In the small town of Kainuk, on the border of Turkana and West Pokot, men are regarded as brave for cattle raiding and warfare and not for excelling in education. And this yardstick of bravery is replicated virtually across the two northern Kenya counties.
While attitudes on education have gradually changed over the years, Augustine Kipetowas who was born and raised in Kainuk was similarly exposed to this kind of mind-set. However, when he reached the school-going age, one of his uncles who had been exposed to education took him to his home and enrolled him at Kainuk Primary School. Life at the school was terrifying since they had to brave frequent attacks by rustlers as they fetched water and fire wood.
He narrates: “One day we went to fetch firewood and decided to split into two groups. The other group was attacked by rustlers after straying into a field where the rustlers were grazing animals. Unfortunately, one of my classmates and friend was shot dead. The situation was generally bad as there were days we had to miss school because of insecurity.”
Despite these impediments and misfortunes, Augustine’s spirit was not dampened as he continued to work hard and lead in his class: “I knew that the only way to get a better life was to work hard in school and that is exactly what I chose to focus on.”
The cattle raids, narrates Augustine, intensified and when he was just about to sit for national examinations in Class 8, one such raid took place in their home and all his father’s cattle was stolen. The timing of the theft was terrible and devastating to the young learner, considering that his father had planned to sell the animals to raise his secondary school fees.
Somehow he managed to collect himself and faced the examinations with a positive attitude. When results came through, Augustine had excelled and secured admission at the prestigious Maseno School. However, the poor lad had no idea where he would get money to pursue his dreams.
With all the cattle gone, his chances of joining the national school in Kisumu County was diminished and his parents accordingly suggested that he enrolls at Lodwar Secondary School, a move he vehemently rejected.
“Following their suggestion, I embarked on the exercise of looking for scholarships and was lucky to be invited for one interview, which I performed pretty well and was given a chance. However a last minute hitch emerged that I was not an orphan and the chance was taken away from me. The other slot was given to a girl,” recalls Augustine, who is now 27 years old.
Nonetheless, he never gave up and continued applying for scholarships. With the deadline for reporting to school drawing closer, one of his relatives suggested he reports at Maseno School first as he searched for money. After reporting at the lakeside institution, a depressed Augustine asked his relative to take him to the Ministry of Education. While there he was asked to fill the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation application forms leading to the awarding of a four year scholarship. Augustine proceeded well at Maseno School excelling in national examinations and getting admitted at the University of Nairobi (UoN) in 2011 to study Bio-Chemistry.
Utilizing the money he had been saving from part time teaching after completing secondary education and with a bursary top up, he was able to pay for his first year university education.
“When I joined UoN things started falling in place, because in my second year of study I was made aware of Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF). I applied for a scholarship and was enrolled in the education programme. Being a beneficiary under the scholarship programme, they not only took care of my fees, but trained me on various life skills such as leadership empowerment, financial literacy, computer literacy among many others” says Augustine, who is the Senior Occupational Safety and Health Officer, based in Nakuru.
Through the programme, he was part of the audience invited to attend to a speech delivery by the 44th US President Barack Obama at Kasarani Stadium’s indoor arena in Nairobi, during the former American leader’s tour of Kenya in July, 2015: “I have enjoyed wide exposure and now view the world in real life not theoretically,” says Augustine, who was Chair of Turkana University Students Association during his hey days at the university.
Admittedly, KCDF taught Augustine how to give back to society and so, when he was not offering community service at Lodwar District Hospital – before devolved system of government came in place in 2013 – he was volunteering his services at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, while on attachment.
Augustine is however saddened by the fact that despite efforts to try and get a mentor, he graduated without getting one.
Upon graduation, he relocated to his home in Lodwar, Turkana County, where he continued with community service at the Lodwar Referral Hospital: “While here, I was shocked at the state of affairs because simple laboratory tests could not be undertaken at the hospital and so, I introduced biochemical tests, recommended purchase of machines and standard operating procedures for biochemistry tests. The hospital is now a level 5 hospital partly because of my contribution,” boosts Augustine.
According to Augustine, he went further to introduce Continuous Medical Education (CME), a routine meeting where laboraroty staff met and discussed the most efficient laboratory methods to use for various tests. He chaired the sessions.
In 2017, he saw an advertisement seeking Occupational Safety and Health Officers and opted to try his luck. He was invited for the interview and eventually employed and posted to Nakuru where he is currently stationed.
“The skills gained from KCDF have ably guided me on how to relate with clients. At the same time, life skills training has enabled me to develop good working relations with my clients,” observes Augustine advising the youth not to be ashamed and never to give up on knocking doors for opportunities.