Missouri State University

Marrie Ochieng

Seeing and believing

Master of Arts in Teaching student Marrie Ochieng knows from personal experience that "when you educate a girl, you educate a whole community."  

It’s a well-known story, the one about the truth-telling boy who wades through the crowd to glimpse his emperor’s fantastic new clothes. Although everyone around him is cheering, the boy blurts out an embarrassing reality: their emperor is actually naked.

“The emperor’s new clothes” has become idiom for groupthink -- when a whole crowd supports a bad idea because each individual is afraid of looking like the only one who doesn’t understand.   

But Master of Arts in Teaching student Marrie Ochieng knows groupthink can work the other way. Sometimes the crowd deeply undervalues a resource, and a few clear-eyed people can see worth where others have dismissed it.

Insight and opportunity

Marrie didn't believe she would have the opportunity to go to college. In her home country, Kenya, she was labeled “dumb,” and “there, if you are dumb, they really encourage you to be dumb.”

Marrie Ochieng

Because Marrie had barely finished high school, she believed her future was limited. But the people around her believed she had potential and a secret advantage -- relatives who lived in the U.S., including an aunt and uncle who were both Missouri State alumni. Together, Marrie's family developed the “grand idea” of bringing her to the U.S. for college. Her aunts, uncles and grandmother raised enough money to cover Marrie’s journey and her first semester at Kansas City's Metropolitan Community College.

From there, Marrie made her way to Missouri State, where she earned a scholarship because – contrary to the label she’d grown up with – “for some reason, I was a genius.” 

Marrie Ochieng's artwork

Looking within 

Marrie’s family had the wisdom to see potential in someone others had overlooked. Now Marrie needed the courage to see it in herself. 

“When I first came to Missouri State, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on a computer,” she says. 

Despite these challenges Marrie persisted, sustained by “professors [that] just kept helping me and helping. It was really weird because in my country, teachers do not help you like that. But these guys, they kept pushing me and asking me questions.”

The effort paid off. “I finally figured it out,” Marrie says, “and I love it.” Along the way, she discovered a passion for art and design. “With graphic design I learned how to communicate my thoughts and ideas and feelings.”  

Her experience also affirmed the power of education, which she says “opens your mind to bigger things. You discover things about yourself that are great, and you discover your weaknesses and fight them or work on them.”   

Marrie Ochieng teaching

Marrie hopes to bring that understanding back to Kenya, where she believes girls like her continue to be undervalued. “There’s this gender inequality thing,” she says, “so much more in Africa. I experienced it growing up.” 

Marrie laments that “a woman who has a voice is hated even by her own women,” and sees education as the key to changing attitudes. She hopes that “if I can put education and women together… hopefully I can change women’s thinking about themselves. And that will help them see [other] women in a more positive way.”

A vision for the future Girls in school together

Her ultimate goal? Founding a school for girls. “Boys have the advantage of being taken to school regardless,” Marrie says. “Girls are there to be seen and not heard… and I do not agree with that.” 

She believes that “with some education… [women] can open businesses, then they can in turn educate their children and reduce the cycle of poverty.”

Just as Marrie’s family and professors saw possibility in her, Marrie believes that girls who attend her school may spark positive changes in Kenya. “In this dream,” she says, “it will flourish and affect many other people,” predicting that when “you educate a girl, you educate a whole community.”