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MY STORY: COMMON TRAGEDY, UNCOMMON RESOLVE

Growing up the sixth child in a family of ten in a small village in Siaya County was not the positive experience that it should have been. Having come from a large and poor family, my siblings and I went through a lot of challenges. My parents struggled to make ends meet: my father with his meager pay from his job in Nairobi, and my mother as a housewife at our rural village home. Things became even worse when both our parents died of HIV/AIDS within a short span of each other. We had to find ways and means to survive and go to school at the same time. The rejection we went through in our own community, with neighbors ostracizing us, only added insult to the injury.

Both our parents having died without their first born son being married or having built a house, , our homestead was ‘closed down’ in accordance with Luo custom and traditional beliefs: ie. we, the remaining children, could not step foot into what was once our family home, and had to rely on relatives in neighboring areas to take us in. We were considered outcasts in our own community and even our close friends whom we trusted did not want to be associated with us. The story was the same in school. I can remember that nobody wanted to sit close to us, share a seat or even shake hands with us due to fear of being infected. The struggle and fight of living with HIV/AIDS did not end there. Our last born brother, who was born HIV+, was under our care, incapacitated by recurrent infections. Medication was very expensive at that time, and it reached a point where we could not take good care of him at home; we arranged to find him a caring place in an AIDS orphanage in Nairobi, Cotolengo Orphanage, where he tragically died a year later at the age of seven.

Despite of all the struggles and unspeakable horrors that we went through in our community, I still had hopes that one day life would change for the better. I worked hard and successfully completed both my primary and secondary education, even after dropping out of school several times. I never gave up or thought of getting into an early marriage, as most of the girls in my community do. With the help of some relatives and the bursary I received from the Rattansi Education Trust, I joined Kenya Utalii College, where I did a 2-year Certificate Program and graduated with honors. I then got a job with the Norfolk Hotel as a housekeeping supervisor, a position I held for a period of five years.

Being very ambitious and always wanting to move to greater heights, I enrolled at the Kenya Polytechnic College as a part-time student alongside my job at the hotel, and completed my Diploma in Business Management. Besides sponsoring my own studies, I still had the responsibility of taking care of my siblings and other needy relatives. In 2010 I was selected for a scholarship through the US Department of State to further my studies and improve my skills. On June 16, 2010 I left for the United States to further my studies. Though I never expected to reach this far, I was very excited because studying in the USA was one of my life-long dreams.

My studies/stay in the USA was the greatest experience in my life, and I was greatly impressed by the quality of education in the country. I was also fascinated by the close relationships, love, respect and the family feelings within the community where I lived. My friends enjoyed my company, but little did they know that beneath my happy exterior lay an undercurrent of despair, pain and rejection, only tempered by courage, hope and resolve to reclaim my life. I worked hard and graduated yet again with honors and came back to Kenya in August 2011. My employer, the hotel, had given me study leave before I departed, but a short time into my studies demanded that I send a letter of resignation, which I reluctantly did. Since my return, I have not been able to get another job, something which is very discouraging, considering the long path that I have gone through.

Despite my struggles, sadly very common in my home community, I believe that I have a responsibility to make a difference. I do not want women/young girls in my community to go through the same negative experiences that I went through. Having been an orphan from a large and poor family, I believe that I am well-positioned to help young girls and woman who face the same challenges. The road to achievement has not been easy; I have struggled to make ends meet and also to lend a hand to the less fortunate. Because of my own personal experiences, I have a different perspective on the world and how people around me should be treated. I believe that my continued pursuit of knowledge and my desire to change the lives of women will make a great difference in my community and contribute to the development of Kenya as a nation. Since 2007, I have been assisting St. Alice Angel’s Academy, a community-based primary school located in Bondo District, which educates girls between 3 and 13yrs who have been orphaned (esp. by HIV/AIDS) or are from impoverished local families. I have been donating clothes, food, books, and even the little money that I can spare (sometimes as little as $20), when I was working. Due to the increasing number of orphans, I am currently trying to write a proposal to mobilize funds to expand the school.

I strongly hope that my long-term commitment and desire to support girl child education in my community will one day bear fruit. The challenges I have faced have inspired me to be a mentor and a role model to other young girls. My hope is that through better education, and improved livelihoods, young girls will avoid early marriages and exposure to HIV/AIDS. It is my commitment to do whatever I can to influence such girls to go to school and get a quality education.

Comments

janice.corera's picture

hello

You have been through hell and I can relate to this so well because in my own way, I have my version of hell that I have gone through. But it's inspiring to see you wanting to make a positive change.

I am sure there will be a good samaritan somewhere out there to help you to help others

Cheers
Janice

judithochola1's picture

Re: Greetings!

Thank you so much for the encouraging words. I believe together we will surely change the world. I wish you well in whatever you are doing or planning to do...Cheers!

Judy

JO

jadefrank's picture

Taking your voice to Rio+20!

Dearest Judith,

Your story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Your courage to help change the paradigm for girls in your community—to be empowered, educated and confident women like you—to help break the cycle of infection, of stigma, and poverty, gives me great hope. I know that with all that you have already accomplished in the face of adversity, you are on a great journey and will inspire many girls along the way.

Thank you for participating in our Rio+20 initiative and courageously sharing your voice. Your story and recommendations are en route to Rio de Janeiro with our partners at WEDO, and will be presented at the conference to ensure grassroots women's perspectives are included at the negotiating table. Our editorial team is working on an E-magazine for publication next Wednesday which you will receive in your inbox, highlighting selected pieces from our Rio+20 initiative. We will keep you updated on the outcomes of the conference and how you can stay involved as a vocal leader for your community on these issues.

I encourage you to read the stories of your fellow PulseWire sisters and engage in conversation to share experiences, ideas, and best practices for addressing sustainable development issues in your communities.
http://www.worldpulse.com/taxonomy/term/17249

In friendship and solidarity,
Jade

judithochola1's picture

Re: Greetings from Kenya

Thanks my dear for such encouraging words and taking my voice to Rio+20 initiative. Life can be so unfair at times but I still hope that together we can indeed change this so called paradigm in my community.

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."
- Helen Keller

:) Judy

JO

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