Dr Skitter Ocharo with Kisii Governor James Ongwae (left) and County Secretary Patrick Lumumba. [Eric Abuga, Standard]
Tell us a bit about your upbringing.
I was born in Maralal – a small hillside market in Northern Kenya, within Samburu County. The market was pioneered by Somali settlers in the 1920s. When I was just two years old, my parents moved to Bungoma and a few years later, they separated. My mother started a small business of knitting sweaters and selling second-hand clothes. Life was not easy at all; it was full of struggles. However, my mother managed to see my siblings and me through school, the challenges and struggles notwithstanding.
You have a doctorate in physics, a master’s degree in physics and a bachelor’s degree in education. How did you manage that?
When I was in Form Two at Butere Girls, I realised that some subjects were not my cup of tea and I had no other option but to drop them. I was a physics major. I scored As in both atomic physics, solid-state physics and electronics. I realised that there was something special in me that resonated very well with physics and especially quantum physics. That’s how the desire to pursue physics got conceived with a strong conviction that I would pursue it to the highest level.
Was it easy to attain this?
The road was bumpy, especially striking a balance between being a mother and a student while discharging my obligations. However, this did not deter me in any manner.
What inspired you to undertake a male-dominated course?
I have never belonged to the school of thought that some things are the preserve of men. I always believe that what a man can do, a woman can do just as well. I have always wanted to be unique. I fancy challenging the status quo. I am a critical thinker, very analytical and therefore always tend to consider issues in a very structured way. This has inclined me towards the field.
Who inspired you in your journey?
My mother played a major role as my anchor, mentor and strength. She constantly reminded me that society judges single and poor mothers harshly, holding that they cannot see their children through to university education and that the narrative had to change. I was propelled and destined to succeed. Besides that, my husband has been my greatest support. He paid the entire fees for the programme and pushed me gently but firmly to start and complete the programme. At the time of admission, I was already a mother of one son and was expecting my second child.
Prior to your appointment to the Kisii Cabinet in 2013, you worked as a lecturer. Why did you change?
I am a firm believer in precise and effective discharge of obligations wherever I am placed. While lecturing was enjoyable, God will always grant you what you pray for. And so with the encouragement of my greatest supporter – my husband – I applied for the job and got it.
Do you sometimes miss teaching?
Teaching is in my blood and I am always ready to share my knowledge. I am sometimes involved in developing curricular for higher learning institutions. It is part of giving back to the community.
Do you consider yourself to be overambitious?
I have always been deliberate, calculative and conscious in making decisions. The people close to me see a lot of potential in me and constantly remind me that my time in a station should not exceed the time I am useful there.
What is your greatest fear?
As the late Tupac Shakur would put it, “Life is a test, mistakes are lessons, but the gift of life is knowing that you made a difference. My greatest fear is not making a difference.
What are some of the lessons you have learned so far?
That hard work does not kill. It is a precursor for excellence. It has been a path dotted with many failures, but I believe that failure leads to success.