My mother, Sophia Olilo Ojwando, become a widow at the age of 29 with 5 children. I am the 4th born child. My father died in 1972, when I was only 2 years old. I never knew him and never had the opportunity to feel and enjoy his presence and his love as a father. I instead came to know my mother as both a father and mother. My mother was just a village woman with no education, no formal skills and nothing to her name except her children.
My father, Leonard Ojwando, had 4 wives and my mother was his third. Life was not easy being one of four wives. It was every mother for herself and God for us all. She entirely depended on her husband for everything. Once he was gone she had to assume the responsibility both as a mother and a father to fend for her children.
Us children were still very young during this time and none of us had neither finished primary education nor was working at that time. My mother had to look for manual work within the village like gardening and weeding for other people to get money for food, school requirements and other basic needs. She was also engaged in small scale businesses like selling fish and making local brew as a source of income which was an illegal venture at that time. She was frequently rounded up by police, spent some days or weeks in police cell, leaving us behind to fend for ourselves.
We were also forced to engage in manual work like gardening for others to feed ourselves. It was very hard to juggle between school and manual labor. We often dropped out of school due to school levies, books and this impacted negatively on our performance. My elder sisters dropped out in secondary education level and another only finished primary education level. They helped our mother in running her small businesses and were later married off.
My childhood life had many memories and I believe these memories helped me in becoming a better, more strong willed person in life. There are two memories that I carried with me and I always share with friends whenever I go; one, how we were living in a grass-thatched house and with time, the condition of the house degenerated to a very bad state and the grass on the roof worn out. Every time it rained no place to sit, except standing in a corner somewhere. Everywhere in the house was leaking. Sometimes when it rained at night, we could wake up, pick every utensils we could find and use them to tap water from the leaking roof. No sleep, just sit in a corner somewhere until the rain stops.
Secondly, how my two brothers and I used maize sucks as blankets and whenever a visitor knocks at the door very early in the morning, we had to quickly each of us come out his suck (blanket), throw it away somewhere before opening the door for the visitor.
Amid all these challenges my mother endured and ensured we completed secondary education for the three of us (boys), which was an important level of education and a gateway to other opportunities. My mother managed to buy a second-hand iron sheets from deceased and abandoned houses and built a nice house for us, though this was something which was considered as a taboo by our culture (using materials from dead people houses to build one’s own house).
My mother was one of the founders of Kojiem Women Group, a Self – Help group which they registered with Ministry of Culture and Social Services in 1993 on 3rd May. The aim of the group was to save and borrow money for self development as members. The group still exist though with a reviewed name called Kojiem Moyie Development Group. She was a chairperson of the group at one point and her leadership and passion for members’ development for self-reliance was recognised and appreciated.
I believe that my mother could have done much more if she had prerequisite skills and financial support to boost her businesses. My mother was a go getter and her socio-economic status could not stand in her way in providing a better life for her children.
While mothers can teach us important lessons in life by imparting wisdom and advice, I believe that how they live their own lives makes a greater impact.
A major lesson that I learned from her that has helped me throughout my whole life is determination, perseverance, hard work and to always believe in yourself however tough things get. From her, I learned and adopted “Do It Yourself” principles which has helped me in my life and it makes me feel great when I achieve something worthwhile, however small it is might seem. She used to wake us up very early in the morning at 5 am to attend to the gardens before going to school on a daily basis and I believe this contributed a lot in my daily time management, focus and planning in life. She also taught us the importance of sharing what we have with our neighbours who might not be fortunate amongst us. I remember we had a close neighbour with children and they were in an even more desperate and needy situation than us. Whenever, my mother had anything extra like food, she would send us to give some to them. As children growing up in a big polygamous family, sharing was the order of the day as our mothers used to bring food in a central place we eat, laugh together and listen to old stories. These are some important lessons that I still carry with me today.
At the age of 73 now, my mother was still actively participating in her Self-Help group. She ensures she keeps time in attending the weekly Wednesday group meeting, though against her unforgiving deteriorating health. She is a fighter and does not give up easily and I see the STRENGHT OF A WOMAN.
I honour her strength and will-power of a mother who was determined to provide a better life for her children with very limited resources and skills. I also honour her in being part of a community social venture seeking to give women the socio economic power to cater for their children with a promise for better future as well. Bravo to all the mothers out there who are setting examples to live by!