University lecturer who lives in a slum
Published on May 6, 2008, 12:00 am
By Jane Akinyi
The university lecturer’s choice to live in Obunga slums, Kisumu, has puzzled many people.
While men of his status reside in dream houses in upmarket estates, Boniface Otieno Oriaro, is content with a pauper’s lifestyle.
|Oriaro holds the trophy and certificate presented to him by Obunga residents in appreciation for his efforts.|
“Happiness is a direction and not a place,” he says thoughtfully.
Oriaro, 34, teaches Marketing and Economics at University of Nairobi’s Kisumu Campus.
He lives in a two-room semi-permanent house, which he pays a monthly rent of Sh2,000. He says he gets along well with his neighbours.
“I do not mind sharing the pit latrine and bathroom with them,” he says, humbly.
Oriaro is the chairman of Obunga Community Policing Programme (OCPP). About 12,000 residents depend on the organisation for better security.
Last year, he had a meeting with President Kibaki.
“The President wanted to know the state of the crime rate in the area,” says the lecturer.
Oriaro, a father of four, grew up surrounded by poverty. He remembers the times he could go without a decent meal for days.
“I survived by the mercy of well wishers, as my grandparents were to poor to support me,” explains Oriaro, who grew up as an orphan.
|The lecturer on his graduation day.|
His wife, Ruth Oriaro, is a CDC site coordinator in Barolengo, Siaya District.
“My wife initially found it unpleasant for us to live in this place.”
However, she has come to accept her husband’s desire to live in an informal setting.
“Of course I would have loved for us to live in a better area, but what can I do? These are his people whom he cherishes and has decided to work for. As a family we have to support one another,” she explains.
She says one day, when her husband retires, they will move to a better setting.
Oriaro is dedicated to improving the security of Obunga residents. He owes the chairmanship of OCPP to the Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph Church in Kibuye, Kisumu District and Father Anthony Chantrey, formerly of Mill Hill Fathers, from the same place.
Oriaro first lived with his paternal grandfather in Sega, his birthplace, and later moved in with his maternal grandmother in Obunga, where he grew up.
“There are times I would skip classes to carry sand for constructors, so they would pay for my food and clothing,” he recalls.
The missionaries appointed him an altar boy in a local church, during his teenage years.
“Father Anthony was touched by my situation and promised to educate me until I achieved my goals in life,” says Oriaro.
He sat his KCPE examinations at Kudho Primary, Kisumu, before proceeding for his O-Levels at Lions High School, Kisumu, in 1989.
He then joined Southern Bank University in the US, sponsored by the nuns.
He began teaching at University of Nairobi six years ago.
Oriaro has lived in Obunga for many years. Now that he is a family man, he still does not intend to move to another place.
|Oriaro in Obunga slums.Pictures George Mulala|
“I was brought up in this slum; migrating is like running away from my people,” he says.
The lecturer, however, feels that living in the slum has made him achieve some dreams. One of them is the visit to State House.
He organised a harambee last year to help set up income generating projects for youth in the slum. More than Sh70,000 was raised.
“We used the funds to set up stalls, where the youth now sell bicycle spare parts.” He has also introduced widows to poultry-keeping. He has provided food and uniforms to 26 orphans in different primary schools in Obunga and put up seven latrines last year.
They have also built seven food kiosks, and a barbershop for the disabled.
Children under 12 have not been left out. The community organises an nual football tournaments for them.
Oriaro is happy the community appreciates his efforts. They honoured him with a trophy and a certificate for his good work.
“I am working hard to make Obunga a better place and to put paid to the misconception that it is an unsafe and unhygienic place to live in,” he says.