The University Of Nairobi on 17th December, 2021 held its 66th graduation ceremony at the graduation square. Among the graduants was Margaret Akinyi Ouma graduating with Second Class Upper honors, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Public Administration. She lost her dad, who was the sole bread winner, her mother had to do odd jobs just to feed them, while in secondary school she had to work on a farm in Malindi but as the old Swahili adage goes ‘Penye nia Pana njia’
This is the story of Margaret Akinyi
My name is Margaret Akinyi Ouma. Am 25 years old, first born in a family of three girls.
I was born in Siaya County, but raised both in Kisumu and Nairobi County.
My academic journey started way back in 2000 where my parents introduced me to nursery school which l gladly joined and finished successfully and gained entrance into primary.
My first primary school was Bar-kalare primary, which is in East Gem constituency and where my village home is located. It was a good experience in my early childhood life.
I remember waking up every morning going to school with my grandmother who was a teacher in the same school. By this time, my dad was doing his masters studies and my mother continued with her small scale businesses around the village.
It was awesome growing up as a child, especially in an environment that was filled with so much love and peace and l never lacked anything. When l got to class two, my family relocated to Nairobi and l had to be transferred to St John’s Primary School in Kayole.
My dad had gone back to employment by then and he was a lecturer at Kisumu Polytechnic (until his demise), but would come often to Nairobi to visit his family.
Fast forward to 2005, we relocated to Kisumu because the visits to and from Nairobi became quite hectic for my dad because he had work on the other end to manage.
I was transferred to Arina Primary School, class three. From there l was able to establish a good educational background by getting good grades.
My parents were there for us, they provided everything we needed be it at home or in school. We never lacked anything. (Good life).
In June 2007, unfortunately, we lost our dad after a short illness and that is when life turned upside down.
My family’s status changed from a family which had everything to a family with nothing completely. Reason being the relatives from my dad’s side took everything from us and left us with nothing and so we had to start life all over again( my mum, and my two sisters).
That was the moment it dawned on me that the only thing l had to struggle with in this life was my education. It was only there that l would have hopes of getting a better future.
This was after we had moved from the house my dad had left us to a relatively cheaper house because my mother could no longer afford to provide us with that lifestyle.
The new environment was surely a wake-up call for me. One, all teenage girls of my age were either pregnant or had children. And of course l refused to go through the same route. I knew l could do better.
Secondly, it was an environment full of drug abuse. It wasn’t unusual for me to see to see teenagers drinking alcohol and smoking bhang in public.
Life became quite unbearable for us. My mum had resulted to doing odd jobs such as washing clothes for cash, casual labors just to provide food for us.
Many are the days we could go hungry without food, not because we did not want to eat but mainly because the food was never available.
Drinking milk tea, wearing nice shoes and clothes, eating good food sounded like a luxurious life which of course we once had but now seemed like a dream.
Many are the days l could come back home from school which as a matter of fact l had gone without eating anything and find my mum seated on her bed with tears filled in her eyes because she did not know where the next meal would come from.
One thing l admired about my mum is that she has never been lazy or given up on us. She went all her way out to provide for her kids with the work of her hands of course and not any other immoral way, by the time she says she doesn’t have anything it meant she had exhausted all her options.
During this time l learnt one thing. God can never deny you everything. There’s one specific thing He will always give you to hold onto.
And in my case, this specific thing was education. Despite all the challenges we had at home, my performance became better and better each day. And this not only motivated me but also my mom that there is no giving up.
From my academic excellence, the teachers decided that l could learn tuition free. And from my end, l didn’t disappoint them.
I remember those years we used to do district mock exams and l could always emerge among the top girls in Kisumu County.
People l never knew could mention my name in their ‘big’ offices and this sounded like a dream come true to me.
Years went by and in 2009 we moved from the environment we were in, to one of my grandfather’s plot courtesy of the good relations we now had with my relatives from my father’s side.
This place was near my primary school unlike the other location where l had to walk for several kilometers every morning and evening.
By this time my mum was now selling chang’aa, not because she wanted to but at least with this business she could provide food for us without strain.
Life now changed quite a bit for us. From staying hungry for days, at least we could afford two meals in a day.
