By Eric Sande
For Catherine Amondi Odongo , 21, light is finally at the end of the tunnel despite the tribulations she had to go through earlier in life. She exudes confidence that momentarily makes her forget her troubled past. At only 21, she displays a persona of one determined to make it in life, after her successful stint at Anita’s Home, the girl child centre run by Koinonia Community in Kenya. And as she waits to join university, not even the sky can be the limit.
Born in the lakeside city of Kisumu in Western Kenya to a modest Christian family, Catherine is the youngest in a family of four female siblings. Her father, the family’s sole bread winner passed on in 1993 when Catherine was only 3, a relatively tender age for one to lose a loving parent. As with every parent’s demise, Catherine’s father’s death marked the beginning of tough times ahead as the family struggled to come to terms with what had befallen them. Her mother, left to shoulder the responsibility of the family, had no idea where to start from.
Financial constraints that followed in the wake of her father’s death saw her mother adopt a mobile lifestyle, moving from one town to the next in search of a job that would enable her put food on the table. As if this was not enough, Catherine and her siblings spent most of their time out of school as the mother’s earnings could not sustain them in school and feed them at the same time.
The family eventually found its way to Nairobi’s Kibera slums in 2001 where they planned to settle. With the high cost of living, the household could only afford to live from hand to mouth. As the situation deteriorated, Catherine was forced to drop out of school altogether. “I used to sell roasted maize with mum the whole day long for a period of eight months adjacent to where we lived,” recalls Catherine.
But there was a turning point in her life, the same year the family landed in Nairobi, thanks to her mother’s religious zeal. Lady luck smiled her way when her mother met Sister Rose Cheza from Franciscan Sisters at a nearby Catholic church in Kibera. She shared her family plight with the sister who listened attentively and took the initiative to find a rescue centre for Catherine and one of her elder sisters who remained with the mother while the others were taken into custody by some relatives.
Sister Cheza introduced the mother to Sister Carol Proctar of Sisters of Notre Dame Mission who was later to take the girls to Rescue DaDa,a rehabilitation home for street girls and destitute children where they could get their basic needs. During the transition, the mother succumbed to illness when Catherine was 12, leaving her completely orphaned and vulnerable. “There was no other place to call home but Rescue DaDa,” states Catherine. But against all odds, she managed to get scholarship and passed her KCPE exams with flying colours at Kalimoni Primary school in Ruiru and was admitted in 2006 to the prestigious Moi girls school, Eldoret.
However, as fate would have it, after completing the primary level of education, Catherine and her sister also had reached the age limit at which girls are expected to leave the centre. “After class 8 we could not stay in Rescue DaDa anymore and with the help of our guardian Sister Carol, we were taken to Anita’s Home, “said Catherine reflectively.
Anita’s Home is situated in Ololua (Ngong) , it exists primarily as a rehabilitation and care home for girls who spent some time in the street due to poverty and family issues. “Over the holidays I used to come to Anita’s Home which to me was fun,” recalled Catherine. “The setup is family like and I felt at home, ” she added. In 2009, Catherine sat for her final Secondary School examination. Her hard work and determination in school is nothing short of a gifted brain as she attained a mean grade of B+.
When asked what motivates her to do so well in her studies, Catherine pauses for a moment, then lifts her eyes to respond. “I’m grateful I had the chance to go to school which I am sure my late parent could not afford to take me to”, she says as a matter of fact“. “My aspirations and determination advanced from the day I was admitted at Moi Girls’ School, Eldoret.”
Catherine has been enrolled at Moi University’s School of Business and Economics to pursue an undergraduate Degree course in Travel & Tours Operations Management. Studies commence on Monday 29th August 2011 at the Eldoret Town Campus (Kiptagich House), where she will be attending classes. “I like adventures and travelling, meeting people from all walks of life and understanding my country as well,” she vividly says pondering on the degree course ahead of her.
“In future I will be happy to assist persons who have gone through hard experiences like I did to make them lead a better life,” she concludes as she tucks away her university admission letter