As i drive through the Jimmy Junior Academy School grounds, i am surprised at the unusual silence. I alight and see madam Millicent Mbero coming to receive me. I immediately apologize for being on my trademark Kenyan time and proceed to the church hall where her students and their parents are waiting.
Today is school uniform distribution day and I have come to deliver 20 new uniforms to the students here. The looks on their faces as i enter the hall with a bag full of new uniforms is priceless! Without further ado, Millicent and the parents start distributing the new uniforms. I stand aside and let them do their work, taking it all in. The events that follow are forever etched in my memory.
As each parent helps her child to put on the new uniform, the atmosphere immediately changes. All the children break into big smiles and start admiring themselves. Their parents are in high spirits too and can be seen doing their best to make them look as impeccably dressed as they possibly could including dusting off any iota of dust from their children's pullovers and tying their shoelaces.
I have met these children before. I wouldn't say they are not happy. Kids everywhere are always kids. They will always be happy and find time and ways to play , run around and smile or laugh with each other no matter their economic situations or backgrounds.
But today, it is different. The happiness here is palpable!
As the students file out in their immaculate uniforms, I cant help noticing one girl dressed in a boy's uniform. It was not the boy's uniform she wore that drew my attention. Neither was it her plaited hair. Her demeanor said it all. She LOVED it! I stood standstill, watching this little girl. Hands in her pocket and grinning ear to ear, she walked majestically towards me with the rest of the students before posing for a group photo.
It didn't matter to Casey if she was in a boy's outfit. All she cared about was that everyone was in a new uniform and she was one of them. The uniforms gave them an identity and she felt they were in this together. To her, they all looked the same and worrying about being in a boy's uniform wasn't important.
Casey Achieng: uniforms were made for 20 students, one student who has been absent for so long and whose measurements were not taken by the tailor showed up and took her uniform. Fortunately, the tailor made an extra uniform (boy's) with the left over fabric and Casey was happy to put it on awaiting delivery of her dress
These students have myriad reasons to smile today. Their teacher Millicent recently received a grant from the Pollination project to build 2 new classrooms and give them an opportunity to study in a safe environment. Hardly a day after construction of the new classrooms began, the wall of the church they have been using as a classroom collapsed. It was too old and risky for the little kids and this funding couldn't have come at a better time.
Looking back, Millicent has come a long way with this school and the children she supports. She didn't have any resources when she decided she wanted to create change in her community. The training she had received as an early childhood education teacher was all she needed to start. Even the dilapidated church structure she uses as classrooms for her students did not deter her from starting her school. This is how women work. When they set their minds on doing something they believe in, they will do it. And with all their hearts, souls and strength they invest in it. The magic that results from this investment creates great transformation in communities for generations.
For close to 3 years, she has diligently worked to provide good education to these children. Even when there was only one student at the start, she still came to school to teach. She didn't quit because students weren't coming for lack of decent classrooms or other teachers to support her. She knew that all she needed to do was to start. The resources would follow. It didn't matter how long it would take. A woman's instinct is never wrong, they say.
As i take these beautiful photos and see the big smiles on their faces, my heart is filled with immense joy. I take one final look at Casey in her "odd" uniform, and them at the rest of the children. With each smile, i can't help loving the aura of self-confidence they exude; confidence to stand up and answer questions in class without being laughed at because your uniform is torn, confidence to walk slowly and admire themselves without worrying who is looking at their torn uniform, confidence to play with their friends without worrying that their torn clothes would get caught on something and tear beyond repair, confidence that they are capable and can achieve their dreams.
Today, they all belong to the same school. They can identify with it. Today, no one can judge them based on their backgrounds.. They are all in the same uniform that brings them all to the same level; students of Jimmy Junior Academy.
And today, Millicent is living her dream of creating access to education for these children because she didn't let lack of resources stand on her way to create change in her community. This is how women do it. And this is why maendeleo hub connects them with the resources to leverage this change and make even greater impact working in collaboration with grassroots women.
