“You must remember where you came from” Fredah Ajowi tells me over lunch one afternoon. Then she asked me why I chose her to write about. That was simple, it was her passion, her drive not to settle for living in poverty, not feeling sorry for herself, but rather taking charge of who she was and where she would go and her dedication to her personal endeavors. She is always wanting to reach out to others less fortunate, always has a lot to give out, and always wants to give back to the community from which she has come from. She is the living story of my personal mantra whereby “if you can dream it, you can do it”. I hope I am able to capture her story with accuracy, and relate to you what has attracted me to her as person, a woman who continues to put her personal sacrifices and interests, her efforts and her dreams before all others, and has the hope and desire to give every child a chance.
“As you have the will to rise above yourself, you can always do anything.”
Fredah was born and raised in Kisumu. She was the 3rd born of 10 children from her mother, who was the 4th of four wives of her father. Polygomy was, and still is practiced today in Kenya, but is a much less common tradition today. Most unfortunately, only Fredah and her younger brother and two sisters (currently living in Nairobi) have survived childhood together. Midway through her primary school education, she moved to the Rift Valley area of Eldoret and lived with a paternal uncle who cared for her and ensured she completed her secondary education. She married shortly thereafter, and during her pregnancy with her 3rd child 4 years later, she became widowed. Suddenly, with no means for support, no trained skills to call upon, and 3 children to care for, her life’s challenges and priorities suddenly changed. She joined the Christian Children Fund (currently known as Child Fund), as a parent, as a board member, and as a social worker where her on the job training would set her course for her life’s endeavors full of community service. She was able to obtain certifications in Community Development through the University of Pakistan in collaboration with Aga Khan, and continued to absorb more field skills with each position she took afterwards. Fredah provided a foundation of support to a women’s group of sex workers, helping them gain a sense of self confidence, purpose, and pride as individuals. She engaged them into micro enterprise initiatives, enabling them to build as a group with sustainable and meaningful livelihoods. But all throughout this time, the missing element in Fredah’s life was working with children.
She began work with orphans and vulnerable children in the Homabay County as a child sponsorship coordinator. She provided psychosocial support to families infected with and affected by HIV, and she conducted home and school visits to assess that the family/sponsor and educational needs of the OVCs were met, ensuring responsible accountability between child and sponsor. Through years of field experiences and additional educational and community development certifications, and as a single family parent, Fredah was able to complete her BA degree in Sociology and Anthropology at Kenyatta University in 2008.
To this day, she instills the foundation of education as one of the paths forward to improving the quality of life and pulling yourself form the bonds of poverty. She has vast knowledge in working with OVC’s. She is a beneficiary of the Commonwealth Scholarship Award from the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in UK administered by Association of Commonwealth Universities. Joining the OGRA Foundation in 2009, Fredah continued to expand the capabilities of the Omen Feeding Center (Ombeyi area) which quickly grew from 35 OVC’s to 75. Her love for these challenged children allowed her to pull from her life’s lessons and instill her philosophy that “you can make it from any background as long as you have the will to rise above yourself, you can always do anything.”
As a senior project officer within OGRA, Fredah is in charge of planning, implementation and supervision of organization’s community development programs including coordinating activities for OVC’s. Her main roles include representing the organization in stakeholders’ forums and writing periodic reports to line managers and donors. She also coordinates secondary and tertiary scholarships for orphans and vulnerable children. Fredah had worked in various organizations such as Family Health Options (Kisumu) as a Project Outreach Coordinator; Kisumu Urban Apostolate Programs (KUAP) as a Project Officer & Child Rights Facilitator; and with the Christian Children’s Fund (currently Child’s Fund) as a Sponsor Relations & Field Officer. But none as satisfying as her recent work with the children, whereby she pulls from her past experiences on an everyday basis, coaching others to become impactful, and to take control of opportunities that they are given.
As a widow, she is continuously reminded of the hardships of raising her children and instilling a sense of family, personal beliefs and morals as a single mother, in a very challenging environment. Her faith offers her inner strength, but it is her passion for ‘her children’, the OVC’s of the local communities where she places her energy on a daily basis. She firmly believes that “you should never forget where you came up from. If we lose one person by not supporting their potential, we could lose a future leader and educator.” She reminds us that many people working in NGO’s in the surrounding area have ties to their local communities. Their personal hardships should be reminders to us all that we need to remember where we came from, the hardships we have had to overcome, and to continue to support our youth’s opportunities for they are the future, our future, Kenya’s future.
