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Jamin’s life story

Background
During Gerard’s visit to Jamin Muliru in August 2015 he asked Jamin if he would tell him his story about his life. His story is perhaps a little long, but it gives the reader a good impression of what it is like to grow up in Kenya as a poor and underprivileged child. Jamin’s perseverance and optimism is unbelievable. We find it an honour that we may call him a friend of ours.

My early struggle in life
My name is Jamin Shitsukane Muliru. I was born on 21st of May 1968 in Kakamega County in Western Kenya. I am the 5thchild in a family of 15 siblings, some of whom have died. When I was born, things were not so bad. My father was still alive and as a child I expected good things to happen. However, my father died in 1976 when I was 8 years old. I did not clearly understand what was going on, but I did realise there was a problem. The reality was that my mother was now alone. As her parents did not have money, she never went to school. Therefore she cannot read or write and hence it was difficult for her to find work. It was a great problem for her to care for such a large family. Also, she had to do this on her own because our relatives decided not to get involved. Apparently they judged the problems of raising so many children to be beyond their financial means. Strangely enough, it was only after I qualified with my studies that my relatives sought contact again. My mother used to work on people’s land, tilling the land, weeding, planting crops and sometimes doing domestic jobs in order to provide us with food. One of the things she frequently did was forego her lunch. Instead of eating her lunch, she kept it aside, in order to take it home and to give it to us instead. Especially when we went to school, things became even more difficult. There were times that there was absolutely nothing to eat when we came home. This situation really left us in a bad state as we lived our lives in abject poverty.

My first school
Just like my siblings I had to go to school. I attended Lusui Primary school. In 1986, I qualified to join a special school for high performers called Musingu High School. When I received the admission letter, I felt extremely proud of myself. However, I was unable to raise the high fees of such a prestigious school. There seemed to be no hope for me even to join a local school. Luckily, after a strenuous effort I joined Makhokho Secondary School (a Village high school) in form 1. Those fees were low although still too much for my mother to afford. Therefore she worked at this school as a gardener and her pay, which was Euro 4,00 per month, was automatically put towards my tuition fees.

Earning the school fees by myself
Here follows an example how I raised some of the money for my school fees. At home my brother and I had planted some eucalyptus trees. Over the years they had become very tall. I asked the school Principal if I could pay the school fees ‘in kind’ by supplying him with wood. He accepted. During some evenings and weekends, I cut some of the trees down and made stacks of timber. It took a while before it was collected. One day while in school, I was called out of class and was told by the Principal to go and load the wood on the lorry that was outside my classroom and bring the timber back to school.

My final exam in danger
School fees remained a difficult issue. In form 4 one is supposed to be registered for the final exam, but I was unable to raise the money for that and I also still had fees arrears. Therefore the Principal refused to register me. He told me he would not send my name to the Kenya National Examination Council (examining body). So it was difficult for me that after finishing 4 years of study I was not going to be able to take the exam. I had problems coping with this situation because during those 4 years I had worked very hard and had been the best performer in class examinations at the end of every one of the 12 terms, except for one term when I had an accident and had to stay away for one month in order to recover. Somehow I managed to raise some money, but still the Principal refused to register me for the exam. My best subject at school was Mathematics. The teacher who taught Mathematics happened to be the wife of the Principal. She was, like the Principal, from India. I decided to pay her a visit at home. I explained my situation to her and told her that I was not allowed to sit my exam even although I now had the money. She told me to see the Principal the following morning. The next day when I went to the Principal’s office he did not say anything, but just held out his hand for the money. He then wrote my name on the examination registration sheet and handed it to me. That was a lucky day for me. Seemingly his wife had convinced him to register me, because I was very good at Mathematics. Without her help I would not have been registered to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination. That would have been the end of my studies.

The University and the money problem
Of the 80 students, only 2 of them qualified to be admitted to the University. I was one of those two. I felt so proud. I regarded it as God doing his miracles. That was great. I qualified to join the University of Nairobi in Nairobi city in order to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts. The subjects I chose were Geography and Sociology. Although I had qualified, I was so poor that I did not even have a schoolbag to carry my books in, let alone the 6 Euro’s for transport to go to the University. The person who gave me the money for this was my Member of Parliament, Joseph Mugalla. I walked several kilometres to his home, explained my situation to him and was given 20 Euro’s. With this money I started my life at the University.

