WHILST MOST STUDENTS IN KENYA long for learning institutions to re-open so that learning may resume, one university student in the rural Nyamira, South Western Kenya thanks the status quo and hopes and prays that it prolongs a little further, to early September.
When Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta ordered all schools to close on March 15th, this year, Paul Nyakiba was filled with excitement, albeit mixed with fear. Excitement, because the closure and the subsequent ‘holidays’ would provide an opportunity for him to make more money to pay his pending university fee and meet his upkeep expenses. And fear because the indefinite closure would undoubtedly delay his time of completing his studies.
Like all students, Nyakiba, a third-year student of Bachelors in Business Management and Information Technology at Scottish Christian University, packed his belongings and headed home to Nyamira. On arrival, as he watched the other youth complain ho idle they were, he embarked on making bricks for extra coins and achieved his set goals.
On the particular day of interview, I met him at his site of work, in Kiamwarimu Village, at Nyangori Estate, Nyamira County. His face was fast fixed on the bricks that he was arranging, but my footsteps sought his attention, thus disturbing his seriousness, though temporarily. He stood up straight and I viewed him at a better angle. His pair of shorts was probably originally white in color, but now they were semi-brown, thanks to the dirt of soils and sweat. He was wearing an over-sized deep yellow T-shirt, which was also marked by huge spots of soil.
“This work has been paying my university fee since I joined school. However, it is so hard and it needs a very high degree of morale and patience, coupled with enthusiasm for one to push on,” he says
As he arranges the wet bricks in perfect single files, other two youngsters are making more mud some metres away. We walk a few metres away and he starts opening up on what led him here, into this donkey work.
“I sat my national secondary exams in 2015. After the exams, I was quite sure I would pass and qualify for university,” he says in weak voice, eyes fixed at the horizon.
“So, when I came home, I started preparing myself to join university. I decided to venture into brick making, so as to raise my university fee beforehand, because I knew that getting the money at a short notice would be a tall order at home,” he says.
However, even with his good plans back then, he lacked the know-how of brick-making. Thankfully, his first cousin, an old hand in this enterprise, came in handy when he (Nyakiba) needed him most.
“I didn’t know the process of making bricks. But my brother, Daniel Mochoru Nyaega, was ready to help me. I went and learned from him. He showed me patiently until I could do it on my own,” he remembers.
I later realize that one of the two guys helping him on his project is the cousin and mentor he is talking about. His younger cousin and mentor signals him and he lumbers closer.
“I remember how my brother used to struggle with paying his secondary school tuition fee, and I sympathized with him much.
After doing his Form Four National exams, he came to me and shared his thoughts. They were good plans, and he was and is a good man, so I offered to help him learn this skill for free,” the 35-year-old father of two, says.
After getting acquainted with the skill, Nyakiba moved to their field, near a mighty river and started his maiden brick-making project
After four months of waiting, the results of the National exams of the year 2015 were announced. Paul Nyakiba had not met his target. He fell three points below the cut-off. Despite the disappointment, he decided not to cry foul, but to try re-invent himself once more.
“I had failed by three points, and that meant that I could not go to university. I considered it dream deferred and decided to repeat my form four that year.
Thankfully, I didn’t nag my parents to start looking for my secondary fee again. I sold my bricks which I had planned to sell and get university fee, and used the money to pay my secondary school fee, and upkeep money,” he says
Days turned into weeks and weeks morphed into months; and within no time, the year came into an end, and Paul Nyakiba sat his national secondary exams again.
Like the previous year, immediately after school, he embarked on his project, aimed at raising university fee. Thankfully, when the exams were announced, this time round, Nyakiba had passed and qualified to join university.
He has been paying his fees alone, thanks to his brick-making project, and he does not seem to stop any time soon.
“Out of these bricks, I hope to pay my fee balance and also build a house for myself,” says the 25-year-old.
However, he says that this venture has its own share of challenges, and if one is faint-hearted, they can easily back off.
“You must have enough capital to start this project. You must have enough bucks to pay the casuals who help you, because in this work, you just have to hire guys to help you.
Again, you must have enough firewood with which to burn the bricks. And firewood means enough cash, because its bought, at least a hundred dollars.
And you must pray that it does not rain a lot especially during your initial stages of this project, as too much rain spoils the wet bricks. Strong sun rays have a similar effect- it causes cracks on wet bricks,” he says
Interestingly, when I visit his place, it is a rainy season in Kenya, but he is still on with his work. This youngster has survived a lot, and it is like the gods are on his side, somewhat holding back too much rain from hitting his tender bricks, and shielding the scorching sun rays of midday from causing his objects of passion from being rendered asunder. His voice speaks passion, hope and vitality. He has been hoping against hope, that schools remain closed and his project yields much fruit.
His advice to fellow youths in Africa and beyond is precise but clear.
“We youths should minimize on our time of loitering around; and engage ourselves in productive activities,” he says.
Steve Mokaya is a Kenyan-based Contributing Writer/Journalist with Tujipange Africa Media.
Tujipange Africa Media is currently running a series on the Impact of Covid-19 and coping mechanisms on individuals worldwide.