After being falsely accused of, maliciously prosecuted, and sentenced for a crime she did not commit, Clean Start Founder and CEO Teresa Njoroge served a one-year sentence at the Langata Women Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi, Kenya. She was accompanied by her then three-month-old daughter as per Kenyan law which permits children aged between O and 4 years to accompany their mothers to prison.

Teresa had always wanted to be a banker, having seen her father’s glowing career and the financial independence being a banker afforded him. Ten years into her dream job, her dream came crashing down when in

in 2009, she was maliciously prosecuted and sentenced for handling

a fraudulent transaction.

“On the day of my arrest, the arresting officer told me that he knew that I had not committed the crimes he was charging me, and asked me to pay a bribe to make the case go away. But I wasn’t going to bribe anyone.”

After a prolonged hearing of trials to prove her innocence, the judgment

was read and Teresa was incarcerated. While in prison, she experienced

first-hand the plight of the imprisoned women in Kenya and the situations

she saw there especially for women accompanied by their children;

was a desperate call out for justice.

“Prison is not a conducive environment for nurturing children as there is no love or affection in prison. The language used there is vulgar for young minds. The babies lack necessities like diapers and baby formula. Breastfeeding babies are dependent on their mother’s milk which, most times, is not enough because of the stressful state of the mothers.

Teresa became aware of the revolving door of crime and poverty which led to the high rates of recidivism as newly released women found themselves locked up again, behind the prison bars; often re-arrested and sentenced for trying to make money to feed their children.


“The incarceration helped me understood why there were very few educated middle and upper-class people in prison,” Teresa explains. “It was very clear to me that the poor and vulnerable are the ones who keep the criminal system running.”


Upon her release, Teresa realised that despite serving her sentence, there was a societal stigma associated with having been labelled a criminal that continued following her.


“I came out of prison a different woman. I lost friends. They didn’t want to be associated with someone thought to be a criminal and my parents and siblings weren’t spared either from the stigma.”


Her prison experience however, inspired her to devote her life to equipping and empowering women while they are in prison and re-integrating them back into society. To turn her pain into a power took, in 2015, Teresa founded Clean Start, an organisation that provides a helping hand to women in prison and coaches and guides formerly imprisoned women with life skills to integrate them back into society.


In 2016, five years after serving the sentence. Teresa was exonerated of any wrongdoing and compensated by the government as the Court of Appeal vindicated her and declared that she had been wrongfully convicted.

A devoted people leader and a community-centric social entrepreneur, Teresa has been advocating for the rights of children of imprisoned parents, youth and women impacted by the Criminal Justice system mostly due to the criminalisation of poverty.

Through its outreach programmes October 2023, Clean Start has supported 3,432 incarcerated women with spiritual and emotional care, mentorship, dignity packs and life skills training. These have improved the mental-well-being, dignity, respect and self-esteem of incarcerated women. In addition, 286 women have taken part in Clean Start’s Ufunuo Program, providing them with self-reconciliation, psycho- social support and trauma healing.

Clean Start has facilitated over 500 formerly imprisoned women with income generating life-skills, entrepreneurship/trade/craft training and linkages to business and employment opportunities.

Clean Start has supported 605 children living with their mothers in prison with consumables such as diapers, food supplements, baby clothes and bedding. Clean Start has also constructed and revamped Kiddie’s Kitchen in Nyeri and Machakos Women’s Prisons to ensure that there are improved facilities for food preparation.

A devoted people leader and a community-centric social entrepreneur, Teresa Njoroge has received recognition for advocating for the rights of children of imprisoned parents and advocating for youth and women impacted by the criminal justice systems mostly due to the criminalisation of poverty. In 2022, Teresa received the Presidential Head of State Commendation (HSC) Trail Blazer’s Award given the Republic of Kenya. She was also selected as top 50 Africa Women in Development by Donors for Africa in the same year.

Her drive to bring social change has earned her an advisory role on the board at Might Ally, She is a TED Women 2017 Speaker and the recipient of the African Female Leader 2018 Excellence Award by The Global Thinkers Forum, UK.

She is an inaugural Ford Foundation Global Fellow, a Vital Voices Lead Global Fellow and in 2023 she received the Acumen Angel award after completing her fellowship with Acumen Academy and a Spark* Change Maker of the Year. Teresa was presented the Timeless Woman of Wonder Award by Her Excellency Director General – UN, Ambassador Sahleh-Work Zewde and the Inspirational Woman of the Year Award, Kiambu County by the Ministry of Devolution.






































Winnie Wairimu relocated to Nairobi from her rural home in Nyeri to make a better life for herself and her family. A sixth born of nine siblings, the family was large and their parents managed to educate Winnie up to standard eight. Having finished Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in 1993 when she was 16 years, she was unable to proceed with secondary school due to financial constraints. This led to Winnie wondering what to do with her life, and she decided to travel to Nairobi to look for something to do that would generate some income.


