FELIX LONE : Shaped for success by struggles

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201305-it-happened-felixFelix Lone, 23, is a high achiever who firmly believes that every human being has a right to dream big. Despite going through a gruelling childhood, Felix has beaten many odds to emerge the fine, young man he is today. He shares his heart-rending story with FAITH MURIGU.

“I hold my dreams close to heart,” says Felix Lone as we begin this interview. This is the statement of a person who believes that no dream is too big to achieve. Born to Charles and Flora Wafula in Kisumu, Felix faced rejection from a tender age. His parents separated soon after he was born and although too young to comprehend, he was haunted for several years by the rejection of his father.

After the separation, Felix’s mother left with Felix and his elder brother, Arthur, who was suffering from epilepsy at the time, while his father remained in Kisumu, where he worked, with the two older children.

“Mum moved to a village in Busia County where my paternal grandparents lived. Just when she was adjusting to the reality of an absent husband, my grandfather literally kicked her out of his compound and gave her a piece of land on the farthest corner of his vast farm,” an emotional Felix explains his childhood experience.

His mother put up a mud house with a grass-thatched roof, which became their abode for many years. Felix says that it was in this setup that his childhood was moulded. “When I was of age, I trekked for about seven kilometres to the nearest school,” he recalls.

An experience he shares, albeit with pain, was that of 1997 when he came home from school to find no food for lunch. His mother had a little flour, which she used to make porridge for him and his brother. It was to be their only meal that day. But as fate would have it, a black caterpillar fell off from their grass-thatched roof into the porridge as his mother stirred it. That marked the end of their meal, as it had been rendered unfit for human consumption.

“This was a desperate time for us. We slept hungry and I could see pain written all over my mother’s face. Despite the rumbling stomach, my mother woke me early as usual for school. This experience gave me a tough reality of how unfair life can be. I made a firm decision to make lemonade from every lemon hurled at me, and with this resolution I rared to go. It didn’t matter any more whether we had food or not. I had to make the best of life,” recalls Felix.

Onset of health problems…

“I fell sick in 1999 with aching joints and an abnormal heartbeat. From her meagre income doing odd jobs to put food on our table, my mother could not afford to take me to hospital. Instead, she took me to a herbalist who gave me a variety of concoctions. They didn’t help much as I remained very sick and missed school for a whole term. My health problems persisted when I resumed school and an uncle took me to my father to help me get treatment in a hospital.

This was my first encounter with my father since we left Kisumu. I was nine years old and didn’t know how to treat him, as I had come to believe he was a terrible man who neglected and hated us. He lived a posh life in Kisumu, a sharp contrast to our poverty-ridden life in our shack in the village.

He took me to hospital before driving me back to the village. As I was about to alight from the car, he took one long look at me and told me that he loved me. I was so happy to know he actually didn’t hate me. Sadly, he passed on the following year leaving that one incidence as the only memory I have of him. After his death, I felt more desperate because all hopes that my parents would reconcile one day were now gone.

For the better part of my primary education, I was a sickly child. While in class six, mum requested an uncle to take care of me because she could no longer afford my school fees, food and medical expenses. I moved in with my uncle and started a new life in the rural areas of Bungoma County until I completed class eight.

Adjusting to the new life and away from mum was tough but I had little choice. I would wake up early and do household chores before leaving for school. I put great effort in my studies. I sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2004 determined to pass well and achieve greater things. Several people inspired me to work hard, key among them was the late Hon. Kijana Wamalwa for his crisp English language and chequered political life. I aspired to be like him.

I did odd jobs after school at a nearby sugar factory to raise money to buy the Sunday Nation newspaper, which helped me to improve my grammar. My hard work paid off as I scored 432 marks out of a possible 500 in KCPE despite being sick a few weeks to the exam. My performance was the best in the district and my mother was overjoyed. However, her joy was short-lived because there was no money to secure my admission to Friends School, Kamusinga – a top performing school. She only had money for my school shopping.

An uncle intervened and requested for a sponsorship from his friend who runs TotoWeza Trust in Nairobi. Mum sent me to school with the assurance that a cheque would be sent soon after, but the principal of Friends School, Kamusinga at the time would hear none of it. He sent me away. With no bus fare, I spent the night outside a supermarket at Kimilili town and a Good Samaritan gave me bus fare to take me home the following day.

