From cleaner to communication researcher: How I overcame challenges to achieve my dream

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Enter aCarolyne (1st left) with Dean Faculty of Agriculture, Chairperson Horticulture
Department, and her classmates

At 10am on 18th September 1978, the late Mr. Oywer and his wife Phylgon both Kenyans, welcomed me as their sixth child. I was a unique child. Unlike other members of my family, I was very outgoing. At school I was popular and excelled in academics, hence I was appointed a prefect. I was my father’s pride so much that when I joined upper primary school, I went to stay with him in the town where he was a primary school head teacher. In my new school I continued to excel academically, in leadership and extra-curricular activities like drama and public speaking.

Suddenly, my seemingly perfect life changed. I developed an illness which caused my nose to bleed constantly. I was in and out of hospitals, even saw traditional healers, but all these did not help. It was frustrating to be constantly ill, and my performance at school started to decline. However, through all this, I did not lose hope and kept telling myself that one day I would join university to study Mass Communication, a career I had admired from a very young age.

In 1992, my second born sister took me to stay with her. She was also to pay my school fees since our father had retired. By then, I was to join class eight, but was made to repeat class seven since the standard of education in the school I was coming from was considered low by my new school. I finally joined class eight in 1995 at 17 years! Being older than my classmates, however, did not bother me since I believed age is just a number and could not hinder one from achieving their goals.

Then came a turning point in my life. Just when I thought I had settled down and could now get back on track to achieving my ambitions, I became pregnant! I was devastated. What would become my dreams of studying mass communication? What would my parents say? Society? Friends? The Church? Carolyne, a teenager mother?!

After discussing with the father of my unborn child, we decided to terminate the pregnancy and not tell anyone. These plans, however, did not succeed. I then contemplated committing suicide, but did not go through with it. I am thankful to my sister who noticed I was pregnant and convinced me to keep the baby, promising to take care of it and send me back to school. True to her word, I joined form one in 1997 and left my 8 month old baby boy under her care. We had named my son “Lucky” as we believed he was lucky to be alive.

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Training the next generation: At home with my children. Extreme left is Lucky

At school, I started to excel once again. I was always among the top three in my class and was soon elected school prefect. My English compositions were so good that they were even used to teach students in upper classes. This glory however was short lived as I fell pregnant again in form four, just as I was about to do my final high school exams. Life became unbearable when the father of my second baby boy denied the baby and went ahead to marry a girl “of his class”. I suffered rejection and depression, and almost died, but my sister’s words gave me some encouragement. “You are not the first, neither will you be the last. When you fall, you get up, shake off the dust and move on with the journey.” However, the pain of rejection had left me vulnerable that I easily believed another man when he promised to marry me and adopt my two sons, as well as take me to Kenya School of Mass Communication. None of this materialized. Instead, I got pregnant again and gave birth to a third baby, a girl this time. The promises of marriage and going back to school had just been a trap. Life became tough. Here I was, a single mother of three, with no education and no job.

In 2004, I got healed of the nose bleeding illness and decided to pursue my life goals once again. For a whole year, I did casual jobs and sold vegetables to take care of my three children until, with the help of my brother, I secured a job as a cleaner at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). I was earning 150 Kenyan Shillings (about $1.5) per day which was not enough to take care of my family as well as pay for my university education.

In December 2009, however, I met a Good Samaritan during a church function, who after listening to my story offered to pay my fees for a BSc degree in Mass Communication. It was not easy balancing the cleaning job and my studies, but I worked hard, waking up early and sleeping late, in order to be a good mother, employee, student, and student leader (I was elected class representative for the four years of the course). In August 2013, I was appointed a permanent employee of the University as a clerk and the same year, I also graduated with a BSc degree in Mass Communication. It was one of the best years of my life.

The following year, I applied for a RUFORUM scholarship for an MSc Research Methods at JKUAT and was the only Kenyan selected. I majored in Agricultural Communication and for my research project, I worked with ICRISAT Kenya on the topic, “Dissemination of agricultural innovations: socio – economic analysis of communication channels used in improved chickpea (Cicer arietinum L) varieties in Embu County, Kenya

After finishing the course, I worked as a part time lecturer in one of the universities in Kenya where I taught communication skills and supervised research projects of five diploma students. I graduated in November 2016 and when I resumed my job at JKUAT, I was transferred from the Electrical Engineering Department to Production Department in the Research, Production and Extension Division (RPE). My new department deals with promotion, coordination, management, dissemination, monitoring and evaluating JKUAT’s innovation projects. I feel at home here because I can practice what I learnt during my training.

My cheeks are soaked in tears as I write this story, for I recall how far I have come. I am grateful to all, including RUFORUM, who have supported me along the way to become a professional. My achievements would not have been possible without education, hence I will end with two of my favourite quotes:

‘’Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’’ –Nelson Mandela

“You educate a man, you educate a man, you educate a woman you educate a generation” –Brigham Young

By Carolyne Oywer, Graduate of MSc Research Methods at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology (JKUAT)

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