Contributions by Jeffrey Okoro | Written by Hannah Bain
The Story of Jeffrey Okoro
Jeffrey Okoro is a model for how education can transform a life. After he lost his father in 1998, he went to live with his uncle in Kibera as his mother was unable to support all of her 11 children by herself. In Kibera, Jeffrey missed school for three years due to his inability to pay school fees, but he didn’t let that stop him. He continued to work hard and eventually earned a scholarship to attend high school.
Jeffrey finished high school amid post-election violence in Kibera and began using his passion for and belief in education to address needs in the community alongside Carolina for Kibera (CFK). Growing up in Kibera, he had learned about our organization through our organized local soccer matches.
In 2009, Jeffrey began volunteering as a youth peer provider (YPP) with CFK. In addition to serving as a mentor for children in Kibera, Jeffrey also began documenting their stories through video so they could be shared with a broader audience. When Jeffrey began college, he continued working part-time with us as an administrative assistant. He quickly grew into additional roles, working closely with our interns and volunteers both locally and internationally. He truly embodied our model of participatory development.
“I tried to be a bridge between the local community and the projects [CFK] had,” Jeffrey said.
Consistently drawn to our education work, Jeffrey became a full-time program officer with our Angaza Scholarship program in 2014. The program supports bright and needy kids with scholarships to attend school while linking them to resources and a network outside of school as well. Though he enjoyed working in that role, Jeffrey realized that something was missing. The scholarships were beneficial to students, but they were not addressing the systemic challenges facing informal schools in the community and around the world.
“It was time to focus on fundamentally changing the outcome of education, not only for a few but for the masses in Kibera, and one way to do that was through research,” Jeffrey said. “To make real change, we need quantifiable, verifiable data, and we need to build a movement that can be easily adopted by locals themselves.”
That movement came in the form of our Best Schools Initiative (BSI), which Jeffrey helped launch in 2016. The BSI engages local education professionals to develop and implement data-driven best practices to improve school systems.
“So many kids in Kibera are being left out of learning,” said Jeffrey. “Education for a typical Nairobian is going to a city school that will have its problems but is overall functional. For kids in Kibera, it’s a whole different experience. They go to schools because they are the closest to their houses; they go because the schools are faith-based and they don’t have to pay fees; they go because they have so much baggage that nobody else will take them in.”
The BSI currently works with 24 schools and has seen growing interest and support over the last three years, but the program still faces challenges, namely a lack of funding. The initiative works in three main veins: direct provision of education materials and training in Kibera, data collection and program implementation, and expansion of learnings to areas outside of Kibera.
Jeffrey’s passion for education and experience with the BSI inspired him to apply for the Metis Fellowship, which engages local leaders to improve education in Nairobi. During his time as a 2019 Metis Fellow, he focused on school improvements in informal settlements and continued to develop the BSI.
Securing more sustainable funding would allow Jeffrey and others working within the BSI to research and implement best practices in more schools, including informal schools outside of Kibera. Additionally, it would allow the group to invest in improving the current digital monitoring system used to track school attendance and student success.
Along with its normal operations, the BSI has also quickly responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools, which are “safe spaces” for students in Kibera. The initiative provided a platform for community members and teachers to come together, share ideas, and develop packages to keep students in Kibera learning, engaged, and busy while schools are closed. The team is currently working on delivering 2,000 education packages while continuing to provide information about water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH).
“I am not attributing this just to education, but the data that we have from the education program shows that the standard and quality of life gradually increases as the community becomes more educated,” said Jeffrey. “Often when we say education, people think solely academic, but education is also about daily life. If anything is going to change someone’s life, it’s education.”
Learn more about how we’re supporting youth in Kibera.