Fredah is also the perfect person to serve as program leader to another OGRA supported initiative called “Operation Karibu”. Part of this effort enlists community healthcare workers (CHWs) to provide a surveillance map of pregnant women within the vicinities of their respective local health clinics. CHW’s also recruit, follow and encourage expectant mothers to attend up to 4 antenatal care visits at their local healthcare facility before delivery. Through prenatal monitoring and education, and reviews of nutrition, immunizations, and other health parameters, the program hopes to increase the number of skilled clinical delivers for expectant mothers who live in some of the more outlying rural communities. Overcoming the challenges of distance, safety, difficult weather, and poor road conditions to arrive safely for delivery versus traditional home delivery is part of Isabelle Mignolet’s PULSE 2014 assignment working alongside of Fredah. Infants born within these clinical facilities are provided with a set of baby clothes produced through an income generating microenterprise activity in which local women of reproductive age are trained to make baby clothing using locally available materials. A portion of their products are sold in the local markets whereby the returned profits provide income back into the community making this effort more sustainable. The clothing helps to ensure that all babies born in rural health facilities are protected for their first 100 days, providing protection from colder temperatures as well as mosquitoes, significantly reducing their risk of contracting malaria at such an early age when they are most vulnerable.
One of Fredah’s biggest disappointments is not meeting the basic needs of the OVC’s, her ‘children’. She feels completely helpless when she lets the children down, each is her own personal mission to bring hope, education, success, and a better life to those who do not have the family and the support needed to help pursue their dreams. And yet, she views her greatest influence on giving back to the children, bringing people together united with a passion and with the interest of each child at heart.
In addition, Fredah manages activities at the Omen Feeding Center supporting orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) of the local communities. This program was the cornerstone in the formation of the OGRA Foundation dating back to 2009 after OGRA became a registered NGO. Fredah feels every child deserves an opportunity, and in Kenya, those opportunities are part of the bigger challenges faced by many. Overcoming poverty is challenging, and starting without any position of strength, particularly being an OVC adds to the hardships to overcome parental loss, requiring incredible sacrifice, dedication, focus, and a drive to improve yourself personally often against most challenging odds. The feeding center provides several hot meals a day to the disadvantaged children, enabling them a sound nutritious daily regiment to help provide them with nourishment and energy to allow them to stay focused in school and to remain strong to fight through their every day challenges.
If we lose one person by not supporting their potential, we could lose a future leader and educator. Educating one child educates the whole nation ‘To be educated means I will not only be able to help myself, but also my family, my country, my people. The benefits will be many.’ A comment provided from one of the beneficiaries
Fredah also is the leading advocate for the support of the orphan scholarship efforts, hoping to identify additional funding streams to support “her children’s efforts to graduate from secondary school, and obtain a university education”. Her passion and hope is to provide to every qualified student an opportunity, a chance to improve their quality of life, to have an extra chance to become what they have dreamt about, for they may become the next leaders in the community or the next heads of state, or the discoverers of a new medicine. Each child is Fredah’s own, and she truly lives for the children, it is her passion, it is her calling, and she invests so much of her personal energy and fights for every NGO and private dollar that she can get to ensure that their education remains a priority, the feeding program is sustained, and that the children have clothing for school, that the newborns are properly clothed. She wears her emotions on her sleeve, and to know someone who is so invested in promoting the potential of students who come from very limited means, you too become enveloped in her passion, her life story, and her interests to try and bring the best that can be offered to as many up and coming stars as possible. She recognizes the each child can “Be the Change” for Kenya’s future.
Over lunch, we were discussing the roles of PULSE volunteers, and Fredah commented to me that we cannot always expect to come in and make huge sweeping changes, that we should often focus more energy and effort on the smaller changes which we can control, which will be just as impactful, where we will have a greater sense of accomplishment, and in the end an integrated sense of knowing that we all have achieved together. Those are words I have kept close to my heart throughout my assignment period in Kisumu. We originally come in thinking we are going to hugely impact society, make sweeping changes that will improve the welfare of all those we reach out and touch. When in fact, the reality is, that we, me, are the most fortunate to have been changed by the experience and are extremely privileged to have met worked alongside of such an inspirational person. Thank you Fredah.
I ask each person to review my blog prior to submission for completeness and accuracy, and I also ask each person to choose in their own words, any additional thoughts that they may have; Fredah’s three personal person messages to you are:
“Educating one child educates the whole nation. Faith makes all things possible, hope makes all things work, and love makes everything beautiful.”
“Women are at the heart of most societies. Regardless of whether they are working or not, mothers are very influential people in children’s lives. Educating girls is one of the most important investments that any country can make in its own future.
“People that are the strongest are usually the most sensitive. Those who exhibit kindness are the first who get mistreated. The ones who take care of the others all of the time are the ones who need it most. The three hardest things to say are: “I love you”, “I am sorry”, and “Help”. Sometimes because a person looks happy, you have to look past their smiles to see how much pain they may be in.”
And lastly, after hearing those words, her words, at lunch that afternoon, l commented to Fredah that there was to a fourth to be added onto her list of the hardest things to say: “Thank you”
“Golden slumbers fills your eyes, smiles awake you when you rise, sleep pretty darling don’t you cry, and I will sing a lullaby.” (Lennon and McCartney)