Being the first in her family to travel to the capital city made ‘headlines’ back in her village.

The city was phenomenal and she found jobs as a domestic worker in various homes in Nairobi.


Her new life picked up well and Winnie looked for better opportunities at a local fast-food joint at Kariobangi South which was near the house where she lived in Dandora on Nairobi’s Eastlands. Having good cooking skills, Winnie liked the job and the free meals were a perk that helped her save money and send money back home.


On one fateful day in 1996, Winnie’s life would be altered forever. While walking home from work, she was brutally arrested by plainclothes policemen who shoved her into the back of a lorry, with others who had been arrested under similar circumstances.


Winnie was terrified and had no idea what was happening to her. The others explained that a policeman had been killed the day before and the ‘msako’, as it was called, was retaliation by the authorities. Knowing she was innocent, Winnie tried protesting her arrest, but was warned she could go missing and her loved ones would never know what became of her.


While in custody, she noticed the number of people in the cells was significantly reducing as some of the inmates were released. It was then that she discovered that the policemen were taking bribes in exchange for freedom. With only Ksh. 30 in her pocket, Winnie did not stand a chance at seeing freedom. Desperate, she asked the people who were being released, to pass a message of her predicament to her place of work and gave them the contact. Deep down, she knew that her efforts were futile but she didn’t have any other options.


Winnie recalls the experience, “I spent 3 days hungry in a crowded cell which had a bucket at the corner full of human waste, then I was arraigned in court and ordered to pay a fine of Kshs.1000 or plead guilty to prostitution and serve one month in jail,” says Winnie. This was not true and Winnie tried to plead her case, but her desperate plea fell on deaf ears. She was mocked for crying and told that her hysterical cries are not the first to be heard in that court.


Two weeks into her sentence, her boyfriend bailed her out after tracking her down, through the information that she sent to her workplace. Her situation of being arrested set her up for an abusive marriage as he took advantage of her and mistreated her and Winnie constantly felt that she owed him her freedom.


Her family shunned her, once they learned of her incarceration, despite her innocence. As a formerly incarcerated woman, the stigma was stifling and no one would associate with her. She became a housewife fully dependent on her husband.


Her story of dignity began when she watched Teresa Njoroge, Clean Start Africa’s Founder and CEO, narrate her story on television. Winnie related to Teresa’s story and reached out to Clean Start.


Through the Clean Start programs, her confidence and self-worth has been restored and she also got an opportunity to do an entrepreneurship course. At 46 years of age as at 2023, Winnie is a mother of three and a grandmother to one and she is living the life she always dreamed of. Winnie is a gospel artist and has released one song and plans to pursue journalism. She is also running a successful business selling automobile spare parts countrywide in the various countries. She has been through it all and has overcome it. She also went back to adult learning at Church Army and will sit for her KCSE exams in 2024. By pursuing her dreams and her goals, Winnie has found power despite her painful experience, and is determined to optimise a second chance at life to achieve her life goals with her renewed confidence.





Emma Atieno grew up in an informal settlement of Korogocho area in Nairobi alongside her parents and 6 siblings. At eighteen years, immediately after completing her ordinary level secondary school exams, she got a baby girl who was born in 2008. As the baby grew and upkeep expenses increased, Emma started hawking sweets in the neighbourhood. Football matches provided a great opportunity for good sales and she was able to move out of home in 2009 to her own house, still in Korogocho. In 2012 Emma got married and two years later in 2014, she got her second baby and this time it was a baby boy. Both her and her husband would assist each other to fend for their family by doing odd jobs, but with a growing family, it was difficult to make ends meet and struggles were magnified.


For Emma, her income began to dwindle as football matches became seasonal, the revenue from hawking sweets got far apart. In 2015, Emma decided to seek greener pastures by relocating her business to Nairobi’s Central Business District, where she would collect daily revenue. But alas, within a month of moving to the busy capital city, Emma was arrested for hawking without a permit and her growth plans for her hawking business were short lived.


She was incarcerated at Langata Women’s Maximum Prison in 2015 for 1 week 3 days, a length of time that is deeply etched in her mind and an experience she says is unforgettable. Some of the things that scared her was the fact that they were not allowed to wear inner wear, just the prison uniform and nothing else. “While the ladies are on their periods, the lady would report to wardens, who would then issue inner wear to the lady to use only for that duration,” says Emma. The daily manual labour was very hard on Emma as she was not accustomed to it. It was during this time that severity of being imprisoned started to dawn on her.


Luckily, her friend was able to raise the required fine fee of Kshs. 10,000.00 which saved Emma from having to serve a 3-month sentence. Even though Emma was finally reunited with her children, she was still struggling to make ends meet and was afraid to hawk and end up in jail again. Two months after she came out of prison, her last born son passed on as he had been ailing from sickle cell and his health had deteriorated while Emma was at prison and at the same time, her husband had been attacked by robbers at Korogocho and had been hospitalised with head injuries.