Money remained a big problem
When I was at the University I obtained a loan during the first and second year. This loan came from the Higher Education Loans Board, a body which provides loans to students. But after my second year, the loan was reduced and the students were advised to seek finance elsewhere. One way I got some money was by talking to a professor who came from my home area: Professor Muganzi. Professor Muganzi knew my mum, had known my father, knew how many children there were in our family and he knew about our poverty. So, I asked him if he would plead with the University to give me a bursary of 6.000 KES (60 Euro’s) to enable me to continue with my studies. He wrote a letter to the University administration and I received the bursary. The following year, the 4th year, I was not so lucky. The professor kindly wrote a letter again but I was not given the bursary. I approached the Member of Parliament of my Constituency Mr. Joseph Mugalla again whom I have already mentioned. Mr. Mugalla was also the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU). I asked him if I could possibly work for his organisation as I was willing to work in the evenings, during weekends and school holidays so as to raise my fees of KES 6,000 (60 Euro’s), plus a little more for stationery, clothes and food once in a while. He kindly agreed and that is how I raised the money for the remaining year.

Graduated!
Finally, I graduated with a Second Class Honours degree, Upper Division in Geography and Sociology. That was another big hurdle I had overcome, performing at University despite difficult circumstances. To illustrate that: sometimes I went hungry for a couple of days because I did not have the 0,30 Euro cents to have something to eat at the campus. The reason was that I used to pay the school fees for my 2 brothers Benard and Solomon who were in High School at that time. So I took the money which was meant for my upkeep, went to the schools of my brothers and paid the fees for them. Then I returned to Nairobi which left me with little or no money thus I went hungry again. Because of all these challenges I regard my completion of University education and performance as a big achievement in my life.

The start of my career
After my degree, I went back to my MP Joseph Mugalla and asked him if he could give me a job in order to survive. He agreed! I started in the accounts department as a clerk, then I became an accounts assistant and finally an accountant after taking a course in accounts in Israel. However, in 2005 my job ended because Mr. Mugalla died after he had handed over the COTU leadership to a new Secretary General who wanted to bring in new people. I remained without a job for almost 2,5 years. During that time I decided to become a Religious teacher by giving Catechism classes for the Quakers. I was brought up by my mother as a Quaker and I remain one to this day.

Our life in the ‘unplanned residential area’ of Nairobi
In 1999 I met my wife Rose. Our son Carlos was born in 2000 and our daughter Sandrah in 2005, ironically the year I was sacked from my accountancy job. During those years we lived in Nairobi in what is called an ‘unplanned residential area’. This is just a little bit better than a slum, but not much better. I am familiar with slums, having lived in several slums from 1995 to 1998 such as Kwangware slum, Huruma Slum (in Kiswahili Huruma means Mercy…) and Mathare North slum. A slum is characterised by houses made of corrugated sheet walls and it is normal to find raw sewage passing in front of the houses. An unplanned settlement is a little better in the sense that it has slightly better dwellings, it is a bit cleaner and a bit more secure from robbery and thuggery. In order to make some money I taught people Multi-Level Marketing. I also learned how to use an acupuncture machine. I bought the book, bought the acupuncture machine and treated people with various conditions. At some point I had a small kiosk where I was selling things such as milk, sugar, matchboxes and other small things. Those were the ways I was surviving to take care of my family.

I.S.S. The Hague
During that time I met an old University friend of mine who told me that he had managed to join a University in the Netherlands. I was immediately interested and asked him to give me more details. Apparently there were scholarships available. Not everyone can get that. Whether or not one qualifies depends on the circumstances of every applicant. So that is where my adventure in The Netherlands began. The University was the Institute of Social Studies (I.S.S.) in the Hague. First of all I needed to apply for the course and, once admitted, one can then apply for a scholar ship. It was a difficult process but finally I was lucky enough to be accepted. So in 2007 when I received the scholar ship from I.S.S. in The Hague, I talked with my wife. I wanted to get her support because with all the problems we were facing, it was very difficult to leave her behind with the two children. Rose told me that if God has planned that we go that route we better take it. The degree was a Master of Arts Degree in Development Studies specializing in Population, Poverty and Social Development. Poverty is something which I have experienced all my life and which is still hovering around me. I thought let me learn about this thing poverty. The causes of it, how it develops and, most importantly, how to get out of it.

