Carolyne Daisy Ashiono, born to a teenage mother and later raised by her grandmother following her parents’ divorce, shared with the Nairobian the challenging journey she had to navigate to reach her current position.
Briefly tell us about yourself…
I am the director of Daisy Centre and School- Bukura in Kakamega County. I went to Bukura Primary School, Kisulisuli Primary and then sat for my KCPE exams at Top Station Academy – Kitale. I joined Chakol Girls High School in Busia County and then got transferred to Ulumbi High School in Siaya County. Later on, I trained as a P1 teacher and then went to the United States of America and trained as a Medical Assistant at Ensign College.
What made you enter into an early marriage immediately after your secondary school education?
My father and mother separated when I was still very young. It’s my grandmother who took care of me. My grandmother did what my mother couldn’t have done for me. With no income, she took care of me and other children in the village. After my secondary school education, circumstances pushed me into an early marriage in 1997 in the Mathare informal settlement area, Nairobi and there was no dating. I was just looking for a safe space for myself.
You started a family with no income, how were you surviving?
After a year in marriage, I gave birth to our first child, and, together with my husband, we started figuring out what to do to put food on the table. I used to do menial jobs like washing clothes, selling vegetables and hawking water in the slums, and working on mjengo sites with my child on the back.
Amidst the challenges you faced as a young family, what made you come up with the idea of starting an orphanage?
The idea was conceptualized on my 21st birthday. We were figuring out what we could do to get fulfillment in life. It was then that we decided to take care of needy children from vulnerable families. My husband had secured a job with an insurance company as a salesperson and together we had saved Sh5,000. We went to Soweto slums and got needy children who needed to go to school. We used the money to enroll them in local schools. The children either were total orphans or had a single parent while others had both parents but the environment at home was not conducive due to abject poverty. After a few years, they got some help from well-wishers established an orphanage, and also established a private school. By 2012, we had been blessed with four children, acquired properties in Nairobi, had decent cars and life was worth the sacrifice we made at the early stages of our marriage.
Why did you leave your marriage despite the efforts you put in together as a couple to start an orphanage and private school that was doing well?
We had unrepairable differences that saw our marriage hit a snag. For my peace of mind, l had to leave the marriage including the wealth we had created together. I moved out because I knew my God would help me start life again. When I was leaving, I asked my children whether they wanted to stay with their father in Nairobi or go with me to Kakamega. I told them, if they came with me, they would struggle to survive but they agreed to follow me to where I was going. Three days to Christmas day in December 2012, I took three sufurias, tied them in a leso, took four children, boarded a bus and came back home and rented a house behind Maraba Primary School and started life afresh.
How come you didn’t fight over property you had jointly worked for?
I didn’t want to fight over property and left everything to my ex-husband. How can I fight over property we got in faith? That was an orphanage, and if we started fighting, the vulnerable children we were helping would have suffered.
How was the idea of starting school in your village conceptualised?
In 2013, I got a plot (50 by 100) near my parents’ home in Bukura and the owner agreed that I could pay in installments. I put up a structure made of iron sheets and started the Daisy Centre and School – Bukura which was an orphanage and a private school.
How did you break even and manage to rise again and put the school on the map as an academic giant in the region?
I went to see the Operations Manager at Equity Bank- Kakamega branch to request for a loan despite having Sh15,000 only in my account, which was in Nairobi, but I wanted Sh150,000. After explaining my case to him, he told me it was not possible. I broke down before a stranger and started crying. He called in a female colleague who consoled me and after a while, they told me to come back the following day as it was almost closing time. I went home, locked myself in a room, broke down, and prayed to my God to intervene. The following day at 7 am, I was at the bank and when I met him, he gave me the loan. I used the money to buy nails, iron sheets, and food for the children at the ECDE centre and started off. The classes were used during the night, at night, they were dormitories. She said the two teachers who came with her from Nairobi used to sleep in the same structure with the children and at the time, the entire school had 85 pupils, out of which, 12 pupils who were from vulnerable families were boarders.
Travelling back to the United States helped stabilise your operations. Did you get some help from your former classmates you met during the visit?
I went to the US to meet my college mates who after listening to my case, one of them gave U$5000. More partners came in, like Cindy Gardner who teamed up with Anne Vale and helped me with the funds that I used to put up the first administration block and permanent classes. I met Gardner while in college but had been diagnosed with cancer. She told me that she had the feeling of helping me before she died and wanted to leave a mark. She said she would be watching from heaven to see the success of the project.
Tell us about your success story a decade later.
For the last five years since we presented our students to KCPE exams, we have always maintained a mean score of 345. We now have 576 learners and 23 teachers as well as modern classes. I have about 50 children from vulnerable families right from ECDE to the university at the orphanage whose tuition fee I pay. With the transition to the Competency-Based Curriculum, the centre is well prepared with a fully equipped laboratory, electricity, plumbing and a state-of-the-art music studio.
What’s your push in fighting for the rights of the girl child?
Starting marriage life early gave me lessons and experience and now I want to be a support system to the girls under my care. I discourage them from making bad choices and urge them to get a good education to have a better life in the future. Success without a scar is not success. My story is an encouragement, whoever feels that God doesn’t exist, has no idea of what he is saying. God put me to where I am today. Without Christ, there is no success. You must be sharpened first. And currently, I got married again, and together, we are raising a happy family.