By Christabel Adhiambo
Jane Aoko OKeyo, popularly known as Madam Starays is a teacher by profession, a pioneer for secondary school education in Kibera, a politician and an activist for women empowerment. As the world marks the International Women’s Day, our reporter Christabel Adhiambo spoke to Madam Starays who shared her journey in fighting for young girls.
“My name is Jane Aoko Okeyo but people in Kibera call me Madam Starays because am a teacher. I am a politician and an aspiring leader for the MCA seat in Saran’gombe 2022. Currently, I am the director of Starays high school, a school that has a very special position in my heart being that it was the first secondary school in Kibera.
When I came to Kibera in the year 2000 and like any other graduate, I did not have a job and so I used to sell mandazi for one whole year. During this time I realized most of the youths that I was interacting with were looking like they were not properly schooled, so I got concerned and did my research and realized most of them were class eight drop outs due to lack of school to transition to around. The school which were there were very expensive for example, Lan’gata high school and the Indian schools in town which parents couldn’t even raise transportation to and from town .So I took it upon myself to try change the situation and in a single Mabati room I came up with Starays high school that exists up to date. I am happy I had a vision upon which other leaders are being taught and I am happy about the status of the schools we have.
My approach to teenage pregnancies
In the process of running Starays I realized the next problem was early pregnancy, the parents did not understand that this was not the end of their lives. So I talked to Carolina for Kibera to get the girls and pay fees for them and they accepted. So we took the girls back to school and since most of them were breastfeeding we came up with a way to give them breaks in-between lesson to go attend to their children. Starays became a special home for the girls who gave birth prematurely. I think I want to appreciate; the progress is very encouraging because today we have girls who came back to schools and transition to universities and advancing in their dreams.
In my capacity I do so much to ensure the girl is empowered because I have realized it is not all about education but about attitude. So I do a lot to ensure the girls have changed their attitude, if you look at the alumina of this school you will realize those who are doing much better are those who scored E grade because we are never useless. So I have taken upon myself to counsel the girls and tell them it is not all about education though it is essential but life is all about attitude. Education does not describe their future they should change their attitude and live. They don’t need to ruin their life together with their children’s.
Truly the platforms, organizations and opportunities are there for the goals but are we really genuine in what we are doing? For when a girl gets pregnant it is not only the issue of taking her back to school. We should also look at where the culprits are because they don’t get pregnant alone. So there’s a compromise not only by those lending a hand to get the girls rights but also the parents too. They do not come out clearly to say what it is all about, they go negotiate with the parents of the boy or the boy himself and forgetting that the girl is the victim. So we need to get serious with what we are doing and we need to be genuine and look at the real cause of the problem then we will be able to solve the issue at hand.
Dealing with the challenges faced by girls
A lot of the girls who come back in school are unable to work hard because of the challenges they are facing. Once a girl is brought back to school I only ensure her school fee is paid. But her child’s needs are still unmet. So if you take this girl to class and the other things haven’t been taken care of they will be physically in class and mentally at home and this leads to some of them do odds job during weekends, thus, the low performance due to inadequate time for personal studies. Therefore, these girls needs to be rehabilitated fully, they need someone to cater for their basic needs and counseling to accept themselves the way they are for better concentrate in class.
Do you think the society is somehow to blame for how these girls progress in life after pregnancy?
The society does not embrace these girls has children, they see them as women and mothers, so they get babies and then the next man who sees them is interested in getting married to them. Basically, the problem is too big in the society since they don’t embrace these girls as people who have just done a mistake; they are promoting these girls to the next level of life when mentality and psychologically they are not there. Society has done so much harm, imagine the perpetrator goes further and marring the victim and they call them husbands.
Why I am vying for the MCA Saran’gombe Ward
I want to leave a legacy behind where I will go talk to my governor or senator or MP to set up funds where every child in Kibera that has done form four or has not done form four is trained on some skills so that they are able to earn a living. I am looking forward to help as many people as possible in the TVET colleges and get skills so as to empower them on the right way. We must stop this thing of giving a car wash machine to a group of ten boys and calling that empowerment. Equip the youths with skills and then empower them according to the skills that they have. I want to leave a legacy of empowering the women and youth in the right way according to their skills.