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Yvonne Okello displays a job advert placard on Ngong Road, next to the Telkom House in 2019. [Courtesy]
It’s unimaginable the toe-curling experience most female graduates who make placards and beg for jobs on the streets and highways often go through in the hands of male predators draped in expensive suits and seating behind expensive mahogany desks.

Standard Digital sought out one job seeker and here is her story.

Yvonne Okello has been desperately looking for a job for two and a half years.

In June 2019, out of desperation, the 33-year-old mother of three picked a placard and wrote, "I have a dream that scares me. Transforming it into reality is a challenge. I am up for the challenge, I am out of my comfort zones, I move with intention every single day. I can say the fire for what I do keeps pushing me forward, the realization that I do what am supposed to is fulfilling. So for all those who choose their dreams over comfort, who trudge forward, alone sometimes, because most don't see your vision, keep at it, don't give up, at the right time you will reap a good reward."

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She also added her telephone contact and academic qualifications. Although her mission was to get that elusive job; a steady source of income that could help her support her young family, her adventurism invited the most unlikely of ‘employers’; hot-blooded men who feast on desperate women. Deluded men who are always eagerly waiting with clenched buttocks for a chance to attack.

Job advert brought misery

Ms Okello says after the placard advert for over a month, she only attracted pain, not gain.

“I used to stand along Ngong Road, next to the Telkom House. There is this junction near Jamhuri Estate near the road leading to Nakumatt Junction every morning and evening for over a month. It was tough,” says Ms Okello who graduated in 2018 with Second Class Upper Division in Foods Nutrition and Dietetics from University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. 

False leads and requests for sex

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The whole experience to her was like searching for a needle in haystack.  After more than a month of fruitless search, some offers started coming her way, and for a moment she thought her breakthrough was near, but nothing positive came except more misery.

She got a job with a health facility in Nairobi, but the company struggled with cash flow and could not pay her in time, prompting her to quit.

“I got a place after my heroic act, but the company, a group of hospitals I don’t want to name, I earned on commission but it became tricky,” says Ms Okello.

She got more offers after ditching the first job, but it didn’t work out because they wanted money. Some had the bile to ask for or sex in exchange for a job.

 “I was referred to two other places, but they demanded that I grease their elbows. They demanded bribes ranging from Sh100,000 to Sh150,000. Since I had no money, they said there was an option but paying through sex. I left.”

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She says maybe if she yielded to the sexual requests, she could be having a job now, but it is unlike her to sleep around for favours.

Ms Okello says the sex-for-job vice is rampant in both private and public firms, and that it requires a tough skin to survive.

Ms Okello described the sexual advances in the companies as crazy, with those who are hooking you up leading the pack of hounds.

“It is crazy in these offices. Human Resource guys, bosses and those who want to hook you up all want sex,” she says.

Asked why she declined the sex offers to get a job, Ms Okello says she is an old -fashioned girl who believes love is sex and that sex for favours is not her kind of thing.

“Apart from the fear of contracting HIV, I am old-fashioned and I don't find sex for favours right, but I know some of my friends say it is only three-minutes of fooling around,” she says.

Before she opted for the placard, she had applied for numerous jobs and attended a few interviews which were unsuccessful.

“I applied for over a thousand jobs, but was able to secure interviews in about 10 places but did not succeed,” she said.

Plan B is to start a business

Ms Okello has decided to think outside the box, not just looking for employment but maybe try business or private practice, but this needs finances.

“I am now thinking (of starting a) business. I need a small push, a loan to start something, say educate Kenyans on nutrition,” reveals Ms Okello.

After missing out on her favourite course, medicine, she opted for nutrition and was hopeful to be successful at it.

"I wanted to study medicine but failed in mathematics and that is how I found myself in nutrition and believed it would equally secure me a job once I graduate,’ she said.

“But I love nutrition. I love taking care of people, and seeing a sick person become strong (it's the feeding/diet that makes you strong not the medicine) gives me great joy. Lately, though, I am more inclined to preventive health and wellness is what I preach and all these is nutrition so I don’t regret doing it.”

Ms Okello currently volunteers in one of the village polytechnics where she earns Sh15,000 a month.

Yvonne Okello (centre) with her classmates during graduation in 2018, at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. [Courtesy]
According to her, she reached a point where what mattered was something she could use to feed her children not the weight of her papers.

“It is not a proper job, no medical cover, no saving or anything but do I have a choice? I will live with it until something comes,”

Ms Okello who lost her parents while in Class Two also accuses ‘good employers’ of taking advantage of your desperation to pay you a meager salary.

I call them good because, in these companies, no one wants sexual favours, but they will pay you peanuts,” she adds.

She says she moved out of Nairobi to hide from friends who had lent her cash because she was unable to clear the debts.

“I actually moved out of Nairobi because I couldn't keep up leaving in debts, I still owe people,” she said

She has a message for her friends though, that as soon as she becomes financially stable, she will clear all her debts.

I just thank God my kids don’t fall sick because if they do, how will Sh15,000 treat, feed, clothe and educate them? It is a tough life I tell you,” she concludes.

Her’ experience brings into focus the biting issue of unemployment in Kenya.

She still hopes that one day a good job or a genuine well-wisher will come her way and helps her realise her potential.

“I know it is laughable, but with God you never know, I still have hope, but not passionate the way I was when I graduated.”

According to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, unemployment in Kenya stands at nearly 10 per cent. Other organisations have given even higher figures.

The unemployment rate in Kenya averaged 10.75 per cent from 1991 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 12.20 per cent in 2009 and a record low of 9.30 per cent in 2018.

Cases of graduates taking up menial jobs have been on the rise in the recent past, a clear indication that indeed unemployment is a reality.

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