How one Colloquium instructor brought a little piece of Fort Myers to Kenya

5 - minute read
A building in Nyeri, Kenya, has the words Fort Myers Gen Hardware painted on
The best shop in Nyeri, Kenya, is called Fort Myers General Hardware. Photo provided.

According to Peter Ndiang’ui, the best shop in Nyeri, Kenya, is called Fort Myers General Hardware. The African villagers named it for a place thousands of miles away that has uplifted the entire community. Nyeri and Fort Myers share one important attribute: Ndiang’ui calls each place home.


Ndiang’ui is an assistant professor in Florida Gulf Coast University’s College of Education and serves as the child and youth studies program coordinator. He estimates he’s taught University Colloquium, a popular FGCU class focused on sustainability, to nearly 700 students in 29 consecutive courses since 2014.


“I consider my involvement more than teaching. I feel like I am on a mission to help others develop an ecological mindset and live more sustainably,” says Ndiang’ui. Colloquium experiences annually provide 1,000 FGCU students with valuable real-world knowledge, often inspiring a passion for learning and community engagement.


And the two communities Ndiang’ui is passionate about? FGCU in Fort Myers and Nyeri, Kenya. 

Ndiang’ui was born and raised in Nyeri, located on the slopes of Mount Kenya in east Africa. After attending the University of Nairobi, he taught geography and social studies in several Kenyan schools and colleges.


“When I was going to the university the first time in 1976, the whole village came together. Even the ones who don’t normally agree, like the Catholic priests and the Protestant preachers, they all came home,” he says. “Because they were taking ‘their son’ to the university, everybody was there. You realize your degree is not yours anymore. The whole community owns it.”

In 1997, his community came together again to send him off to the United States. He taught in Atlanta, Georgia, until he moved to Southwest Florida in 2002. He taught at Canterbury School and Oasis High School in Fort Myers while earning his master’s in educational leadership and doctor of education at FGCU. In fact, Ndiang’ui, his wife, Priscilla, and their two sons boast seven FGCU degrees among them. 

Last year, when his Colloquium class took a field trip to ECHO Global Farm in North Fort Myers, Ndiang’ui had recently been appointed as the honorary ambassador to Nyeri County by its governor.


One of his students questioned how the sustainability practices they were learning about could be implemented elsewhere, sparking an idea in Ndiang’ui’s mind.


“It dawned on me that I can do the same with the smallholder farmers in Nyeri,” he says.


The town serves as the seat of Nyeri County; at roughly 1,200 square miles, it’s about the size of Southwest Florida’s Lee County. Ndiang’ui says the vast majority of Nyeri children perform very well on Kenya’s Certificate of Primary Education exams.


However, many families can’t afford to send their children to the boarding high schools they’ve gained admittance to due to unemployment and farmland shortages caused by a decadelong drought.

Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga and Nyeri Diaspora Leadership Academy students pose with certificates
Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga and Nyeri Diaspora Leadership Academy students who pose with certificates showing their school fees have been paid by Fort Myers’ nonprofits. Photo provided.
Headshot of a professor in a black sweatshirt
Peter Ndiang’ui wears a sweatshirt that reads “I may live in America but my story began in Nyeri.” Photo by James Greco.

Help came through several sources, including a $5,000 donation from Fort Myers-based nonprofit Collaboratory and support from the Rotary Club of Fort Myers South, New Life Assembly in Lehigh Acres and private donors. Thanks to them, 33 Nyeri children have had their school fees paid for in 2023-24.


In return, Ndiang’ui requires the Nyeri students and their parents or guardians to participate in sustainability efforts designed each year by his Colloquium class. “The children go to different boarding schools, but then during holidays in April, August and December, we come together and they do a service project.”


For example, a wetlands restoration project that included the planting of trees was undertaken. This past fall, Ndiang’ui and his Colloquium students met with Nyeri villagers over Zoom to teach them how to adopt ECHO’s food sustenance concepts and practices through sack-gardening and square-foot gardens to create smallholder farms.


“When they go home from their boarding schools, because of the drought they experience a dire shortage of food,” Ndiang’ui says.


In only six months, the farming project has already proved successful. One mother who had been borrowing food from other villagers now has a three-tier container garden in her backyard. She will be able to harvest year-round and has shared excess crops with neighbors.


“She was begging for food, and now she’s giving it away,” Ndiang’ui says. 

This year, Colloquium students have chosen a new sustainability practice: goat farming. It requires very little land and the livestock will provide milk, cheese and butter for nourishment and income. Based on what they learn at ECHO, Ndiang’ui’s students will create training materials on how to care for goats.


This year, the funds Ndiang’ui privately raises will pay school fees and buy goats. He tells the families, “When the time comes in May to go to school, before we give your child any school fees, you must do this project. We don’t just pay school fees. You must show us evidence of what you did.”


Ndiang’ui tells his Colloquium students how a single question about applying a sustainability practice learned in their own backyard changed the lives of people living almost halfway around the world.


“There’s something beautiful about helping people and making real, dramatic change. To help people believe in themselves after they had lost hope. Just to be part of that.”


He tells his students, “This is impactful, yes, really, truly. You’re changing lives here.”

More than two dozen children in Nyeri, Kenya, wearing FGCU T-shirts
Nyeri Diaspora Leadership Academy students in Nyeri, Kenya, wear FGCU T-shirts. Photo provided.
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