“I want to become a public health officer”

Ernest Wandera Omondi is 21 years old. He has a clear picture of what he wants to reach in his professional life. After finishing his studies he wants to become a public health officer. It sounds easy but there are challenges ahead.

Dirty, contaminated and dangerous: Nairobi river near Korogocho © Tom Rübenach
Nairobi river in Korogocho © Tom Rübenach

He wants to teach his people

Living in a slum bears many challenges. Besides being able to go to school, receiving regular meals or having a proper hygiene there is one other big issue: living healthy is a huge challenge given the circumstances under which people in Korogocho have to live. This is where Ernest Wandera Omondi sees his priority  in his professional life. “For example, I could teach people how important it is to use condoms,” he says in the interview with Thomas Schwarz. “This is how people can protect themselves against infections like HIV and AIDS.”

Public health is crucial

Ernest wants to be a public health officer © Tom Rübenach
Ernest wants to be a public health officer © Tom Rübenach

He is not just studying theoretically, reading books and trying to finish his exams with best results. He is a good observer, too. And he is already trying to make a difference. He describes only a few of the problems in the slum. “Most of the food in the slum is contaminated,” he says and gives an example. “When people eat it they could suffer from different diseases.” The situation he talks about is visible all over Korogocho. In his village of Ngomongo, fish vendors would sell fish. As the water system is “directly connected to the river” people would automatically eat contaminated fish.

The river he talks about is the Nairobi river, separating the village from the huge dumping site Dandora. The poisened waste from the dumping site finds its way directly into the used water, the vegetables or the fish. Whatever is growing on both sides of the river will be intoxicated until the authorities find a ways to clean it. This is another aspect why Ernest has chosen public health a his topic. As most people dump their waste directly into the river he sees a need for education. “Through public health you can inform people on proper waste disposal and of not consuming contaminated food.”

“Most people don’t have an option”

It’s all easily said. Ernest knows exactly about the challenges he would be facing when becoming a public health officer. “Most people don’t know about these issues. They are ignorant,” Ernest says and sees the need to inform them. More than that he is well aware of the living conditions in Korogocho. He grew up here and still lives in his community. He is by no means blaming his fellow community members. “They have no other option,” he says. The most important thing would be, he concludes, to control the contaminated food in order to prevent diseases.

Ernest was born, raised and grew up in Korogocho. “My whole life I spent here”, he says. He could go to Secondary school and university because of AYiERA iNiTiATiVE. As with so many other families his parents could not afford to pay school fees, university costs: “If AYiERA iNiTiATiVE would not have supported me I would not have been able to go to university.” He is “still hopeful”, he says, that he will be able to complete his studies. And then work as a public health officer to support his community. So that they finally will have an option.

click-here-to-listen-to-the-interview-with-irene You may also listen to what Ernest said on Soundcloud.

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