Gerald Ocharo: A Story of Determination through Hardship
My name is Gerald Ocharo. I’m a fourth born in a family of six siblings. Kibera slum is my home, where I was born and raised. I still live here with some of my family.
Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya and the largest urban slum in Africa. Most of Kibera slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1 per day.
My dad Joseph Onyango, worked as a carpenter in a neighboring workshop. While my mom Janet, worked at a grocery store before returning to the rural home. In totality we were a very lovely family with wonderful hardworking parents. They’d instilled discipline, and then urged us to appreciate education and have a decent living.
My life started off pretty good -- a small boy with an assured future under the tutelage of my parents. In my primary level, I went to Kibera Silanga Ushirika Group school, a school deep in the slum. It was a highly rated informal school in the area. Therefore, parents would jostle for a spot for their kids. Actually my dad considered the school because he wanted the best for me. Through my primary schooling my dad was the one providing largely the school fees and other needs, as my mum’s income was meager and non-sustainable.
I was convinced that everything was falling in place and that my life was OK. I had no anxiety. This is typical of a young, innocent boy. My dad nurtured in the best way he could. He taught us two things: Love and Honesty. We adhered to cultural rights as well.
Unfortunately, things changed to the worse. At that time, I was in third term P8 (my final year of Primary School), a couple of weeks to my KCPE exams (the final Primary School exams which determine entry into Secondary School).
As pat of a mandatory ritual, we travelled back to the rural village (up-country Kenya) to join the rest of the family and build the traditional home. As a result, I missed revision classes and the final mock examination. During this process, dad fell ill two weeks after arriving to the village, about three days after the commencement of the project.
Dad was rushed to the hospital, but the doctors couldn’t diagnose any illness. However, he was still under the weather. He complained of endless headaches and general body illness. Within two weeks he had passed away. I was about to start my examinations. Everything tested and looked miserable -- a clear indication that life won’t be same again.
My dad was such a democrat, loving, tender, caring and hardworking man -- may his soul rest in eternal peace. After his burial (two weeks after his death), my brother and I decided to move back to Kibera slum, to pick up the pieces and start on a clean slate. We did not want to be a burden to our mother, who’d been left under to care for my other four siblings. My elder brother assumed the role of a father.
It was a mindboggling transition.
I reported back to school on Thursday -- three days before the final exams. I received all sorts of encouraging messages from relatives and friends. In such situations, many will also discourage you. I soldiered on. Many suggested that I should shelve and defer for a year. I encouraged myself to continue, despite the fact that I was truly behind the syllabus. Even though I was emotionally disturbed, I’d encouraged myself for the examination and surely I did it in confidence.
The news of the exam results came in earnest (achieving high enough grades to gain entry into Secondary School). The celebration was short-lived however, due to the fact that Form One intake was a laborious exercise that needed sufficient funds (which I could not afford). This was something that I’d not planned for.
My colleagues joined High Schools, as I went spectating. I missed that moment. Anybody will always feel stressed and devastated. There was no immediate solution - even to my Mums income issues. She was also caught in the endless life of insufficiency. One year on, I was still stuck. No funds.
Like any child caught in such devastation, I went out to look for chores, to earn a living and to get money for feeding and to fend for my basic needs. I visited construction sites and got some jobs. However, I fell sick with chest complications making it hard to continue. I had to quit. Though it was well paying, the work was a long way from my neighborhood and wasn't able to save much. Due to continuous illness, things turned asunder. I was contemplating suicide but I realised that death wasn’t the ultimate solution.
The two years out of school wasn’t fun at all and I had a terrible time thinking about the next move and sampling other possible opportunities available.
Fortune surfaced with a scholarship from an organisation however, it was cancelled because I’d not been able to enrolled in any school in time. The spot was given to someone else. In order to beat boredom and frustrations, I helped my aunt in her small business.
In 2011, Oasis Africa Australia came knocking. This was my opportunity. This was my time. Oasis Africa bought everything. They restored my future and I was sure of bigger things to come. There was light at the end of the tunnel. The Secondary education started in earnest at Mulooni Secondary School. I completed 4 years of Secondary School education under an Oasis Africa Australia Scholarship.
The Oasis Africa Australia scholarship provides the funds for each student to pay for full tuition and administration fees, board/accommodation (where applicable), class materials and school uniforms.
To assist each student under an Oasis Africa Scholarship, we employ a mentor / monitor to ensure that each student is kept motivated as well as accountable to their attendance, grades and behaviour.
By gaining a B+ grade average, I received direct entry into a Public University where I am pursuing a bachelor of science in economics (Meru University of Science and Technology) - aiming to be among the best economists and most importantly to give back to society. Life in campus has been good as I get to interact with people from different shades of life. It's such fun.
So I am always grateful for those who took part in my life-changing story, with many thanks to my Mum, siblings, teachers and friends. Special thanks also to Oasis Africa Australia for their good work and to Jeff Okoth, (the Kibera-based Oasis Africa Mentor/Monitor) for his mentorship through the Scholarship Program. God bless Oasis Africa Australia.
Oasis Africa Australia continues to support Gerald Ocharo who will complete his Bachelor of Science in Economics degree in 2017.