Juma Nyongesa is the principal at the Kenya Institute of Development Studies. He also teaches as a part-time lecturer at Africa International University. StartUp Magazine team met him at his office in Nairobi as he shared his troublesome journey towards getting an education and important life lessons gained along the way.
Juma was born 36 years ago in Matunda, Kakamega County. As a first-born child in a family of 11, they lived in abject poverty. His father was a peasant farmer and his income could barely sustain the family. In his family, when you come of age, you are supposed to care of the welfare of your young siblings.
“I recall when in primary school, I would come back from school and join my mother and to work in the farms so that we could be able to raise enough money for food and school fees. It taught me about the values of hard work and sacrifice at an early age,” recalls Juma.
At that point in life, passing exams and getting a well paying job was the only option he had to salvage his family out of poverty, he says. So when he sat for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 1998, he passed well.
But the news was received with a mixture of excitement and sadness.
He was selected to Join Musingu High School but his father could not afford to pay for his studies at the school. Instead, he sent him to a local school, Eshikulu Day secondary school that was 35 kilometre away. His father sold a piece of land to pay for his school fees.
He trekked daily for four years in search of knowledge.
Expectations were high when he sat for Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2002. However, he earned a B-minus mean grade and missed direct university admission with a point.
“The feeling of failure left me crippled and a disappointment to my family. Remember land had been sold to help me school,” he explains.
He was forced to stay home for a few months but then decided to look for employment as he could not afford to join a tertiary institution through self-sponsorship. Between 2003 and 2004, he applied for recruitment at the disciplined forces and was lucky to get slot at Kenya Army.
“I was elated when I joined the army but that excitement was short-lived. Barely a month after reporting to the recruit training school in Eldoret, a parade was assembled and six names were called out including mine. We were asked to leave the school immediately. We were told that there was error in our recruitment process but rumours abounded that a powerful politician was behind our ejection. We were expelled to pave way for his people. ”
It was very devastating, says Juma.
He then accompanied his aunt to Limuru as a casual tea picker and later joined his cousin as a security guard in Nairobi.
“I worked as a security guard with Cornerstone Security for a monthly salary of `Kshs 3600. We rented a house in Kawangware with five colleagues paying Kshs 2500 monthly. We shared rent among the five of us hence my bill was 500.”
Juma was posted to man a gate at an estate in Westlands, Nairobi and used to run to and from work in a bid to save enough money to further his education. He worked at the firm for nine months and later applied for an opening at G4S and was to be recruited.
G4S doubled his salary with prompt payments, better uniform and working conditions.
First, he was tasked to guard Nyayo hostels at Kenyatta University.
“While at Kenyatta University he met some students who knew him from the village while in high school and was better than them in class,” he recalls. This made his time at KU unbearable as word quickly spread to the village that Nyongesa’s son was a watchman.
“For the first time in my life I felt that education was discriminatory and unfair to the poor. I had missed direct entry to university by a single point and lacked resources to proceed due to poverty. On the other hand, the privileged have a number of alternatives available to them even if they don’t do well in class,” says Juma with nostalgia.
As fate would have it, he volunteered to a new contract that G4S got a Daystar University.
He was posted to work as a chief guard to the university’s main entrance in Athi River. He worked diligently.
His commitment and professionalism earned him a recognition as the customer care person of the month severally by the university student’s magazine. This is despite the background of how low security guards are regarded in society.
All this time he had accumulated money that could see him through a full semester as a self sponsored student, but then something happened that later changed his life in a major way.
“A new guard had been posted to Daystar. Being his first assignment, he had no money to keep him going before receiving his salary and I gladly hosted him in my one room shack in Athi River,” Juma says.
The new guard was assigned to guard residential houses for visiting faculty lecturers from Canada.
“In one of their talks he narrated how I had helped him out and the Canadians asked to see me. I then hosted them for diner in my humble abode and they got interested in what my future dreams were. I told them of my desire to go back to school and further my studies, and they said they were willing to support my education and that of my fellow guard,” explains Juma.
“We exchanged emails and they went back to Canada after a short while.”
Few months later, they sent an email to Juma and his friend asking them to look for admission in university of their choice. Juma secured admissions from three universities but a friend advised him to settle for Daystar University, for it will be an inspiring story to other people.
Juma joined Daystar University as an undergraduate to pursue a degree in Bachelor of Arts community development and business studies.
“I remember how going for my first class shocked everyone who knew me as a guard. The lecturer even had to confirm my admission and really took time for reality to sink in,” Juma explains passionately.
Immediately after graduation, Juma was employed as a credit officer at Barclays bank, then project officer before quitting to take up a tutor’s role at Kenya Institute of Development Studies (K.I.D.S) technical college.
“Within six months our department was leading in number and performance at the college. That earned me a promotion to be the academics director and later a principal at the Naivasha campus,” he recollects.
For a guard who dared to dream, he is now the principal at the Kenya Institute of Development Studies heading all the campuses.
Juma at a glance
· He hold a Masters in Project Planning and Management from the University of Nairobi and is now a PhD student at St. Paul’s University where he is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Development Studies.
· Has paid school fees for his 10 siblings, some of who are now in university and college, and sponsors 36 other pupils in high school and universities.
· He values education and encourages people to be the best version of themselves.
· His ultimate dream is to make Kenya Institute of Development Studies the technical institution of choice in the region.