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Why I buy uniforms for poor kids

My Man
 Photo: Courtesy

Why I buy uniforms for poor kids

26 year old Billian Okoth founder of Ficha Uchi Campaign and CEO, Billian Music Foundation about growing up in Mathare and buying school uniforms for children.

No offense intended but Billian sounds more of a girl's name. Or am I too harsh?

(Laughs) I guess you are. You need to know that Billian is a beautiful unisex name. I am handsome and beautiful at heart, though I was born and brought up in the slums of Mathare. That was not a beautiful experience.

What was it like?

I learnt to live my life the hard way. Getting a decent meal a day seemed like a luxury but somehow, I managed to survive. If I was not in Mathare, I was in my home village in Siaya hence, was accustomed to both cultures - slum life and village life. You learn a lot if you decide to learn and at the same time lose a lot if you act ignorant.

What were you doing in the village?

I would go there specifically for schooling. I was in Ukwala Boys High School, a Catholic school with strict rules. The first two years were difficult for me as I found it hard to adjust hence, sort of became a rebel. I was the kind of guy who loved his space and doing things his own way yet the school system didn’t offer that.

Did it finally change your thoughts and behavior or you are still the same old Billian?

(Chuckles) Yes it did. It taught me that I need not be selfish but also hold the interests of others at heart. That ignited in me a feeling of wanting to serve the community. In fact, as I was growing up, I wanted to become a priest, save for my rebelliousness!

A priest?

Yes. (Laughs) Don’t be shocked. I loved serving people and I thought priesthood would be the way to go. One of my best friends is now a priest. But my grandmother discouraged me and told me there were many ways I could still render my services to the community. And that is why I founded the Billian Music Foundation and the Ficha Uchi campaign. I also vied for the Mathare MP seat in last year’s by-election.

Are you a politician in the making?

I wouldn’t call it politics. I would say its leadership in the making. I vied for the seat because I wanted to bring change in Mathare. It was a tough and personal decision. Though I lost, I will not be shy of trying again.

What is the foundation all about?

The Billian Music Foundation is a community based music enlightenment project based in Mathare that seeks to provide a platform for the young generation to nurture their talents musically. Before we started, we did an experiment to see if the power of music, hip-hop and dance could elevate the spirits and hopes of the youngest slum residents. And indeed, it has lived to its expectations. We are now five years old with a total of 30 children.

Let's talk about Ficha Uchi campaign. You tend to be so emotional about it. Does it resonate with an experience in your life?

(Long pause) It breaks my heart whenever I see a pupil going to school wearing tattered uniforms, uniforms of other schools and not their respective schools or home clothes. I once went through that and I know the pain it comes with. A pupil is too embarrassed to answer questions while standing or put up something on the board and this greatly affects their self-esteem and academic performance. Through the Mathare University Students Network, we vowed to put a smile and boost the dignity of such kids hence, started the campaign to donate school uniforms to pupils from poor families. So far, we have reached out to more than 200 kids in two schools in Mathare, and hope to reach out to more schools even in rural areas because it is not only a slum disaster, but a countrywide one.

Your most memorable moment was...

When the first video of Billian Music Foundation was played on TV, it made those kids believe in themselves.

And the worst?

Losing both my parents when I was in Form One. As the first born, I now have to take care of my brother and sister and be a role model to them.

Are you married, single

I am still doing the profiling and once I find the right person, I will invite you for the wedding (laughs).



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