My meeting with Gerard and Tineke
After having arrived in The Hague and having started my classes one of the first things I wanted to know was if there was a Quaker community in the area. Fortunately there was one in The Hague. That is where I met Gerard & Tineke Nederpel. They were so warm to me and this is one thing that drew me close to them. During the time I spent in Holland we had regular contact with each other. Gerard kindly took me to several interesting places to visit in the Netherlands where he proudly showed me some of the things such as Neeltje Jans in Zeeland, the Storm Surge Barrier in the New Waterway at Maassluis near Rotterdam when it was being closed which happens only once a year, the ‘Afsluitdijk’ in the North of Holland and a few other things which makes the Netherlands so special. In addition Gerard and Tineke undertook some action with their Quaker Friends at the time when they realised on how little money I was trying to survive on (and support my family back home). I also remember how they came to visit me in my room with a bunch of flowers after I had an accident with my bicycle.

My other work in Holland
During my stay in Holland I also did some manual work for some Quaker friends for which I was paid. This way I managed to save €1000,00 which I wanted to take back home with me to Kenya in December 2008 when I had finished the course. Something went wrong in the banking system when I tried to remit the money to Kenya. I did not know what to do so I asked Gerard for assistance. He (and Tineke) immediately lent me the €1000,00 and he talked to the bank in order to solve the problem. It was solved and upon my return to Kenya I refunded them the money straight away.

My return to Kenya
After I came back to Kenya it took some time before I got a job. I was fortunate to become an employee in the Ministry of Youth affairs and Sports in the Central Government as a Youth Officer. I was based in Murang’a in Central Kenya. I held this job from 2010 to 2013. My responsibilities included:

  • Implementation of Youth Employment Programmes.
  • Entrepreneurship Training for Youth.
  • Implementation of Youth Internship Policy
  • Conducting Youth Empowerment Clinics in Partnership with Stakeholders.
  • Make Youth aware of HIV/AIDS and other Sexual Health Issues.
  • Implementation of Youth Volunteer Scheme.
  • Collaboration with Stakeholders on Youth Environment, Conservation and Management.
  • Conducting Campaigns on Dangers of Crime, Drugs and Substance Abuse.
  • Finalizing Action Plan on Youth with Special needs and Youth and Gender.
  • Monitoring & Evaluation of Utilization of Funds.
  • Monitoring & Evaluation of the Impact of Small Grants on Youth Groups.

My appointment as Minister of the County Government
In 2013 I resigned from the Central Government Ministry job, because I had read an advertisement about a position of Minister in the County Government of Kakamega. I had to go through a whole process of interviews, being questioned and vetted by the County Assembly. After that process it goes back to the Governor. I had an interview with him and his deputy. Finally I received the appointment from the Governor. This was quite an achievement as there were originally 1200 applicants out of which 120 were chosen for an interview. Out of those only 10 got an appointment and I was one of them! This was almost a miracle that I was chosen since most other applicants had participated in politics during election time when the Governor was elected. I had not done any of that hence I originally thought I had no chance to land the job. So out of all those who applied in my Constituency of 92.000 people, I qualified, I got the job. This was so special to me. This convinced me that nothing is impossible in this world.

My responsibilities as a County Minister:
Om een idee te geven wat mijn taken als minister voor Arbeid, Sociale Diensten, Cultuur, Jeugd, Sport en Kinderen waren heb ik het volgende overzicht gemaakt:

