Rebecca Odhiambo is the Canadian Harambee Education Society office manager. With the help of volunteers, she studies the girls, knows what to look for, how to balance need with scholastic potential (it is not always the top academic student who gets the scholarship), carefully reads family histories and ultimately matches one of the nine boarding schools to the student. A quiet thirteen year old grade eight graduate from ‘the rurals‘ is not sent to the competitive school better suited to a more confident 16 year old.
10:30 am coffee breaks are actually masala spice tea, well sugared, and mandazi or locally prepared donuts, purchased by Norm, and during this break much discussion centres around the elections, politics and living in Kenya. Rebecca came to work in Kakamega in 2004 and she has seen a lot of economic changes. When her father was young it was possible to survive without any money, somewhat similar to the 30’s in North America when the population was more rural and people knew how to live with the land. Even though the population is still mostly rural, there is increasing urbanization and consumerism. ‘Kenya is a consumer society and this is fine if everyone can afford to consume,’ Rebecca says, ‘but, as perhaps half the Kenyan population lives on $1.00 a day, living is harsh, is precarious.’
Rebecca thinks education is key and living improves with universal free primary school (‘cept for uniforms which are a must and must be purchased by the family before the child can attend school.) Her current worry is there might be a back slide with the new government opting for fee for service.
‘Until 2,000, the country’s leaders, Kenyatta and Moi, both ‘severe dictators’, allowed for no public opinion. None. Government spies assured there was neither free thought or speech. (All businesses had to display the current leader’s photo or there was no business.)’ In spite of continued abuse of office, of power, Rebecca thinks the past 12 years have seen some sense of democracy. ‘There is more freedom but still no freedom from corruption.’ It is her observation that, though Kibaki, the leader these last 10 years, is corrupt, he has made some important changes: there is economic growth, the resulting taxes are better used, and there is the free primary education. Rebecca says that the road out side the Harambee gate is now full of small shops where once there was brush and this is proof of an improving economy.
In 10 years she estimates the population of Kakamega has tripled not only because of increasing urbanization but also because of the newly established universities in town; business is way up and security is too. As well, there has been more support from the international community and this she views as positive, as vital, especially when it comes as micro finance.
Her hopes: ‘I wish for the best education for my son (and if he doesn’t accept this it will break my heart). I want to increase my income to better my son’s life. I don’t want to be like my parents who leave nothing to inherit and I don’t want to have to rely on my children when I am old. My life is better than my mother’s, I have more choice.’
Rebecca has a plan to get more people, especially 18 yearolds, to apply for their voters’ identification cards and so she is drafting a proposal to bring church leaders, area administrators, youth groups, school principals, women’s groups and local politicians together to work toward greater civic awareness.
[With permission. Photo: Norm Filipenko]