My name is Odondi Jackson Ooko from Kenya. I was born and grew up in Kamasengre village on Rusinga Island. I am the the second last born in a family of seven. Three males and 4 females, two passed away some years back, my sisters left families behind. My dad was a fisherman and my mum worked as housemaid for other people. I came from a large family with poor background. My dad was a drunkard and because he was addicted, he developed health problems and passed away in 1997 leaving the family on my struggling mom head! We didn’t have a house and so my mum rented a one single room at Kolunga shopping centre which she struggled to pay its rent.
Because of the many challenges mom was going through to make ends meet, I started going fishing to help mom at a very tender age. This did not go well with me because I later developed chest problems, asthma because I was in the cold during nights with no proper sleep and clothing.
My elder brother started collecting the leftover “omena” in the fields in the evening of which, some were sold and some were prepared for us as dinner.
My uncle Charles, now Bishop, later registered me and my brother to Kamasengre Primary School. He could sometimes help in paying for our school fees but I was on and off the school.
From an early age, I knew that education would be my only route out of poverty and hence took my studies seriously. In school, I befriended some of the pupils whose parents were well off or doing better than us and so I could be able to borrow books from them to study since my aging and struggling mum couldn’t manage to even buy me books and other school requirements.
It was even impossible to do homework at home because there was not enough light from the tin lamp we used and sometimes we couldn’t manage to buy kerosene of ksh 10 for the lamp and we had to go to sleep early. In academic grading, I was always in 5 or 10 of the best performing pupils.
In 2002 mum’s health started getting worse and she could no longer do the housemaid job or go fishing as she used to. Because of this, I started going fishing at night and going to school by day and so I started having problems with going to school as I used to. She later fell very sick and was in bed for weeks, we never had money to take her to the hospital, the best she got was painkillers my uncle Charles could sometimes buy for her and that has made me look upto him to date – he was always there for us!
Mom died later after complications on 12th November 2002 in the morning. Her body was later buried after 48 hrs at my uncle’s home after she was rejected by some other family members because of traditions 😢😓😥.
My elder brother later dropped out of school, but three of us continued with our schooling.
I was among the top pupils in our school in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams in 2007 at Kamasengre Primary school. Because my uncle couldn’t take afford to send me to join high school, I decided to start fishing as a way of raising money to join the newly started Kamasengre Mixed Secondary school. I did this for weeks and with the help of my friends and cousin, I raised enough to buy the basic requirements to join High School. I joined Kamasengre Mixed Secondary School in 2008 in form 1.
In High School, I faced hardships. Frequently I was sent home for nonpayment of school fees and other requirements like notebooks, textbooks among other things. So, I could go fishing with my uncle Raphael at night and very early in the morning I go to go school. During holidays, I would go fishing every day and sometimes help my cousin Clement in a posh mill in order to raise money for my school fees. 2008 was a hard one in High School, at some point I even wanted to drop but I felt something inside me telling me to just keep going! In 2009 when I was in form 2, I was lucky to get sponsorship from Mr Alphonce Okuku, director of Rusinga Island Trust, his sponsorship energised me and gave me hopes again and that year, I topped the class all through because I wasn’t on and off the classes.
In 2010, there came a program called “Operation My People” which was offering sponsorship to bright students from a poor background, I was lucky to be the first to be given the sponsorship. Despite all the hurdles, I performed well and I was the best student in our school in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Exams in the year 2011 with a mean Grade of B-.
I indeed got an opportunity to join college and train as a high school teacher but this didn’t happen.
In 2012, I started working for a friend at a cinema hall and was also doing bodaboda business to also help my uncle feed the family as well. In 2013, I started working with the youth in the community because I wanted to give back to the community anyways! I realised that many of our young people were idling around and hence getting themselves involved in crimes, so we came up with ideas of teaming up together and form football clubs. This brought youths together and many organisations started reaching out to them during their sporting activities and offered guidance and counselling services to them on the spread of STIs and HIV. This motivated me and we later formed a self-help group where we were doing table banking but it didn’t last for long because many did not have the entrepreneurial skills on money management.
I then decided to go for entrepreneurship lessons and after completing the classes, I later started another self-help group and I would always offer them free classes and sometimes inviting a facilitator to come and advice well. The group succeeded and I’m glad through that group, started a small kiosk and later expanded it through loans from friends 😀.