After some time, Clean Start reached out to Emma indicating their interest in partnering with her to help her navigate life after her incarceration. Emma met Elizabeth again in December 2021, who introduced her to Serah Odima of Clean Start who in turn invited Emma to a Clean Start conference to speak about petty offences.


In April 2022, Emma enrolled in a carpentry class offered by Buildher which is one of Clean Start’s partners. Emma is now a proud carpenter, “This course has really benefitted me because I can now make cabinet and wardrobe fittings, which gives me dignified and tradeable work. Men are our main competitors who seem to get more jobs, ” says Emma.


Her pride in having a place to work every single day and own some tools of trade, is one that

gives her great delight. With additional upkeep and school fees support from Clean Start, Emma has been able to support her family and her daughter who in 2023, completed her standard 8, Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams will be going to secondary school.



As a proud carpenter, Emma has gotten a new lease of life and takes great pride in being able to turn her life around with her newly discovered skills. She wears a smile of confidence as she is curving out a new empowered future that is no longer bound by poverty.


Emma advocates that people should not be arrested for petty offences, but they should be coached and advised on how to adhere to the requirements, so that they can continue fending for their families. She really appreciates the support from Clean Start, “I thank God daily for Clean Start for supporting me and giving me hope at my time of need,” says Emma.




Fathiya is a super woman kind of person. At the peak of her life in 2009, she lived a prestigious life as an officer in a bank and her husband at the time was also a manager at a bank.

At that time her biological father was a great pillar in her family of origin, before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and her elderly mother was ailing with diabetes. As fate would have it in 2008, Fathiya’s husband lost his job and Fathiya was then supporting her entire family including her eldest daughter who had come back home in 2009 with her child.


As a banker by profession in charge of several departments, Fathiya would commute across 4 counties daily from her residence in Ngong to her work location in Thika.


Fathiya was on leave, when she was urgently recalled to go back to work after one of her colleagues passed away. “This was the week after my cancelled leave during Easter Holidays, I was sitting in for the chief-cashier who was now on leave, but on coming back after Easter Holidays Kshs.18M cash was reported missing from the strong room,” says Fathiya.


The police picked Fathiya up from the office and took her to Thika police station for questioning. She was held in Juja for 4 days before being given the option of being released on bond, which she paid as surety. Her case was eventually heard in Thika a few months later. She was re-arrested by banking fraud and in 2011 she was sentenced to 3 years in 2011 at Langata Maximum Women’s Prison.


While in prison, Fathiya worked hard and kept herself busy and avoided picking unnecessary quarrels with people and it dawned on her that there is another ecosystem world of people behind bars. “Showering with cold water was so traumatic and we shared the toilet with 150 people, food was monotonous and always cold. I worked at the bakery and also engaged in stitching and crocheting,” says Fathiya.


Due to exposure to cold, Fathiya developed health issues. “I developed a sinus problem and chronic coughing because of the cold showers and not being warm enough,” says Fathiya. She also developed allergies, arthritis and became anaemic. To keep sane, Fathiya read every waking moment she could get.


After her release in 2013, Fathiya found that her savings had depleted as the funds had been supporting the family needs. Fathiya was truly starting over from scratch. Shortly after Fathiya got back home, her mother who had been unwell passed away 2014, and her world came crumbling down as her mother had been a pillar of strength and had kept her going with encouragement and wise advice.


To rebuild her life, Fathiya started a new business of making mandazi and samosas and selling them to a firm in her residence neighbourhood in Ngong. She saved the profits and was eventually eligible for a Kshs. 200,000 loan which she used to start a catering business called Fatsos. Some of her major clients included Catholic University of Eastern Africa and to date the business continues to thrive and sustain her.


Fathiya met Teresa (Clean Start Africa Founder) while they were in prison and their friendship grew deeply and they have supported each other ever since.


Fathiya also did various courses sponsored by Clean Start which included entrepreneurship and leadership programmes to equip her to get back onto her feet. Fathiya offered to cater for Clean Start’s first event for free and that kindness, eventually landed her a catering role for future Clean Start events.


Fathiya continues to develop her leadership skills and is currently in the secretariate of SOTO (Sisters on The Outside) which is a movement addressing the plight and welfare of women formerly



Fathiya’s family life has stabilised and she has 3 biological children and 3 grand-daughters who are a great source of delight to her. Fathiya has also adopted a daughter who was in Dagorreti rehabilitation child protective services and Fathiya is mothering her because that is what she needs, says Fathiya.


We can turn any pain to power and reach our highest potential.


Fathiya is a great cheer leader to support other on their journey. She takes on the future with great abundance in grace and kindness. Living her full potential, unbowed, unbroken and resilient in face of her paid


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