Luckily, when I got home I was informed that my cheque was ready and I picked it and headed back to school. I was optimistic all would be well for me only for the principal to tell me that I could not be admitted since the school rules clearly stated that if one failed to report on the first day of admission, they forfeited their place. I was crushed but resolved to seek the intervention of the district education officer. I found his deputy and explained my plight and he promised to take me back to school.

Just before we left, he called his boss who advised him to simply write me a note to take to the principal. The note read: ‘Kindly help this desperate case…’ and was signed and stamped. At the school gate, I faced great resistance from the guard on duty who was under strict instructions not to allow any student in. My pleas fell on deaf ears and the guard, either out of sympathy or arrogance, advised me to look for a vacancy elsewhere and that if I worked hard, I would excel. Without any other option I heeded his advice,” Felix explains.

Feeling dejected and in deep pain, Felix carried his luggage back home. After a lot of soul searching, he sought admission in a nearby district school in March 2005 and was successful, thanks to his good performance. Soon enough he proved to be a bright student and emerged the best in his class despite reporting to school very late. Unfortunately, while in his second year he discontinued studies in this school due to health issues and transferred to a school in Kitale where he lived with his uncle.

As a teenager going through all the adolescence issues, Felix and his uncle got into conflict and his uncle refused to pay his school fees. Felix explained his situation to the school administration and begged them not to send him away from school, as that would mark the end of his school life.

“The principal agreed to keep in school on condition that I promise to get an A grade in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). I made the promise and the principal allowed me to study for the remaining three years without paying school fees. I would take care of the school’s livestock during the school holidays and in return get food and accommodation. After sitting the KCSE exams in 2008, I went back home and took a job as a volunteer teacher in a local secondary school,” says Felix.

Shining once again…

“I was anxious when the KCSE results were released and was hoping I had not let my headmaster down after the favour he did me. It was my chemistry teacher who called with the sweet words: ‘Congratulations son, you have done it!’ I was over the moon. I had scored an A grade, the best grade to have ever been recorded in that school. Additionally, I was the top student in Trans Nzoia district. My school was so happy with my performance that all my fees arrears were written off and I was also given a job as a laboratory assistant in the school while awaiting university admission,” says Felix.

Felix was ranked among the top 100 students in Rift Valley Province and became a beneficially of Equity Group Foundation Wings to Fly scholarship programme in 2009. After an induction training programme, he was posted to work at the Kitale branch of Equity Bank.

“My life changed drastically. I could afford to pay my rent and upkeep and also send some money to my mother. I worked up to 2010 then joined Kenyatta University to study law. I am favoured because unlike other beneficiary students of the Equity programme who only get to work during the school holidays, I do my studies and also work part time with the bank in the Leadership Development programme.

Together with a group of students at Kenyatta University who, like me, have overcome difficulties to get to where they are today, we do motivational talks in schools. We have visited almost all the counties and it is always rewarding to see lives transformed through our inspiring experiences. During school vacations, I work at the Equity Bank head office in Nairobi.

Just recently, I was selected as the secretary general of the Equity African Leadership Club, which brings together all the beneficiaries of the Equity Group Foundation Wings to Fly programme. In the process, I have met very gifted people whose stories are quite inspiring. It’s more of a global movement and having an opportunity to represent them in meetings is very humbling,” says an elated Felix.

A leader in the making…

Through the various leadership roles Felix holds, he believes that he has what it takes to venture into politics. He asserts confidently that he will contest for the student presidency at Kenyatta University next year. Felix believes that unlike other professions, politics is different since people give their trust to a leader without any guarantee.

“So, if there is any profession that requires someone with a grounded value system, it has to be politics. This is my strength,” he notes. Felix cherishes his mother whom he describes as a strict disciplinarian and his number one cheerleader.

“She cheered me on to realise my dreams. My brother, Arthur, is now at Masinde Muliro University where he is studying International Relations. Life has tremendously improved for my family and me. We should pick the experiences in our lives and use them to better our lives,” he says in conclusion.

Published in May 2013

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