Many thanks to @Pollination Project and @TailoredForEducation for building classrooms and providing school uniforms for students of Jimmy Junior Academy.
By David Omondi, Co-founder/Program & Fund Development Manager
Riley Orton Foundation
I want to leave bad habits
It is 6.30pm in the evening. Darkness is slowly creeping in. A teenage boy and his younger brother runs across the road and enters the local community clinic in Obunga. "Please test my brother for HIV," the elder brother tells the nurse. The nurse is taken by surprise and asks the young boy how old he is and why he wants the HIV test done.
"I want to leave bad habits, "he says. "I went to the general hospital, they tested me and gave me some medicine to take every day at specific times of the day. The bottle of medicine they have given me even has an alarm to remind me when to take the drugs. This must be serious. I want to leave bad habits," he explains.
15 years old and married
"How old are you and what bad habits are you referring to?" the nurse asks.
"I'm 15 years old and i dropped out of school in 6th grade last year. I have 5 girl friends, one of them is my wife,. I live with her in my house" he says. The nurse doesn't believe her ears and asks how old the girl friends are and if they go to school. The young boy has girl friends in 6th, 7th and 8th grades as well as one in high school, 9th grade. He further explains to the nurse that he has been recruited into stealing at night. Because of his small frame, he can easily go through windows and open locked doors from the inside for older thieves to get in and rob their victims. It is from such activities that he earns money to lure little girls into prostitution and supports his "wife"
The nurse conducts the test and a few minutes later conveys the news that he is HIV negative. A big smile lights his face as he waits on the nurse to explain why the other hospital put him on some medication when he is HIV negative.
The nurse explains that he has sexually transmitted disease and asks whether he has told his girlfriends that he is on medication to which he says no and that he has no plans to inform them lest they leave him.
Lack of constructive activities
As i listen to Mary and the nurse narrate the story of this young boy, i cant help wondering how many boys find themselves in his shoes and even worse, how the girls in this community are endangered and are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, all because of poverty and lack of constructive after school activities.
What Mary says next is heartbreaking.
murdered with soapy water
My heart bleeds as i listen to a story of a young girl from Obunga slum who got pregnant in 7th grade. Her parents decided to terminate the pregnancy to allow her to continue with her education. But they were too late. The girl was already 7 months pregnant when they accompanied her to the local traditional birth attendant to procure the illegal abortion. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the baby came out alive!
keen to protect their "family name", the girl and her mother decided to kill the baby by pouring highly concentrated soapy water on the new born boy child. The little angel's screams for help fell on deaf ears. He didnt die and they had to put him in a basket and hide him for a day before he passed away, and was buried secretly in the slum. Life goes back to normal as another innocent life is lost, and another girl exposed to trauma and misery for the better part of her life"
There is Hope
Such is the life girls, boys and young people have to face in the slum when there is poverty and few support systems to protect them to grow and thrive. At this point, i feel happy to have supported Mary and her Kisumu Talent Club with a Flow Fund from pollination project. Though marginalized, her work is vital in bringing transformation in the lives of children and the youth who would otherwise engage in illicit activities. As they dance their way out of crime and the dangers of early sexual debut and pregnancies, there is hope that empowering them while nurturing their skills and talents hold the key to a better community.
As these girls , boys and their families go through psychological torture, due to pressures to meet set societal standards and expectations, I can't appreciate enough the work done by leaders like Sitawa Wafula in the world of mental health and can only hope that one day she gets to work with Mary to help these children and their families heal.
A very jovial and hardworking man
Joannes is a very friendly and talkative man. An ardent and accomplished tailor specializing in African print designs, you will always find him in his tailoring shop, laughing and chatting with friends. Morning to evening he works hard, sewing his way out of poverty, one stitch at a time.
Meet Baby Sixtus
Usually, Joannes is not alone. Sitting quietly behind him is his 4 year old son. He sits with his father all day. He used to be a normal child at one year old, was very smart and had started talking and reading alphabet charts. One day as he was sleeping, his parents heard him make a strange sound that would change his life to date.
