Looking Back, to Forge Ahead
I come from a family of 7, the youngest girl. I am not boasting when I say that I was born a very bright child. In my country, for a child to qualify for primary school, they have to go through a series of steps, before they can be promoted to Class One. My teachers at the time in 1984, found my brain too sharp, thus I was enrolled into Primary school directly, without the hustle of the junior classes. I never came second in class, all through my primary school, which saw me amass many gifts. My parents, being very poor, were spared the burden of buying me school requirements because I always got them all in form of awards, i.e. school uniforms, books and pens. My teachers also ensured that I had something to eat from their table, since we seldom had any food at home.
I sat my KCPE in 1991, and passed with marks that hadn’t and haven’t been seen in the history of my school, to date. My dilemma was how I was going to get fees to join high school, because my parents didn’t have a chicken to sell, leave alone a cow, as is the norm in my community, to take me to school. I was pleasantly surprised when I got a letter from a leading newspaper, the Standard, congratulating me on having won school fees worth KShs. 5,000/= in a competition I had jokingly participated in while on holiday at my aunt’s place.
Although my mum was bitter about my having been locked out of one of the best schools in the region for lack of fees, I told her that my sound brain would be content in any school. My mum enrolled me into the village high school and paid for me school fees for the whole year, and even bought me my first brand new skirt and shirt. We couldn’t afford a sweater and a pair of shoes, but I was so happy I felt like a new person. It was over a month late when I finally reported for my first year of high school, but at end of the term, I came second, for the first time in my life, and I was so mad at myself. I promised myself never to come second again, and I never did.
I sailed through my first year, and my teachers were impressed and arranged for me to get the community bursary the second year, meaning that everything was catered for, except my lunch, shoes and sweater, which didn’t faze me as long as I got an education. In fact I found a very old pair of rubber shoes whose upper was torn to shreds and turned them serviceable by improvising the upper with old rags and sewing them back onto the sole with thread and needle. For polish, I used to apply soot from our cooking pots. I didn’t mind the cold, so I never missed the sweater.
Unfortunately, corruption set in and my bursary was cut short just when I was set to start my final year, in 1994. I dropped out of school at 17, and married my first boyfriend. Life was too tough! I couldn’t find even odd jobs because I didn’t have papers. Five years later, a mother of two, I talked to my husband, who was baffled but agreed to enroll me for KCSE as a private candidate. I passed though I didn’t have reading material and there and then, decided that my daughters, and any other girl, didn’t have to go through all I underwent. My husband got me a sponsor for college and am now a trained journalist, though I couldn’t get a job because after numerous interviews, I had to sleep with someone or buy the job yet I couldn’t bring myself to do either.
I set up the Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, in 2002, a haven for girls and young women, in similar or worse circumstances. I do odd jobs and pay their fees, besides meeting their other basic needs. I have to date, educated 46 girls through high school, and outsource vocational training for them to further their studies. Right now, we have over 300 boys and girls who I am keeping in school because I believe education is the key to unlock riches. My Centre offers lessons on adolescence and sexuality in surrounding primary and secondary schools to empower girls with knowledge to help them not to succumb to peer pressure or to give up on their dreams. My Centre also believes in providing money making skills to our girls and young women in order to alleviate poverty. When not in school, we engage in beadwork, knitting and tailoring, to make an extra coin.