In 2020, my shop was robbed and lost a lot till today, I haven’t recovered from the loss. This didn’t interfere with my plans though with the boys or youths.
I also worked at Kolunga Community Dispensary from 2015-2018.
In 2015, I represented Rusinga Island Trust as a volunteer at Peace Corps Organisation in Nakuru, Kenya. A program that was meant to create awareness on the spread of STIs and HIV among the young people. In 2016, started working with another organisation at the same health facility: VIAGENCO, CLOSING the GAP programme. Here, I worked as a Youth Peer Provider, and I was being given a stipend of ksh 3.500 every month. We were being taken for workshops and seminars which really equipped us with the vast knowledge on how to work with the youths.
I used to do household visitation to advocate for the use of modern contraceptive methods among our young girls because the rate of teenage pregnancy and abortion was on the rise, they got all the services for free at the health facility. The boy child was not thought of much in these programmes and so I later saw the need to bring the boy child too. This was clear whenever we went for an outreach session or activities, they felt neglected, so I got inspired and started a soccer club with the young people. I would invite other health workers at our playing ground to share with them too the same way they do to the girl child though it does not really attract attention of many organisations!
I later stopped working at the facility when the organisation terminated their contract with the Kolunga Community Dispensary, I had to look for another way of earning a living because I have a family to feed, my son and wife plus other dependants.
I have always wanted to represent young people and work with them for the betterment of their lives and that of the entire community in local and regional forums, advice our leaders on how to engage local youth in sustainable development programmes and strengthen youth participation and advocacy in youth-led initiatives. And that’s why I thought it’s wise start by engaging the youth in tree planting in oder to conserve our environment.
I’m also giving back to the community. I and my boys have been supporting various youth and community development projects including the ongoing greening Rusinga innovative phase 2 by encouraging our people to plant trees and also leading in doing so with passion.
We have also helped in controlling the soil erosion in one primary school on Rusinga Island, Eddy Primary School, through the installation of the ten gabion boxes. I have faced alot of challenges with the boys. Despite all the challenges that come our way as a team, we have managed to remain so much focused in carrying out all these activities. We really don’t have the finances to enable us carry out our activities effectively because we rely on our own contributions and friends 😀.
I have always described myself as a restless dreamer. My ambition is to see a future with a better community with educated youths, good environment free from pollution and destruction, and a united community who celebrate life life through God gifted talents. But most importantly now, I want to keep doing my best at every; to be the best with the boys that we can in the community and to make a difference in the world!
So, this is not all. There is more work to do and I see myself as a work in progress. I always share the story of my life journey though it may not be very inspiring as it should be to some but I believe it can inspire other young people born in a disadvantaged families and places!
I often urge our young people to live by the three D’s; Dream, Discipline and Determination.
I do have faith in the young people of Rusinga Island. My passion for the youth is founded on our enormous potential to create a better future for ourselves and for others. The youth in Rusinga Island need opportunities. They represent dynamism, talent and energy that must be harnessed for the community to make real progress. It should go without saying that the youth are the community and so we cannot afford to leave the community behind.
As I had earlier indicated in my own personal story, I first developed interest of working with the youth after having worked with the different organisations on programmes that targeted young people. I had a flashback on my past, how life was hard during my school days. I realised that many young people were going through alot of challenges as I also did and some were dropping out of school because of different challenges and soon turning into drugs. This later inspired me to start a soccer club to keep them busy during holidays and also providing a good forum for me to share with them on life changing ideas that life may offer to them. The number started increasing by day, I later convinced other people to start forming different soccer clubs for the young people and since then, we have had numbers increasing from two soccer clubs to 12 clubs just within the Kamasengre community. Because of different challenges, some have managed to thrive and some have failed. Luckily, our own club has been managing because we have had our objective and mission which make us keep going despite the challenges.
Just like any other groups, we have had challenges especially of finances and support from other leaders within.
So far, we have noticed some very many positive changes in the community through this initiative. For instance, coming together has enabled us to come up with other ideas such as environmental conservation activities, educational programmes within ourselves, Health talks. This has really been an eye opener to our young people in very many ways.
I have always wanted to make a difference in the community together with the boys all my life, especially with the boy child.