  • Formulation, presentation and articulation of cabinet Memoranda, Sessional Papers and other Policy issues emanating from my Ministry to the Cabinet, County Assembly and Senate
  • Responding to County Assembly or Senate Committee questions
  • Providing policy direction and guiding the state department on policy issues to be implemented
  • Appointing Board members for Public Institutions falling under my Ministry in accordance with their respective statutes
  • Implementatie van National ‘Manpower’ (arbeidskrachten), Beleid en Ontwikkeling
  • Implementation of Employment Policy
  • Industrial Relations
  • Promotion of Self Employment in Micro and Small Enterprises
  • Industrial Training
  • Applied Technology
  • Implementation of Policies on Gender, Children and Social Development
  • Gender Mainstreaming into County Development
  • Support to Women Enterprise Development
  • Promotion and Co-ordination of Volunteer Services
  • Social Welfare for Vulnerable people
  • Community Development
  • Programmes for Children Care and Development
  • Implementation of National Heritage Policy
  • Implementation of National Culture Policy
  • Museums
  • Historical Sites
  • Promotion of Culture
  • Library Services
  • Development of Fine, Creative and Performing Arts
  • Implementation of Youth Policy
  • Support Youth Enterprise Fund
  • Implementation of Sports Policy
  • Promotion of Sports
  • Development and Co-ordination of Sports
  • Implementation of National Social Policy
  • Inter-County games

My dismissal
The contract I signed in June 2013 was for a period of 5 years. I had a good salary as I was earning net 159.000,00 Kenyan shillings per month, which is about €1590,00. In addition there were very attractive daily allowances for any day spent away from my office. As I visited Nairobi from time to time and made trips to Uganda, France and the United States these allowances meant a substantial extra income. This kind of money I had never seen in my entire life. With this money I could do so much. Not in order to have a lavish lifestyle, but I wanted to use it in order to lay a foundation for a secure future for both my family and a better life for the people of my County. When I became a Minister, I was number three in the County in terms of ranking, a County of almost 2 million people. I carried out this function for close to two years when on the 17th March 2015 the Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya suddenly, and without any prior warning, announced at a public press conference that he had reshuffled his cabinet and that I, together with another County Minister, had been replaced. In other words I had been dismissed and my 5 year contract was one-sidedly terminated. No reason was given. I was out of a job! This was a great shock to me, my family, relatives and people from my constituency. In June 2016 a judge declared that my dismissal was unconstitutional. The importance of this judgment is that my name was cleared. Whether I shall ever receive the money which is owed to me remains to be seen. The Governor has namely lodged an appeal!

My status in my community
When I became a Minister I was faced with the issue of status. This may seem to be somewhat odd to a European, but I shall try to explain. Once elevated to the prestigious function of County Minister, one of the highest functions in the County, one is being looked at in a different way. Suddenly it becomes important what kind of house you live in, what kind of furniture you have in the house (for visitors to sit on), the kind of clothes you and your family wear, the kind of car you drive (which I did not have and still don’t possess), etc. That is all being judged, but it goes further. Also your family life is being scrutinised. Do you and your wife form a happy couple or is there any discontent in your marriage? How are the children? Do they receive a good education, what kind of schools do they go to? If the Governor discovers that someone is living under miserable conditions one can lose one’s job because that person is a disgrace to the Government.
With this in mind I looked at my situation. I am happily married with my wife Rose who supports me through thick and thin. All our 3 children attend good schools. My wife and I have always foregone any luxuries in life just to be able to pay for their school fees over the years (and with the assistance from Gerard & Tineke from time to time). So my family was beyond criticism, but what about our living conditions? Our rural home, built of clay and corrugated steel on our small family compound, is totally unsuitable as a house for a Minister. I decided to take action. With the income I was receiving I calculated that over a 5 year period I could buy a plot of land and build a house out of natural stone. My stature, my social status had changed and such a house would only enhance this in the eyes of my Community, in the eyes of my Luhya people. As luck would have it I was able to buy a small plot of land right next to my rural compound. I negotiated a loan and had a house designed by an architect. The contractor started building the house in October 2014.

A new house for a new future
For a number of years I have told my family and friends that one day I wanted to become a Member of Parliament (of the Central Government of Kenya) as Representative of Kakamega County. So when I was constructing the house, I was constructing a house for a Member of Parliament to be! That is why the design is that of a small mansion. It looks prestigious, but all the rooms are very small by European standards. I wanted outward prestige, but no personal luxury. That would not be in keeping with the characters of both my wife and I. When I was dismissed in March 2015 the construction of the house had to be stopped because of lack of funds (see photo). After Gerard’s visit to me and my family in August 2015 he and Tineke have provide the funds so that the house could be finished on the outside, including the all-important roof. Although the inside remains unfinished and is not really in a habitable state, I and my family have nevertheless moved in in the middle of December of 2015.