Our house was a single room and also a business area because, customers would come in to be served chang’aa in the house. Now the environment with drunk people is uncontrollable. Because they will want to stay there till late at night drinking and doing all sought of things.
At the same time, this is where we call home and this is where am supposed to do my homework and after school studies.
Of course one had to affect the other and my studies were affected because l couldn’t get enough sleep and would go to school with undone homework.
Luckily my teachers noticed l was struggling with my concentration and something had to be done.
I remember Mr Oyugi calling my mum for an urgent meeting and the next thing l was being taken to a private boarding school. This was quite timely because l had just joined class eight and needed all the concentration possible.
Secondly, l was being offered full scholarship by the owner of the school and third, this was definitely a sign of a brighter future for me. When l joined that school, l didn’t disappoint either.
My academic journey soared even higher.
My grades were so good that the teachers could not let it die down just like that, considering how my background was.
They had to move up and down to get a BLUE FORM for me to join Starehe Girls which they finally did, filed in the requirements and sent in to Starehe Girls.
When the final results for KCPE 2010 finally came back, l had 383 marks out of the possibl 500 marks,
l was fortunate enough to be selected to join Starehe Girls Center and School on full scholarship.
This was one of my proudest accomplishment in my life at that time.
Back at home, my mum had stopped selling chang’aa and was now into Mutumba business.
Things were looking up for us. We became a happy family that had nothing to a happy family that had at least something to put on the table, with the first born joining a national school.
In 2011 l joined form one at Starehe Girls (SGC/577/2011). Continued with my educational journey. Life was more than perfect. I didn’t have to worry about my next meal, fees or anything because it was all being provided. All this is thanks to the full scholarship l had been given at Starehe.
I learnt a lot in this school other than academics. It groomed me to be a responsible young lady, to know my worth and most of all, maintain discipline in all l do, and every duty am given, l should do it beyond perfection and for this, l will forever be grateful to this institution.
In 2014, l sat for my KCSE, but unfortunately this time round in my academic journey, l missed the mark. I got a C+, which meant if l was to go to university l would have to sponsor myself.
In other words l had missed government’s intake.
This broke my heart. In all my life, education had always been my lucky star.
However, at that time, this star simmed so dim. I became worried because l knew very well my mom could not afford to pay for my university.
From her end she could encourage me and praise me for performing well but deep down l knew that was not my best. I had failed.
Meanwhile, back in Starehe (both boys and girls), an alumni, Mr Kassim had approached the administration and requested them to give him at least ten students ( five from each institution), who had also failed the exams and felt like they could do better in the next year’s KCSE.
They were to go to Malindi where he was working as a teacher at that time for the studies and readmission.
Students were called and those who agreed to go were given a second chance. I was not called. Few days after, the three boys and two girls (total five) reported to Malindi Progressive Academy to reseat their form four and do the KNEC exams at the end of the year.
The other five declined the offer. One of the girls who had gone to Malindi was my friend Winnie.
Whom as a matter of fact l met in Golden Elites Primary School when l had been transferred there, then we were both called to join Starehe Girls so it was a longtime friendship.
Remember l had not been called to join this group. My friend Winnie managed to talk to the management of Malindi Progressive Academy to allow me to join them.
How she did it, l have no idea till date. All l know is that she believed in my academic strengths, she had seen me go all through and she knew that if l could get a second chance l could do better.
I can’t remember the exact date, l woke up that day usually early. I had not slept well because l was bothered by my future plans now that joining university clearly seemed as a dream.
I got a phone call from an unknown number which rather seemed to annoy me because l thought somebody was calling by mistake( safaricom conmen). All in all l picked it and the conversations from this call made me regain my hopes that truly not all is lost.
That had been Mr Kassim calling me, and gave me background information of how he had met Winnie, and asked whether l was willing to join them in Malindi.
I did not hesitate, my answer was yes, and the next day l board a bus to Malindi, somewhere l had never been to, but l had hopes that all will be well, and this is an opportunity l could not let go.
Of course my mum was a bit worried but l was determined to go, and she saw it in me and had no choice but to let me go.
It took me twelve hours to get to Malindi but that did not bother me at all. The only thing in my mind was that l had to rise up and prove myself once again.
