Today in the morning at about 5:50am I decided to board a Matatu from Lower Kabete to Nairobi CBD. At that time it was still dark. I walked to the road side and patiently waited for the next Matatu.

As per our norm in most estates in Nairobi, we do not have designated Bus stops especially outside CBD and major highways so passengers mostly alight and board at any point convenient to them or the driver.

The Matatu was full to the brim with young school going children standing each one of them holding onto something for support to avoid falling down as the Matatu is in motion.

When I entered the Matatu, my first thought was on what time did they wake up, prepare and leave home for school. If it was 5:50am it means they most probably woke up at 5:00am and not to imagine an earlier time than that. To make it worse, some of them were as young as 8, 9 or 10 years old.

This broke my heart and imagined the frustrations, harassment and just that fatigue we expose our young kids to on their way to and from school. I was picturing this kids first and foremost maybe they did not have proper breakfast, and if they are lucky and had one, it must have been a hurried one just so that they do not get late for school.

Two, I was imagining by the time they get to school and settle in class on some days when maybe they get late due to lack of transport to school they must be traumatized. Then this applies to and from school in the evening.

I appreciate the government for saying education is free in Kenya. Education being a basic need for any kid, the government need to not only just major on that narrative of free education yet there are many overhead costs and many challenges still faced by school going children and by extension their parents, one of them being access to that education itself.

I got into the bus, squeezed myself gently so as not to push the children who are standing in the Matatu Isle. I got a seat just in the second last row. The bus drove off since it was already full to capacity. For those who are well conversant with Lower Kabete road, there two major Primary schools along Lower Kabete road that is Lower Kabete Primary School and Farasi Lane Primary School.

As luck would have it, the conductor of the Matatu was a lady, she tried her best in controlling the children there safety not withstanding since all of them were standing inside a moving bus, for lack of a choice. The first stop that is Lower Kabete Primary School, some of the pupils alighted with their bus fare which Ksh 20 on their hands.

The bus drove few kilometers again and there we were at Farasi Lane Primary school and the last cohort of the pupils alighted, the procedure is the same, an order by the conductor, “kila mtu ashuke na pesa kwa mkono!”. I can confess the conductor had sense of humor making the children comfortable.  She even teased one of the pupils “hata wewe leo ukona pesa” just to mean at least that day the pupil had bus fare.

This just gave me a chill, imagining if that was a genuine case then what kind of struggle and fear the kid has daily boarding a Matatu knowing she does not have bus fare. This not being her fault, maybe the parents genuinely cannot afford or sustain paying her bus fare daily to and from school having been overburdened by the current economic situation.

Education is indeed an equalizer, how fair is the access and the quality of the education from the infrastructure. It may be argued that why a parent should put their kids through so many frustrations by taking them to a slightly far away school from their home that is not walking distance. But this can only come from someone who has never tried getting admission in any of the schools in Nairobi and most parts of the country.

First and foremost, it is always not free and most often than not, it is always a matter of referrals and who do you know in that school. So at times parents just do not have a choice, similarly, they do not have a choice in choosing between affording that Ksh 40 bus fare for the children daily or ensuring at least they have a meal when they come back home. This with reference to that parent who is struggling and worse has more than one school going child.

Most private schools do have their own school transport but this applies to parents who can afford. As we were approaching CBD, I was just imagining a city and by extension a country where at least the public transport system works, on the bare minimum able to afford our children better, reliable and safer transport to and from school.

I remember growing up, my dad used to tell me during their days, transport was free and the government was so k

in on that. Better still, with the cross city routes; it made it even easier and convenient for pupils staying in one side of town and schooling in the other.

I believe the government can do better. As some of us are still obsessed with “Maziwa ya Nyayo”, we can create a good school memories to this current generation by at least giving them dignity, comfort and peace of mind ensuring they are able to get to school on time free of charge but most importantly safely.

I believe this can be realized when there are policies in place for better Public service vehicles designs that are child friendly and two, the government to also come up with incentives and standards of ensuring quality and equity in accessing the same. If it has been done before in Kenya, and it is being done now in other countries, we can do it. Good Public Transport System is also a societal equalizer!