Teacher Profile: Josephine Ouma
To celebrate World Teachers Day (October 5), we’re sharing stories from our teachers here in Nairobi. In these profiles, Vincent, Lilian, Agnes and Josephine share their experiences working in the informal settlements, reflect on their interaction with Dignitas, and provide wonderful insight into the challenges and joys of educating Kenya’s next generation. Why not honor and celebrate our teachers by donating to Dignitas today?
It is easy to imagine sitting in a classroom and watching Josephine Ouma pace in front of the chalkboard. She speaks slowly and clearly, in a telltale ‘teacher’s voice’, and shares passionately about the children she teaches.
Josephine feels a strong connection to the children in her class and believes that she is not so different from them. “One time I was like these kids, and somebody somewhere made me who I am today.”
In fact, as a child, Josephine was exactly the kind of child who risked getting left behind.
She grew up in Uganda, but in 3rd grade, her parents moved her to Kenya. Changing schools was difficult enough, but Josephine also didn’t understand Kiswahili, the national language in Kenya and one of the core subjects in Kenyan primary education.
Without the ability to speak, write or understand the language, she remembers consistently receiving a ‘zero’ in Kiswahili class. However, a compassionate teacher stepped in and made all the difference.
“I had a teacher in Class 3 who really put some effort in ensuring that I get it. And this teacher was very close to me. She would come, she would give me the extra time, just to make sure that I get the Kiswahili words. And after that, I liked Kiswahili, and I performed in Kiswahili even more than in other subjects at my class level.”
While Josephine’s grades rose from a consistent ‘zero’ to a strong 80%, more significantly, the experience has given her ample empathy for her students. She often sees children who remind her of herself. She notices the stragglers, the students who don’t seem to understand quite yet, and she believes that they need more time.
“I try my best just to create some more time with them, just the way somebody created time for me.”
Josephine is the Deputy Head Teacher at Sifa Student Center and attended the Dignitas Leadership Training Institute in April 2014. What most impacted her was the issue of special needs.
“I was touched by it,” she says.
At the time, there was a deaf child at Sifa Student Center. The student’s mother couldn’t pay to put her child in a special school and the Sifa teachers were at a loss of how to help. But after attending the Leadership Training Institute, Josephine was able to come back and make the appropriate referrals for the student. Even though the student eventually moved away from Nairobi, the experience has stayed with Josephine.
Since that initial training, Josephine has continued to learn and grow with Dignitas. She has found herself becoming a better leader and better equipped to manage other teachers.
As a teacher, Josephine appreciates when students challenge her. She likes the moments when a student’s argument proves sounder than her own. She explains, “However young they are, they have something that we as adults can learn from them.”
Josephine is dedicated to helping students who might otherwise be overlooked – newcomers, stragglers, students with special needs – and getting them engaged with their education in a practical way.
“One time I was like these kids, and somebody somewhere made me who I am today. So I grew up just admiring teachers,” she says. “These teachers did a lot of things in my life. I, also, want to do something in somebody’s life.”