When hope shapes success
A chance at education for a better future
This story was also published in the Star Newspaper.
Octavia Kimani, ten years old, smiles broadly because today is better than yesterday. He is now in school after being away due to strained financial family resources.
The young boy is happy to return to school and wears a smile confidently. This is the beginning of a long, fulfilling journey, and he can feel it. His new friends at school and the compassionate teachers have become an extension of his family.
"I was delighted when my mother told me about my going back to school. Before, I could only watch, desire, and imagine what it was like when I saw other children coming from school every day," says Octavia.
The air in Dandora, where he lives with eight family members, is pungent due to the strong smell from a nearby dumping site. However, Octavia appreciates that his present situation does not dictate his future. He lives with eight family members, and his mother, Wambui Kahiga, 33, is happy that her son is having a chance at learning.
Wambui dropped out of school after getting pregnant at an early age, and her lack of education has made it difficult for her to find a stable job. Her husband lost his job as a truck conductor during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and his little income from casual work is not enough to support the family. Wambui's eldest son is 23, and her youngest is just seven months old. She is responsible for raising and providing for all her children, which is daunting.
"Raising and fending for all the children has been the hardest task in my life," Wambui says. I was so happy when I learned my child has a chance to go to school, something I had desired but could not manage," says an elated Wambui.
This was a turning point in the life of the young Octavia.
A community-based civil society organization, Life Skills Promoters, identified Octavia, did a family background check to establish his needs, and referred him to the Tom Mboya Primary School headteacher for support and enrolment in school.
Wambui is not giving up on her children yet. She is committed to ensuring that, despite all odds, they get an education to pursue their ambitions to the highest level. She is determined to give them the best life possible despite her meager resources and the long working hours from her casual jobs.
Education is one of the most powerful tools for change for individuals and communities. In the past two decades, the Government of Kenya has undertaken many reforms to make primary education free and compulsory for all children of school-going age. However, many children are still out of school due to poverty, poor infrastructure, parental neglect, and health complications.
Almost 1.13 million children of primary school age (6 to 13 years old) are out of school in Kenya, according to an Out-of-School Children Initiative study conducted in Kenya in 2020.
UNICEF is working in partnership with Educate A Child (EAC), which is a programme of the Education Above All Foundation, via the Operation Come to School project, to reach out-of-school children, with support from the Qatar Fund for Development. The initiative targets children aged 6 to 13, such as Octavia, in 16 counties where children are most at risk of dropping out of class. The counties are Baringo, Bungoma, Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Kilifi, Kwale, Mandera, Marsabit, Narok, Samburu, Tana River, Turkana, Wajir, and West Pokot, as well as Nairobi informal settlements.
Velma Ondeche is a community leader and member of the Enrolment Drive Committee group of the Operation Come to School programme in Dandora. The committee creates awareness of the importance of children remaining in school. She proactively ensured Octavia resumed his studies under the UNICEF and EAC joint initiative.
Ondeche followed up with Octavia’s family and ensured that he was enrolled in the nearby Tom Mboya Primary School. Despite being older than his classmates in Grade 1, Octavia is thrilled to be in school and learning.
Selina Owich, the head teacher of Tom Mboya Primary School, is grateful for the out-of-school programme. She acknowledged that the programme increased the number of children in school, and she is optimistic that this will be matched by adding more infrastructure and facilities to respond to the current strain on school resources.
"The out-of-school children’s programme is the only way to eliminate vices like drug abuse, crime, and prostitution that are rampant in the Dandora area. I will vehemently support the project and the community," Owich said. "This is the best way to create a better future for our children." She added that UNICEF's continued support has enabled needy children like Octavia to access learning materials like books and bags.
The Ministry of Education’s Assistant Director in charge of Quality Assurance and Standards, Beth Maina, noted that the economic strain from the COVID-19 pandemic caused some parents to lose their jobs, leading to children dropping out of school due to limited and reduced family incomes.
Elizabeth Waitha, Education Officer with UNICEF Kenya noted that one of the significant barriers to access to education is poverty, especially the hidden costs associated with enrolling children in school.
"Despite primary school education being free in Kenya, most families in informal settlements fail to enroll children in school due to the hidden costs such as uniforms, so they opt to keep the children at home," said Waitha.
"Education is a basic human right. Every child needs an opportunity to get an education. We are committed to ensuring that every child learns. When we identify children who have been out of school, we approach their parents and explain to them the importance of education and provide learning materials that eases the burden on them," Waitha said, adding on the important role and partnership with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, and civil society organizations.
Full of smiles and renewed confidence, Octavia says that going back to school has given him a chance to achieve his dreams. He is determined to make a difference in his own way.