They rushed to see what had happened and they found him lying in bed, staring into space, his entire body paralyzed. Since that day, he has neither talked nor walked. And so his dad carries him everywhere he goes, to town, to the shop, and to church.
Moving from one hospital to another
They have moved with him from one hospital to another in vain. Wherever they go, they are referred to the next hospital or doctor, and to the next with no tangible help. They have spent over $20,000 raised from contributions from friends and relatives and sale of land.
Where is baby Sixtus mother?
When people see him going everywhere with the baby, feeding him and changing his diapers, they sometimes feel very sorry for him and asks where the baby's mother is.
Unknown to them is that at 81 years old, Joannes' mother is old and like baby Sixtus is also paralyzed and has to be helped to stand, walk and go to the toilet. "My wife has to look after my mother while i work and look after Sixtus," he tells me. We decided to divide the duties.
I must love my son
As I listen to him narrate his story, I cant help admiring how brave and determined he has been to support his family against all odds. "David, I have accepted my situation. I came to a point in my life that I decided i should love my son. If I don't love him, no one will love him for me. I must love him first then other people can love him too," he says with a big smile on his face.
It is my problem & I have the solution
Talking to Joannes, i was deeply inspired by how positive he is about his new life since baby Sixtus was taken ill. He is working hard to provide for his family and does not want pity from anyone. "This is my problem and I have the solution,'' he tells me. "If i acknowledge that it is my problem, then others will join me and then it will no longer be my problem alone, but ours as a community," he explains.
I believe my community can learn from me
As he goes about his business in the community, Joannes believes his community can learn a lot from him. " I carry my son everywhere i go, to work, i feed him , change his diapers, it has become so normal to me. I am not ashamed. I cannot lock him up at home like other people do. God knows why he had to be this way. I have not lost hope and I know i have to be strong and keep doing my best. Many people are learning from me how they can stand up with their families in times of their greatest needs. God will help me, " he says, his son in his arms.
Make me smile program
Through the make me smile program, Joannes received a donation of a walking frame with 5 wheels and a walking cane to aid baby Sixtus in learning to walk. Many thanks to our friend John Freeman for putting a smile on this family's face
Helping him to help himself
Thanks to our wonderful partners at Tailored For Education Org, USA, Joannes is making school uniforms for 120 students at Akili School and 20 students of Pollination Project grantee Millicent Mbero's Jimmy Junior Academy in Kisumu. Proceeds earned will enable him to support baby Sixtus and his Family.
You Can Help
Baby Sixtus goes for physiotherapy sessions thrice a week. Doctors have recommended that he undergoes a surgery that will cost his family $6000. Since he cannot eat solid foods, he weighs 14kgs and the doctors want him to attain 18kgs before they can operate on him. You can support this family and make bay Sixtus walk, talk and live a normal life again. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for how you can be of help.
Meet Teresia Omollo, the 65 year old grandmother who missed out on the government cash transfer program because she didn't know her age
It is a cool Sunday morning at Kanyawegi Village, Kisumu. Women, children and men are busy going about their business; some trekking to the market while others ride on mortobikes to church.
Vitalis Oguom's home is buzzing with activity. Scores of elderly people are gathering at his quiet home. Usually, this would mean he is just about to mediate a land dispute or family feud. But today, having recently received a Pollination Project Flow Fund, Vitalis has invited the senior members of the community living in poverty to give them food.
I'm surprised at the many people gathered in his compound. I check my watch to find out how late i am for this function. Vitalis had invited me to participate in distributing food to the villagers at 8.am and for a moment i thought i was Kenya time (late).
We exchange greetings and Vitalis goes about his business of distributing the maize.
I quickly notice an old woman struggling to stand from her seat and then unsteadily walks towards Vitalis, her basket wide open ready to receive the grains that will enable her to kick out hunger from her home for a few days.
She gets her share and how priceless it is to see her face brighten with gratitude!!
Vitalis had told me earlier that the women and men he supports with food from his farm are those not enrolled in the cash transfer program administered by the government.
