After nearly an hour of conversation, the reason for Paul Moffat’s first visit to Kenya several years ago comes out. In 2008 Paul contracted meningococcal meningitis: a serious bacterial infection which is often fatal. His survival prompted the urge to use the rest of his life to help people in need.

“I should have died really,” he says of the illness. “They told my mum and dad ‘He might not make it through the night.’ I was in intensive care. I was tired. I just needed to sleep. I closed my eyes and my life passed before my eyes. I don’t want to sound corny, but it happened. I thought ‘You’d better open your eyes, Paul, ‘cos something’s happening here.’”

He pauses. “I don’t like talking about it because it sounds like a selling point. It was absolutely real. I shouldn’t be alive.”

A selling point, he means, for the charity he subsequently launched. Paul, 55, left a stressful job with long hours in search of a better work/life balance. He and his wife Eunice live on Warwick Road in Carlisle. Eunice is from Kenya. They met when Paul visited the country in 2013. He had already been supporting orphanages and individual children there for several years.

Eunice moved to Carlisle in August 2015. She and Paul married later that year. Paul is deputy chief executive of Age UK Carlisle and Eden. Eunice is a healthcare assistant at the Cumberland Infirmary.

They have a two-year-old son, Matthew. They also feel responsible for the children who attend Future Of Taru Academy: the school in Kenya which they opened in January 2018. Two months ago, Future Of Taru became a registered charity.

“I’d been to Kenya a couple of times before I met Eunice,” says Paul. “I had sponsored kids in other projects. I’d been disappointed in where the money was going. Eunice goes to church in Kenya. The headquarters is in Taru. She said ‘If you want to support a kid, there’s lots in Taru.’”

Taru is a small town with few facilities near the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. Eunice says: “I told him, in the city kids have more opportunities than other kids. I said, why don’t you find a child that really needs the help? I took him to Taru a few times. There’s one girl. Her name is Joy. She wasn’t going to school. Her mother is HIV-positive. Paul said ‘Why don’t I sponsor her?’ That’s how it started.”

Paul and Eunice sponsored Joy to go to school. Their friends and family sponsored other children: 23 in total. These were all put into private schools: there is no state school in Taru. “All the private schools in Taru are profit-making,” says Paul. “We thought they were charging too much. We didn’t think the teaching standard was too high. We’d bought a piece of land for a house. We built a school instead.”

Buying the land and building the school cost about £20,000. Some of this money was donated. Most of it came from Paul and Eunice.

Future Of Taru Academy opened with those 23 children. Today it has 220, aged from three to 18.

Paul attributes the school’s rapid expansion to its good reputation and to it having the lowest fees in the area: £10 a month. Many parents can afford this. For those who can’t, more than 120 pupils’ fees are paid by individuals or businesses. Paul and Eunice aim to have every child in the school sponsored.

This would support another of their ambitions. They want to see the town of Taru develop. Having their children sponsored to attend school allows parents and guardians to use their limited funds on something other than education. These funds are usually spent in Taru, supporting the local economy. The school also creates employment for teachers. Subjects include maths, science, geography, history and English. It is an English-speaking school, although most pupils speak Swahili at home. “Learning English gives them more of a future,” says Eunice, who learned to speak English at school.

As well as being educated the pupils are also fed: porridge for breakfast; beans and rice for lunch. This helps families in a part of the world where many struggle to get by. “They do any job they can get,” says Eunice. “Most women hand wash clothes for people. There are small businesses like selling food and hardware.”

Paul says: “Some of these kids are the heads of families, unfortunately. Education gives them the opportunity of a better life.”

Eventually this might be away from Taru, in Mombasa or Nairobi where they can make money to support their families.

“A lot of children in Taru still aren’t at school,” says Paul. “So many kids in Kenya don’t get an education. If they could have a better future it would make us happy. They’re great kids.”

Many Kenyan children are raised by single mothers. Future Of Taru Academy includes four siblings whose father walked away. “The mum took the kids to church and said ‘I need some help’,” says Paul. “The mum tried to find a job on the coast and hasn’t been seen since. Those four kids are now sponsored and in the school. There’s lots of stories like that.”

“Many children in the school have single mums,” says Eunice. “Some live with grandmas who aren’t educated so they don’t understand the meaning of education or the opportunity that the child has been given. Most parents do appreciate it.”

“One grandmother is living with six kids in one room,” says Paul. “She tries to sell coal to look after them. If they weren’t sponsored they wouldn’t be in school.”

Eunice’s mother died when Eunice was 14. “I had to grow up and take care of me,” she says. “I tell the kids, I’ve been there. If I made it, you can make it as well. Some kids, when they came they were unhappy. They have really developed and built confidence.

“Doing this makes us feel good. I’m not just keeping everything I get to myself. It’s our way of giving back. Helping a child who didn’t have that opportunity. Once they have that education no one will take it away from them.”

She recalls that on her first date with Paul, he asked her if there was anywhere he could take food, clothes and toys for children who needed them. They still take gifts to Kenya, bought by them and by wellwishers. They encourage pens, pencils, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other simple things which make a big difference.

“The charity Smalls for All donated 700 pairs of underwear to us,” says Paul. “The kids were over the moon. I’m not sure if you went to a school here and gave every child three pairs of undies they would be that bothered.”

He and Eunice stress that none of this would be possible without their charity’s sponsors and other supporters. These include Cumbria Overseas Aid Trust, Direct Rail Services, electrical engineering company Park Gate, Kendal Cricket Club and Days for Girls; a non-profit organisation which increases access to menstrual care and education.

Paul and Eunice say the children enjoy coming to school, some getting up as early as 4.30am to walk there through the bush. “They look happier and healthier than they used to,” says Eunice. “Joy is still at the school. She’s 12. She’s doing well. I feel like she was my first baby.”

“She couldn’t speak English at all,” adds Paul. “Now she speaks it very well. One boy couldn’t read at all. Now he’s getting A’s in all his exams.”

Exam results are generally very good. The plan now is to open a high school on the site so that children can continue their education. That will require yet more work. But Paul, Eunice and their supporters have already shown what can be achieved.

“To go from one child to 23 to 220... I don’t know how we’ve done that,” says Paul. “I just feel we’ve made such good progress. I stood at the top of the compound with Eunice last time we were there in May, just before sunset. I said to her ‘Would you believe we’ve done this?’”

n For more information about sponsoring or volunteering, visit