Billian Ojiwa: Restoring the dignity of the African child using school uniforms

‘You work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them. Know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them,’ –Michelle Obama

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How many of us have to stood up to assist those who are needy in society? How often do we sit down to reflect on the opportunities that life has given us and found a way to make sure those around us access the same?

Billian Okoth Ojiwa is the first born in a family of four. He was raised partly in Mathare, Nairobi and in a village called Masat in Siaya County. He is the founder of the Billian Music Family and the Ficha Uchi Campaign. He is also a mentor with the Young African Leadership Initiative, East Africa Region. He went to Mathare North Primary School and Miyare Primary school. Later, he went to Ukwala High School in Siaya and completed his secondary education in Arnesen’s Boys High School in Eldoret.

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Currently, he is pursuing a diploma in project management at the Kenya Institute of Management through a scholarship offered by the Rotary Club after receiving The Young Kenyan Service Award. He won it out of his contribution to society. He hopes to proceed to the Kenya University of Management to pursue his undergraduate studies.

‘After high school, I worked at my aunt’s restaurant as a waiter. I even did promotions selling ‘Bamba’ 20. At the same time, I was trying to pursue art and that is how the Billian Music Family was formed,’ he recalls.  Billian uses the foundation to enable children interested in music, art and dance to develop their talents since he believes they have higher chances of succeeding as compared to him. There are also volunteers, especially university students who come in to support him.

‘The Ficha Uchi Campaign started when a parent approached me to assist four girls who had torn school uniforms. When I visited their school, I realised that this was a problem that many children were going through. The shame of going to school with torn clothes made them anti-social. They wouldn’t play with other children and barely spoke in class. As a result, I mobilized people to support my idea. I encouraged the parents who were tailors in the school to make uniforms. I then mobilized more people to donate fabrics and all the materials needed to make the uniforms. We encouraged people to take photos of children with torn uniform and post on social media to raise awareness. We made close to 150 uniforms in Genesis Primary School that day. We have been doing that ever since and are grateful to all our supporters and well wishers,’ Billian states. Their supporters include Kenya Charity Sweepstake, Uganda Cement among others.

It is encouraging to note that they have also partnered with the Rusinga School in their campaign. It has adopted a school which they assist needy children in acquiring uniforms. This creates a sense of responsibility among children at a young age. They have also had a donation from Makini School. The director donated so many uniforms. Many children in public primary schools continue to go to school with torn uniform and Billian is on a mission to end this.

In an era where social media is changing the way people communicate, Billian attributes the success of Ficha Uchi to social media campaigns which have enabled them to get support and feedback on how to support children. They have established chapters in different universities so as to increase their outreach. These universities include Masinde Muliro, Jomo Kenyatta and Kenyatta University. Universities within Nairobi have also joined the movement. So far, thirty schools have benefited from the program. He hopes to reach out to ten thousand children by the end of the year.

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‘We are forming county committees headed by a celebrity in that county so as to enable us to reach more people and make sure our services reach the grassroots. I want us to hit the one million mark. Our board members include the Nairobi Deputy Governor, Hon. Jonathan Mueke who is our patron, Adelle Onyango,Mdomo Baggy, Holy Dave, Suhayla Aboud who is a doctor and John Seel, a marketing director,’ he explains. The campaign has various departments like production, marketing, communication, research and the volunteering department.

He emphasizes that young people need to engage themselves in volunteer work since it opens peoples’ eyes. His volunteer work at SLUM TV allowed him to learn many things. He says that it enables you to network and build your character. Further, he recommends volunteers as the best people to hire in case of any job vacancies.

The main challenge that Billian and his team face is lack of resources to run their activities. They were hoping to cover ten thousand uniforms by the end of the year but they are running behind schedule. However, they are working on a sustainability plan to counter this e.g. getting more tailors to make more uniforms. He also says that he would wish to help more children to benefit from the Billian Music family in terms of mentorship but lacks the means to do so. He hopes to have a studio and a hall plus a radio station to accommodate more children. He says it is sad that some parents also don’t support the project. ‘There was an instance where children wouldn’t accept our uniforms because of a rumour that they were from the illuminati sect,’ he reflects. That is why they rely on authentic people to support the campaign so as to maintain their credibility.

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‘We hope to register the Ficha Uchi Campaign as a trust so that it can cater for more things and not just uniforms. Through the County Committees, we will be able to distribute uniforms more easily. We also hope to establish our own tailoring school where they will be training volunteers to make uniforms. That way, they can be positioned in areas where they can continuously make more uniforms for children. So far, we have three machines and we are in the process of purchasing more,’ he adds.

Billian attributes the success of his campaign to an incredible team that offers great ideas. They are now partnering with international schools where they sell uniforms at subsidized costs and the money raised can be used to assist needy children.

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The greatest success he has seen is the number of people, organisations, companies and groups that come out to support them. They even have a ‘Chama’ that has come out and adopted one school to help in buying uniforms. He remembers one time when he gave a pupil a uniform but he kept asking him whether he could go home with it. The child was so happy and couldn’t believe it. ‘Children call me Mr. Ficha Uchi everywhere every time I visit their schools and that only tells the kind of impact we have been able to make,’ he laughs.

For most people who don’t understand what the initiative is about, they keep laughing at the name. ‘They ask what this is about and even wonder if it is the name of a person,’ he adds. It is noteworthy that the children who receive good uniform start interacting with their peers. They are set free and are more willing to learn.

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‘We have all seen children in need of good clothes and uniform. I take the shame they go through as my personal responsibility. Let us allow them to have a dignified childhood and assist in any way we can. We are also coming up with a ring back on people’s phones. It will cost one shilling and this money will go into assisting children. We tell the children to work hard in school and that they don’t owe us anything but to make sure they succeed. Once they get to the top, they should come back and uplift those who are facing the same problem,’ Billian concludes.

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