Thousands of ‘Out of School Children’ (OOSC) are re-kindling their education dreams through an operation come to school (OCTS) project in select Nairobi County Primary schools , thanks to Women Educational researchers of Kenya (WERK), a professional association of researchers in education funded by the United Nations International Children’s education Fund (UNICEF).
Among WERK’S Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) star candidates last year was 21 year old Gabriel Ochieng’, who scored 360 points after a stint as watchman at Maranda High School, a national institution in Siaya County. He was called to join Chesamisi High School in Bungoma County, but like many from destitute backgrounds sharing his plight, school fees remains a mirage at a time learning has already started. He cries at the thought that he might never pursue further studies.
WERK’s candidates at Ofafa Jericho Primary School who excelled alongside Ochieng’ but might never take their places in high school include 13 year old Salome Auma (354 points), 13 year old Emmaculate Kanze (348 points), 13 year old Victor Owino (340 points), and 14 year old Dennis Lumumba (239 points) to mention but a few. The school’s headmistress Ms Elizabeth Kokwach says 25 candidates under the project have been called to join secondary schools across the country with gloomy prospects of school fees.
Mrs Kokwach and some of her teachers not only live in their quarters with disadvantaged pupils under the project, but donate uniforms, shoes and other items where situations are too dire as in Ochieng’s case. She has out of compassion gone to the extent of engaging a few desperate parents as cooks, ablution cleaners, sweepers and the like to buoy them up for the sake of their children.
Gabriel is her pet subject: “I am at a loss what to do for such a determined boy. “I choke with emotion when I remember how he sauntered into the school compound early one morning in late 2016, ,clad in discoloured clothes with a cheap wooden box in tow, Inside were a frayed blanket and some omena for food. He looked hungry and exhausted.
“His story was moving and a test that he passed brought to the fore the academic potential in him. I bought him uniform and shoes and he became part of my household. His dream is to join the country’s security forces if helped through his education.
Ochieng is tearful as he narrates how he served as a watchman for a monthly pay of sh5000 at Maranda school until a concerned parent attracted by her age told him of a school in faraway Nairobi that returned children of his ilk back to the classroom. “I resigned after my November, 2016 salary and promised the school’s administration to return as a student,” he recalls tearfully.
Among the parents buoyed by Mrs Kokwach is 30 year old Ms Josephine Owendi whose son Dennis Lumumnba has been called to join Lavington Secondary school with 239 points. Ms Owendi takes home sh5, 500 per month of which sh1, 500 goes into rent at the nearby Kiambiu slum. She is the victim of an abusive marriage that ended on the rocks and lives with painful and debilitating uterine fibroids.
Emmaculate Kanze was destined for child marriage in her native Kilifi County when a teacher at the school , Mrs Scholastic Owino came to her rescue; Recalls Mrs Owino who is married in Kilifi: ““Kanze and other children frequented my house whenever I was at home for holidays. Her predicament in a society where child marriage is the norm prompted me to pay her fees at a local school up to class seven before I brought her to Nairobi with the consent of her grandmother to benefit from the project. I have lived with her ever since. He wants to be a doctor is helped into further education”.
Victor Owino, 13 who has been called to join Hospital Hill Secondary School in Nairobi is the son of alcoholic parents. “I dropped out of school in Standard four back home in Ng’iya, Siaya County and was employed as a herds boy for Sh300 per month when my aunt brought me to Nairobi,” he says.
“She took me to Muthurwa Primary School where I did class five and six but showed signs of fatigue at class seven citing the weight of her own children. I heard wind of this school and walked there alone one day from Muthurwa. The Headmaster admitted me and here I am with 340 points, but no money for secondary school fees,” he laments.
For 13 year old Salome Auma who lives with her single mother at Kiambiu slum and scored 354 points her dream to join Mukumu Girls’ High School is but a mirage. She says tearfully: “Mum washes clothes to eke out a living. She cannot afford my school fees.”
Salome wants to be a pilot if she goes through secondary school and joins University.