Why I consider myself a good representative for Kakamega County as National Member of Parliament
After my dismissal as County Minister I received many calls from people of my Constituency and the County at large to say how disappointed they were that I had been dismissed. I was born and bred in this constituency. I bear all the characteristics of a person of this constituency. My Constituency is the poorest one in Western Kenya. I have suffered the same as most of these constituents still do today. I know what it is like to be so poor. I am one of them. I understand their plight as no-one else. I have fought all my life. Most battles I have won. Against all odds I have been able to go to school. Under difficult circumstances I have been able to finish my studies at the University of Nairobi. By fortunate circumstance I have managed to follow the Arts course in The Hague and become a Master. Those are the kind of battles I have fought and, with God’s unwavering support, I have won. I am the best person who is able to talk to my people in my Constituency to show them which direction to take to get out of this poverty. I am a Master student in the poverty area. When I was a Minister, I had my personal programme in order to combat a huge problem which faces the poorest of the poor: Jiggers. I made an in-depth study of the problem and drew up a 17 page report of which Gerard has a copy. During my campaign I personally treated many people in my constituency who were infected by Jiggers (see photo).

Jiggers
When Gerard interviewed me and asked me to talk about my life thus far and my ambitions for the future I mentioned Jiggers. He had never heard of this phenomenon. Meantime Gerard has done some research on this issue and has found all the necessary information on this subject. What I want to do here is to describe the social impact this terrible insect has on the lives of so many of my poor constituents. Jiggers are insects ( a kind of a sand flea) which enters bare feet, legs and hands. Once it has entered a human body it feeds on its flesh and lays eggs. That is when the infected skin becomes very painful. As already mentioned, I had an anti-jigger campaign programme when I was a Minister of my Ikolomani Constituency. I know that jiggers are a major hindering factor to development. I once heard that an elderly person within my village was nearly killed by being infested with jiggers. I arranged treatment for him, he was healed and able to walk again. During my anti-jigger campaign I came in contact with people, I talked to companies and the Ministry of Health to help me fight the jigger menace. They contributed something to the campaign. Although the campaign was not well financed it did cover the whole Constituency reaching about one quarter of the target population. After I was dismissed, the programme was, very unfortunately, stopped.

The impact Jiggers has
Jiggers propagate the poverty cycle among the people in the following ways:

  1. Jiggers lead to poor performances in school and hence poor prospects in life.
  2. Jiggers aid the spread of diseases such as HIV/Aids especially among pupils and students because they share the needles with which they remove jiggers from their feet not realising this may endanger their health.
  3. Jiggers render a human being socially unwanted, useless and seemingly a misfit.
  4. Jiggers have economically impoverished Ikolomani Constituency people. A jigger infested person can’t work on the land or do any farm work because jigger infested legs and hands cannot come in contact with the soil when it’s hot outside. It is just too painful. Such a person will then neither be able to feed him/herself nor fend for his or her family.
  5. Jiggers have exacerbated the number of deaths in infested areas bringing down life expectancy in my Constituency.
  6. Jiggers have led bright pupils and students to losing their hope in life. The result of this is often that those unfortunates turn into alcoholics.
  7. Due to the difficulty encountered to treat jiggers, most people surrender fast, hence attributing the problem to witchcraft, or to some family curse. This is a desperate way of justifying a problem because such a person then lacks the capacity and willpower to fight and defeat it.

A final word
The jigger problem in my Constituency of Ikolomani is enormous. According to government statistics, Ikolomani is the poorest Constituency in Western Kenya. If there is a way to obtain resources to fight jiggers, I can revive the programme I had whilst in office in order to help those infested. I am identified by the Ikolomani people because of my anti-jigger campaign. It is my pet programme. It is the one thing I wish to tackle again as soon as I am in a position to do so. I hope and pray that this may soon be the case.

Jamin talking to his mother who lives next door to him.

 

Jamin being sworn in as Executive Committee Member.

The mud dwelling of 6 x 5 metres of Jamin and his family.

Jamin treating a young patient.