I got to Malindi Progressive Academy and true to their words, they were offering me one full year scholarship. The only thing l had to do if focus on my studies.
It was both a boarding and day school so l did not have to worry about my stay. Everything was provided including the boarding paraphernalia.
Life in Malindi was not easy. I was coming from a girls’ school with prince’s treatment to a mixed school with hardcore experience.
The owner of the school Mr Rashid Odhiambo, tried his level best to provide for us. All the way from feeding us, providing necessary books and paying for our school fees. It was not easy on him at all. Luckily he owned acres of land in Marereni, the outskirts of Malindi and when the food stores were almost running empty, we could go to dig those farms, plant maize and other vegetables which could be used for our own consumption and some sold to get money for our school fees.
It was tough on most of us. I specifically had to learn to hold a jembe for the first time in Malindi. And no, it was never a form of punishment.
We had to do this to help our sponsor, Mr Rashid, take care of us and fund for our education which he gladly did and has never asked our parents to repay him. All l can say is God bless him abundantly.
At the end of the year, 2015, we sat for our KCSE, and this time round, l passed. I did not fail my friend Winnie who believed in me neither did l fail the management of Malindi Progressive Academy that gave me that chance.
University here l come.
With the good results l got, l applied for a chance in university.
Finally in January 2017 l got admitted to the University of Nairobi to pursue bachelor in arts. Again this was one of my proudest moments. It was a dream come true. My mum who is my biggest cheerleader was so proud of me. And definitely she had to accompany me on the admission day. Once in campus, life was good until it became not so good in my second year of studies.
At this time, l had HELB which could pay for part of studies, while the rest is given as pocket money. Meanwhile back at home, my sister, the second born had all grown up and was set to join high school. My mum again had the burden of paying for two children school fees.
It was good news that we were making progressive heights in education despite our dad having left us when we barely even understood the importance of education.
The sad part of it was that there were no funds to educate us. In this scenario, sacrifices had to be made. It was either l defer from university (which l had fought so hard to get into) or my sister doesn’t join high school.
Through my mum’s determination to provide for all of us, none of us dropped. However, l had to sacrifice my HELB pocket money to take my sister to school while we figure out the next step. That meant l would stay in university with no means of survival.
Many are the days l could survive as little as two hundred shillings for two weeks or more, depending on how regular my mum would send me money which she was struggling to find on her end.
You might wonder how a student in campus can survive on two hundred shillings. Well, it’s simple. I could go the supermarket and buy bread and scones as long as l have enough sugar and tea bags. Then make tea and survive on it. And for the bread and scones to last two weeks l have to take late breakfast and late ‘supper’.
However, with all the sacrifices we were making on both ends it was still not enough because in one way or another school fees had to paid. And here l was, already with fees arrears in my second year.
After my lectures l could make random tours along the University corridors knocking on every door just to inquire what they are all about since the University of Nairobi is a big institution.
In my random tours l came along an office written CAREERS OFFICE and what came from my mind was that probably they offer jobs. So l knocked the door, entered and was given a warm welcome, which was a good sign. I asked questions whose answers l got and before l left l asked whether the University offered any scholarships and if it does how do l apply. The lady just smiled and said yes there are scholarships offered and handed me a piece of paper with requirements.
It was a surprise but just like that, l fulfilled the requirements and my school fees was paid all the way to my final year. I never had to add even a single sent.
Back at home life changed for us. By this time we had moved to a much bigger house. Of course with my mum working hard to provide. Things are not perfect but at least we have hopes of seeing brighter days. I have finished my undergraduate studies, my second born sister is done with high school and the last born just joined high school.
Today is my graduation day. I am celebrating my first degree. The same vision l had years ago that only education will brighten my future is the same vision l still have. I have not achieved everything l have ever dreamed of, but at least l have to celebrate the small wins l have been able to make in this journey of education.
Am so proud of myself and deep down in my heart l know my dad in heaven is also proud of me. He might have not lived long enough to see me wear a gown on this day, but nothing fulfills my heart like knowing that l did not fail him.
At least my mum is here to celebrate this moment with me and of course many more to come. Finally graduating with Second Class Upper honors, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Public Administration. Surely this is the best way to celebrate my first degree. Congratulations to me.
And that has been my story.