William Wachira, 32, is currently pursuing his second degree, a Master’s in philosophy – nothing unique about that. However, what sets him apart from the many who are undertaking their Master’s degree is that William’s educational journey is riddled with so many roadblocks that make his story worth telling. He shared the story of his life with MWAURA MUIGANA.
The first born of his five siblings, William’s story reads like a script from a captivating fiction book. His dad is disabled and his mother a long time cervical cancer survivor. He grew up in Miti Mingi location, a slum village in Nakuru County. The village is the hub of illegal local brews and that coupled with abject poverty, no one expected anything good to come out of it. Even among the poor, William’s family was considered the poorest.
“We were so poor that even the poor were calling us poor but I had a dream right from age five to escape the clutches of poverty through education. My parents used to talk about university and the impression I had was of a place where one went to get very rich. I aspired to get there and be able to buy shoes, put up a shelter and food on the table for my family, things that they lacked,” he says.
Countless times, they would spend the night out in the cold as the landlord locked their house due to rent arrears. He kept wondering and asking his father why this happened to them. They lived in a mud-thatched makeshift house that also left them with nowhere to sleep during the rains. When he grew old enough to understand how the world worked, he discerned they were poor.
He joined nursery school and faced rejection right from day one on account of his background. The rejection followed him to primary school. At the same time, his mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer and the family’s situation went from bad to worse. He ultimately became the breadwinner since his disabled father wasn’t able to cater for the family. He was only nine years of age and the burden too much to bear.
When it became apparent that he couldn’t do it, he ran away from home to become a street boy in Nakuru town. His local chief, now deceased, rescued him after one year, giving him a lease of life by taking him back to school. But the stigmatisation he received was too much. Once again, he disappeared from school to do casual jobs and hawk different items in the streets to fend for his family. Nonetheless, he was always on time for examinations, performing relatively well despite absconding classes.
“I finally sat for KCPE in 1999 and I attained 383 out of 700 marks. I joined Miti Mingi High School but I could not afford uniform and other basic items, let alone school fees. After a few weeks, I dropped out of school and did casual jobs but when the going got really tough, I left home in 2001 for Eldoret town where I took up three jobs. In the morning, I was a toilet cleaner; in the evening, a street hawker and at night I was hired to load logs in Kapsowar and Kapsabet forests for transportation by wood dealers,” he explains.
Later, he became an expert in sewage trenching and digging pit latrines. Even here, there was still no hope and he returned to Nakuru. He became a tout earning about Ksh 400 per day, part of which he sent back home. He saved enough to buy a bicycle and started a boda boda business but just as things started looking up, he lost the bicycle to thieves.
He resumed hawking wears on the streets and later got a job where his boss kept reminding him and others that they were doing casual jobs because they had refused to go to school. He was incensed and decided to go back to school so as to secure a white-collar job in future. Indeed, he still had not lost his dream of enrolling in university. His father would not hear of it wondering who would maintain the family and pay school fees for the younger children.
Amidst protests from his father, William approached the headmaster of his former school and said he wanted to register for Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). After much persuasion, he was registered in 2003 on condition that he became a full-time student. Justifiably, the school environment was very uncomfortable, as he had no uniform, shoes, books and other necessary learning material. Nobody seemed to understand him and some openly said he was insane. He went back to hawking and would hawk during the day and study at night.
“A friend, who used to pass by our home to and from school assisted me with her notes and books every evening to read overnight. I had a small table, a chair and a kerosene tin lamp that came in handy. I revised notes from form one right up to form four for all subjects. I recall there was drought at the time. I used to wake up at 3am and walk some 40 kilometers to get casual jobs and get paid in kind in form of food. In the evening, I would come back carrying a debe of maize or potatoes for the family,” he says.
He adds, “I was very good at reading overnight and chemistry and biology were my favourite subjects. Students would come from far so that I could help them and I would explain to them the concepts I had learnt on my own.”
He did not perform well enough to secure a slot in university in the 2003 KCSE exams. He resolved to repeat in 2004 to achieve this dream. He got a chance in a nearby secondary school on condition that he became a full-time student. They needed one more student to reach the number required for an examination centre so they willingly paid for his registration fees. However, he was unable to raise the school fees and again disappeared after registration.
“I resumed casual work and hawking to sustain my family. I worked during the day and studied at night. This time round, it was much easier because I had all the notes I needed. The only subjects that were letting me down were English, Kiswahili and mathematics. I had very high hopes of achieving a grade A, but was disappointed when I achieved a B minus, which was off the mark to the cut off point. I started coaching students in mathematics, biology and chemistry charging them Ksh 10 per student, which was much better than casual labour. I earned around Ksh 300 per day. University was still my dream and I purposed to repeat a third time. My dad and everyone in the village thought I was out of my mind but I was determined,” he narrates.
One head teacher connected him to Maasai Boys High School in Ngong’ where he enrolled in March 2005. He didn’t have uniform and other boarding requirements. Life was unbearable and he disappeared from school to Nairobi streets after two months at the school. Uhuru Park became his sleeping quarters. Today, he has such bad memories of the park that he avoids it by all cost.
He turned into a loader and a hawker around Bus Station and Muthurwa area of Nairobi and only went back to school in September just before the exams started. This time, he really struggled to catch up.
After the exams, he decided to return home in Nakuru. He got a teaching job at his former school. He says currently, there are 15 students of biology and chemistry major in various universities who say they owe it to his encouragement and guidance.
“I achieved a B plain in the third attempt, still below the cut off points. I joined Kenya Polytechnic, now Technical University of Kenya, to do a bridging course in mathematics and was living in Mathare slums. I had so many challenges commuting from Mathare to the polytechnic. I slept outside most of the time and later was hosted by a friend, a student at Kenyatta University. My friend later told me to apply for a parallel degree programme. I reminded him that was a pipe dream; if I had missed school fees from nursery to secondary school, how was I to raise for a parallel degree programme. He was very insistent that I trust God. Thankfully, I applied in KU and got a positive response,” he says.
He organised a successful harambee through his church and eventually settled for a Bachelor of Education in Kiswahili and Geography in 2008. He didn’t qualify for a Bachelors of Science in Biology and Chemistry, his cherished subjects because of his low performance in mathematics.
“I entered KU like a street child with a green paper bag containing a pair of trousers and two t-shirts. Life was arduous at KU since I didn’t have money for food and accommodation. I slept on the floor for almost one and a half years. Luckily, a Good Samaritan paid my fees in my third year and in 2013, I graduated with my first degree,” he says.
After graduating, he decided to use some money left in his KU account to pursue a Master’s degree in philosophy in September 2013.
“I used to carry my books and my one trouser in a paper-bag to class and spend the nights in the study area. I survived on mandazi and water. It was a challenging experience but it taught me a lot. My field of study is M.Ed (Masters of Education). On learning what I was going through, the lecturers came to my aid,” he explains.
The lecturers connected him with a research job where he was well paid and his life started turning around. Later, he got another research job but before he left for the assignment, a gang of thieves broke into his house at night and stole everything they could lay their hands on. He was distraught that just when he got a house of his own and slept on a bed for the first time in his entire life, thieves took him back to square one.
Thankfully, friends assisted him to get back on his feet. One of them, Dr. Kamere, has helped him understand and accept himself and the importance of forgiveness. Through her guidance, he has been able to release his bitterness and seek God even more in his life. He hopes to graduate soon and is looking forward to start his doctorate.
Published in December 2015