By Dikembe Disembe
While a student leader at Moi University, I first did not want to “own” anything. Well, there are these shops at the students centre being run by the students organization where I was the second ranking.
To cut the story short, I ended up owning one. One day, this female student walks up to the shop attendant and pulls him aside; she knows me, she is a little embarassed. So they taker aside in low tones. The girl needs some pads, so so much and has no money. It was that time when HELB delayed to release the funds.
So this shop attendant comes back, packs a packet and takes to her outside. Then he comes back after which I inquired. And he tells me he has gotten used to that. Girls who can barely raise pads; but these are in colleges. They get these things on credit, ton pay later.
I asked myself: what happens when no one understands? when no one wants to give out? or, when those who want to give out need something in return?
This incident was not isolated. There were moments when others would come and ask me for money. May be sh1000, may be sh500, may be just sh200. I had been warned never to ask what a girl wants money for; especially if she has not told you expressly.
As a student leader, I saw moments when desperation drew students to do unimaginable things. Because I sat at the university senate meetings charged with disciplining students, I came so close to very personal problems affecting students. Some were family difficulties; transported from home.
But female students? These were the gem. Females fear poverty. Unlike men, females have so many basic needs. To us, one trouser will do for three days, who cares? Men will forgo to wash, and even bathe. Which man cares about oil?
So I am here seated; and this female student is charged with “forging” exam card. She has been chased from the university halls of residence for not paying room fee, she has been putting up with one friend after another; and yes, there were moments she just remained awake.
I recollect myself; straighten up in my seen, angered, annoyed and exasperated. That is just unfair. If she can’t sit this exam, all that struggle, all those trials, go to waste. But laws are laws.
You see, when government officials come up with policies which those in parliament cannot interrogate, the ripple is felt in very severe ways, and by very hapless people.
When William Ruto, then higher education minister, imposed the double intake on universities, I apposed. We as student leaders were convinced that the university was not ready, both infrastructurally and in terms of intellectual resource, to handle the overcrowding in learning facilities. Today, students barely learn. Lecturers barely teach. So stuffed are university academic calenders that no known learning is going on. Already, there are murmurs at the workplace, murmurs of half-baked graduates.
A country transitioning to “knowledge-based” cannot afford the kind of irrational and politically motivated policy decisions like the one currently being rolled out about the so called “differentiated unit costs”. When you charge poor bright students more because of they are studying medicine or engineering; you in essence are removing them from those disciplines. At no point is Kenya becoming an elite society as now.
I do not want to victimize people’s choices but there is a direct correlation when the political head of a system does not just understand it. Institutions are people. Bad policies are made by people.
So we begun at pads, sanitary pads. The short of it is: charging these basic commodities exorbitantly reduces female students decision making abilities. So much flesh will be sold for so little, and so much deaths – from abortions to HIV/AIDs – will follow. I know because I have been a leader of females-bright females; university students.
And if am speaking at university level; how about lower levels? middle level colleges? high schools? primary schools? The VAT on sanitary towels is wrong! It is morally wrong! #SAD