holds an annual Bidii Children’s Charity Run which aims to raise enough money to support two to three students through their four years of high school. So far, the charity run held in Durham Region has helped 15 students by raising a total of $50,000.

Kariuki, who visits Kenya every two years to catch up with the students and help mentor them, has seen great progress. Many of the kids are doing well in school and have their sights set on university and careers like medicine and agriculture that will help them give back and improve living standards.

“They are all very grateful and the impact has been tremendous since we started,” he said. “Most kids in this village never used to go to high school, but this has given many hope and rejuvenated the youth who see others succeeding.”

Employee spotlight: Simon Kariuki
Position: Senior Performance Improvement Officer
Work location: Darlington Nuclear Generating Station
Years of service: Nine
Favourite place to visit in Ontario: Niagara Falls
Favourite books: “Wizard of the Crow” by Ngugi wa Thiong'o and “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela
Favourite weekend activities: Spending time with family; volunteering in the community as a member of the Rotary Club of Whitby; recreational running