We've never attended a symposium; slum students rise to excellence, defy odds

From left: Chrispine Odhiambo, Rose Nanjala, Godfrey Olewa, David Otieno and Simon Otieno pose for a photo during a chemistry symposium  in Kibera.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

  • In Kibera, students from underprivileged backgrounds like Chrispine Odhiambo and Rose Nanjala defied odds to excel in a STEM symposium.
  • Both credited their teachers for support in pursuing their dreams of becoming a doctor and an engineer, respectively.
  • The event highlighted the transformative impact of STEM education and challenged stereotypes about who can excel in these fields. 

In Kibera, a community where many students hail from modest backgrounds, attending prestigious events or academic competitions enjoyed by their wealthier peers often remains a distant aspiration.

Chrispine Odhiambo, an 18-year-old Form Four student at Elite Visionary School in Kibera, had never participated in any symposium or academic contest until recently, when Nation.africa encountered him at a Chemistry Symposium.

Despite his humble beginnings, Chrispine's passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem) subjects propelled him to this significant event.

 "I have never attended any symposium. This is my first time, and I am very honoured and grateful," he remarked. As a candidate for the 2024 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), Chrispine achieved second place in the symposium, a testament to his dedication and hard work.

"I used to stay up late at night just revising for this paper, and here we are today," he reflected.


Chrispine's enthusiasm for Stem subjects has been evident since childhood. "I am driven by the passion to study abroad," he shared, highlighting his aspirations beyond the confines of Kibera. He credits his teachers as pillars of support, always ready to assist him.

"My teachers are always there for me, ready to assist whenever they can. They have enabled me to be here today, and I really appreciate them."

Rose Nanjala, a 17-year-old student at Kibera Girls High School aspiring to become an engineer, echoed similar sentiments about the impact of supportive teachers.

"I am excited to be here today. This symposium is an exposure and an eye-opener for me," she expressed. Challenging the stereotype that Stem subjects are male-dominated, Rose emphasised, "Anyone can excel in Stem subjects like chemistry. It all depends on your attitude. If you believe you can, then indeed it is possible."

At her school, a Stem club fosters debates and competitions among students to enhance their academic performance. Rose's ambition to become an electrical engineer was inspired by her uncle, who has consistently encouraged and taught her basic engineering concepts.

Motivating students

"He always encourages me and teaches me some basic concepts in engineering," she affirmed.

Encouraging her peers to step out of their comfort zones, Rose advised, "Do what makes you happy."

Godfrey Olewa, a biology and chemistry teacher at Ushirika Secondary in Kibera, emphasized the importance of motivating students, especially girls, to pursue Stem subjects.

"Such opportunities come once, and when they do, we encourage our students to make the most of them. Many students shy away from Stem subjects, but we have simplified them and introduced computers to aid their understanding."

The symposium brought together students from 11 secondary schools. Out of the 384 attendees, 11 were Form Three students, with the majority being Form Four students.