"David, this is Teresia Omollo. She is about 65 years old and comes around here. She didn't know her exact date of birth when she applied for her national identification card, so the officials reduced her age by 5 years. Therefore, she doesnt qualify for the cash transfer program,'' Vitalis informs me.
"There are more women like her down here who couldnt walk here to get their share. i''ll deliver it to them personally later," he adds.
I can't help wondering why not knowing her age should condemn Teresia and other elderly members of the community to a life of poverty.
I leave Vitalis to continue doing his work, a BIG smile on my face knowing that he is there for Teresia and other elderly people living in poverty. He will help Teresia to get food and eventually enroll her into the government program and connect her with the support system she needs.
Indeed, empowering marginalized grassroots leaders like Vitalis with flow funds is a game changer in helping build community resilience and ensure access to a more equitable share of the world's wealth.
Life in Obunga Slum
Life in Obunga slum can be very difficult. Many families here struggle to make ends meet. Poor drainage, inadequate housing, lack of jobs, disease and poverty are problems that the residents face every day.
Obunga has a high unemployment and drug use rates. Common income generating activities include selling vegetables, charcoal, fish leftovers "mgongo wazi" second hand clothing, and small food stands. Women and adolescents brew illicit beverages, which is illegal and punishable by the courts, to provide for their families and to pay school fees for their children.
But Obunga is Beautiful too
Against all these odds, there are many beautiful things you see in Obunga. Like cows gracing in the lush green grass, teachers and children playing in the community schools, little children happy and all smiles despite their empty stomachs, parents buying vegetables from local community farms, or the beautiful roads and sunsets
Despite this beauty, many children are not accessing education
Because of poverty, many children from Obunga slum continue to lag behind in education. Free Primary education offered by the government still comes with prohibitive costs of buying school uniforms, books and paying for remedial classes. This is a big burden for many parents from the Slum.
One Couple is making Obunga beautiful
Josiah Oketch and his wife Jackline started Kasarani Alpha Academy in 2009. Their goal was to provide affordable education to low income families from the slum. They have over 200 students from preschool to 6th grade.
They are walking alone
Despite having a dream of a better community and life for the children, Josiah and Jackline are highly marginalized and have not been able to get supporters to partner with them to ensure that they can provide education for the children.
The dilapidated structures that act as classrooms for the over 200 students they support compromise the very quality education that they seek to provide. As a result, they have become as vulnerable as the children they support and this has seen them enroll a large number of students with the hope that the modest fees they charge will earn them income to support the school.
They were crestfallen when i paid them a visit at their school in Obunga slum.
Seeding Hope & Change
Through the pollination Project East African Hub Program, Josiah and Jackline received a flow fund grant of $500. They used the money to refurbish 2 classrooms and a kitchen for the school.
When the East African Hub team visited his project in August 2016, this is what he said, "My friends, you got here so fast, you did not even call. Work is going on very well. We have finished the floors of the two classrooms with the $500 you gave us. We are now using the left over materials to fix the kitchen floor. The children will have a nice place to take their lunch. Thank you so much for helping me to get somewhere. You have really helped us."
When children reported to school for third semester
They were so excited to find the floors of their classrooms fixed. They do not have to worry about putting their school bags on the floor or jiggers infestation any more.
The Power of $500
After being marginalized for so long, I gave Josiah this flow fund to encourage him and show him that despite the difficulties they are facing in their endeavor to provide education for needy children, there are people out there who believe in his ability to create change in his community. He doesn't have to know how to use a computer, have a facebook page or website. Only the vision is enough.
And Josiah did not only use the grant to fix the floors of the 2 classrooms and set up a sustainable garden as he had planned, but also fixed an entire school kitchen floor and verandah using left over materials.
"I think there would be enough to repair the floors of our two pit latrines/toilets as well," he said with a big smile as we left his school compound.
Through training and mentor-ship , Josiah will continue to expand his network and acquire skills to improve his work and effectively create change in his community.
