Kibera schoolgirl now selling lemons as teachers’ strike bite
Life has literally handed Caroline Awuor lemons — no thanks to the government’s decision to close down all schools.
Now, the 16-year-old spends her days selling lemons and vegetables at Katwekera market in Kibera slum. It is the safer option. Staying at home would expose her to many social ills, not least of them drugs and sex.
“There is lunch at school,” says 16-year-old Caroline, who attends Olympic Secondary School. “But more importantly, we are busier and happier while we are at school. We are also safer.”
When Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi ordered all schools closed and President Uhuru Kenyatta endorsed the decision on Sunday night, Caroline’s biggest worry was not where the government will get the money to pay teachers but how soon the labour dispute can be resolved.
“Staying home will make us get into bad company and start experimenting with drugs and sex,” she said, voicing the worry of many children from poor families who will be exposed to social dangers for as long as they remain out of school.
Caroline is the second child in a family of six. Her mother sells groceries at the Katwekera market, while her father works in Siaya and is, therefore, away from home for long periods.
During this interview, Caroline’s mother was at Gikomba market buying fresh supplies and Caroline was holding the fort when she should have been in school.
Every day that she misses school she goes hungry — because she foregoes the lunch served to the students. Her mother simply cannot afford to provide three square meals in a day for all her six children.
But food is not the only challenge Caroline faces. A lot can happen to a teenage girl in a slum like Kibera. With parents away working, children are left unattended, hungry and vulnerable, conditions that can make a young girl fall prey to sex pests offering money.
“You can easily get pregnant. A young girl like me cannot walk around Kibera without men disturbing her and offering her little gifts for sex,” she said.
A normal school day for her is usually packed with activities such as sports, debates and assignments.
In Katwekera village, parents complained that their children, who are not going to school wake up as early as 6am, dress up in their best clothes and claim they have gone to the local library to study.
“But there is no library they are going to. You will follow up and find that they went out with their friends and come back late at night only to do the same thing the next day. This is the period that many girls will fall pregnant,” said Judith Atieno, a mother of three.
She said parents have to be hawk-eyed at all times to ensure that their children do not get into bad company. Of course, they have also been forced to several budgetary adjustments to cater for the unplanned prolonged stay of children at home.
“You see, after paying school fees (which included lunch), I would survive on my own on strong tea and go to work. Now, we have to feed them. Not twice like we did when they are in school, but three times a day. It is very expensive and we did not plan for this.”