The government is not directly involved in running Early Childhood Education Centers
It is every teacher's joy to see scores of children brave the early morning cold to go to school. Although a lot has been done to make primary education free in Kenya , not much has been done by the government and other stakeholders to make early childhood education accessible to all children.
Unlike primary and secondary education, Early Childhood Education in Kenya is standalone from the mainstream 8.4.4 system.
Individuals, churches and communities come together to start ECDE centers and hire teachers to enable their children access education.
Poor infrastructure and lack of resources affect education provision at this level
But there are serious challenges that come with leaving such a crucial role in the hands of the local community. Lack of resources to build classrooms, hire qualified teachers, buy text books and other learning resources often threaten to cripple education at this level.
Many parents are opting to take their children straight to standard one - which is free - without having them go through nursery school/ECDE which is fee paying.
As a result, it is not uncommon to see children of school going age hanging around in the village as their parents go about their daily hustle and bustle to fend for the family.
One woman in Kanyawegi wasn't happy about this
"I was very disturbed when i graduated from college and came back home to find so many children loitering around and baby-sitting instead of going to school," Millicent said.
"I wanted to start a nursery school right away, but i had no resources.," she added as we talked about why she started Jimmy Junior Academy where she provides education to 20 children.
After working as a teacher in 2 different schools, she couldn't wait any longer. "I didn't like walking to school every morning and seeing so many children who were not going to school and coming back in the evening to find them dirty and unattended as they waited for their parents to come home," she said.
She taught one child for two weeks.
When she started Jimmy Junior Academy in 2014, only one child reported to school. I couldn't help asking her why she didn't quit after teaching only 3 children for an entire month. "I believed that I wanted to make a difference and understood that it would be gradual and difficult," she said with a smile.
Despite the great work she does to provide education to children who would otherwise not have it, Millicent has been unable to mobilize resources to build classrooms and hire teachers to support her in her work. She is unable to use computers, internet or social media and this has greatly slowed down her work.
The good news is that there is HOPE for Millicent and the children she supports.
With the support of The Pollination Project East African Hub Program, Millicent has received funds to build two classrooms and ensure that her students have a decent place to study and thrive.
We can all support Millicent and keep her dream of changing lives in her community through education alive.
Franciska Ogone felt like her life was wasting away. In a village where the main economic activity is bursting stones to make ballast for construction, her health was deteriorating from the adverse effects of dust she inhaled every day.
Heavily yoked with the burden of providing for herself and the orphans she lives with, Francisca was inspired to start a self help group with widows in her village.
"I need to find a good business that i can do to support my grandchildren. We are really suffering," She told me one day. I asked whether she was involved in any support group. She said she did, but the group was not helpful because it had become too expensive for them. Each member was required to remit $0.5 during the weekly meetings, this being contributions towards group savings to assist members in case they lost a family member or a close relative. With no jobs or viable businesses, this was far too expensive to maintain making the very group that was to lift the widows and grandmothers out of poverty plunge them into even more misery than they were already in.
Franciska, like all her group members have never used a computer before, and can neither read nor write. Further, the only languages they speak are luo and swahili. Whereas the government and commercial banks extend loans and funding opportunities to groups in Kenya, Franciska and her group have been unable to access these funding because they are both illiterate and do not have collateral required by commercial banks.
The Pollination Project Org, through its East Africa Hub Program awarded Fransika $1000 grant to renovate their old houses and venture into a maize selling business to support themselves and their grandchildren orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
"I'm very grateful to pollination project for helping me. I now have a business, i live well and can support the orphans. As you can see, my face is shinning, i don't cough because of dust any more and my group members are doing well too. So i say thank you,'' Franciska told East Africa Hub team when they visited her project.
Franciska and her group have since diversified their business to include selling mats made from papyrus reeds. With their resilience and hard work, they will continue to chat their own path out of poverty. Like many other grassroots changemakers all over the world, they may be voiceless, but with wonderful organizations like the pollination project that believes in them and their ability to create change, there is hope that Franciska and her ilk will get a more equitable share of the world's wealth and continue to champion change in their own communities and not be beggars in old age.