If there was ever an army of people who have suffered in life, and lived to tell the story, Mr. Mathew Aol Nyamlori, would be a Five Star General of that army.
This man, whose middle name literally translates to ”I am tired” has pushed the limits of patience, beyond what physicists call the ‘‘limit of elasticity’’ and overcome all conceivable odds to achieve his greatest goal in life; academic excellence.
It is the reason why on 23rd July 2021, Mr. Nyamlori, 38, was trending in Kenya. This man literally took over all social media platforms by storm. And he did so for a good reason. On that day, Mr. Nyamlori graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from Kenyatta University in Kenya.
Mr. Nyamlori is no stranger to fame. For sometime now, he has been a constant fodder for the press, appearing in several interviews on TV, print and online. His singular story of determination, consistency and focus, is almost a fairy tale, the stuff that legends are made of.
His graduation from university was liberating. A breath of fresh air. Like a bird freed from its cage, Mr. Nyamlori tasted the fruits of academic liberty, one that he has followed through thick and thin, for almost 33 years.
It was the culmination of many years of hard work and sheer grit. He built his academic exploits by what former US President Barrack Obama calls, ‘‘block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.’’ Like Nelson Mandela, his has been a long walk academic to freedom.
‘‘This (graduation) means a lot to me. When you hold a university degree, you are free to interact with people from all walks of life, including the job market,’’ he says.
When I sat down with him to pick his mind on this incredible story, I really wanted to get a feel of what it must have felt like on 23rd July 2021.
‘‘That was the happiest day in my life. In fact, there are only two such days. The other day was in February 2012 when Equity Bank accepted me in their Wings to Fly Scholarship for my secondary education,’’ he tells me.
He is most grateful that his parents were present to witness this watershed moment for their son, who in spite of the travails of life, demonstrated that nothing is out of reach if you stretch you hand to receive it.
‘‘Problems, like everything else in life, are temporary. Your life will end the day your heart stops beating. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel,’’ he says excitedly.
Mr. Nyamlori was born on 4th January 1984, at Kipsimbol, in the present day Bomet County, about 226 kilometres West of Nairobi, the ninth born in a family of 13. His father Mr. Thomas Nyamlori Aol was a tailor in Bomet, and at times doubling in menial jobs in the area to fend for his large family, while his mother Nerea Diangá was a casual labourer.
They are originally from Kokumu – Kagwel village in Nyakach, Kisumu County.
His parents and other siblings fled Kipsimbol in 1992 at the dawn of multipartyism, with tribal clashes that ensured during the elections that year.
He remained at Kipsimbol at the home of an Administration Police officer who agreed to take him in, while his other brother got sanctuary at a neighbour’s.
The End ‘Justifies’ the Means
Poverty knows no boundaries, so the saying goes. This is an adage that Mr. Nyamlori has lived through, all his life. But just like other phenomena in life, poverty is not permanent.
A glance at his WhatsApp profile, reads, ‘‘the end justifies the means,’’ perhaps borrowing from the famed Italian diplomat, philosopher, politician, historian and writer, Niccolò Machiavelli who advanced the thought in his seminal work, The Prince. This has been his life mantra.
For Nyamlori, whatever it took to achieve his dreams, he would do. You see, this man secured admissions to big names like Kanga High School, Rapogi High School, Maranda High School, Kapsabet Boys High School, Maseno School, but was never lucky to actualize his dreams in those schools.
Like a restless shepherd looking to quench his thirst in a desert, Mr. Nyamlori first sat for his KCPE in 1998 at Kipsimbol Primary School in Bomet, and would later be a serial ‘‘resitter’’ of the exams in Rongo Primary School, Kitere Primary School, Sony Sugar Primary School in present day Migori County, Rangwe Junior Academy, Oriri Primary School, Agoro Sare Primary School, Agape Junior Academy in present day Homa Bay County, and Aldorebi Junior Academy in present day Narok County.
Why did he have to repeat school nine (9) times? What was he looking for?
‘‘The reason why I was repeating class eight was because I wanted to secure a scholarship for my high school. It was the only way out for me. I knew nobody would help me,’’ he says.
This explains why when the results of his first KCPE were out in 1998, he was disappointed to have scored 478 marks out of a possible 700.
He was targeting Starehe Boys Centre, which at the time, he says, only considered bright but needy students who had scored 550 marks and above in KCPE. It was then that he decided, he had to go for it, whatever it took.
Mr. Nyamlori then perfected the art of school nomadism, which for him was tactical. ‘‘I used to go to a new school every time, because I was avoiding areas where people already knew me, where I had been ostracized, suffered abuses and all manner of things,’’ he adds.
Between 2000 and 2001, he studied at Kanga High School in Migori County, dropping out in form two, after one of his distant aunties who was his benefactor, stopped paying his fees.
I was keen on finding out why, after all this, with his good grades, why no one seemed interested in extending a helping hand, and whether he made any efforts to seek assistance.
‘‘There’s nothing I did not do. I begged politicians; I was chased away even from churches whenever I requested for help. I didn’t stop at anything in my quest for assistance,” he adds.
Not relenting, this period of long suffering saw him have stints at construction sites, to fend for himself and his education.
At the height of it, he was forced to take shelter at a stranger’s outdoor bathroom in Rongo town, and this would become his home for a while.
‘‘I used to sneak in to the bathrooms at nights, when the owner was asleep and sneak out early in the morning before they woke up so I could go out in search for what to do. This was my home for some time,’’ says Mr. Nyamlori.
At one point, when he got admission to Maseno School. He was a daring man. Armed with just KSh. 7,000 that he had saved from his casual labours in Rongo town, he showed up at the school on reporting day. After constant pestering of the school administration, they allowed him in, but his stay was short lived. He dropped off again.
He admits that al his calling letters for Rapogi, and Maranda High School, are still lying at the schools, as he saw no need to picking them up if they would not amount to anything.
The 9×9 block and a Hot ‘‘Kitchen’’
At one point he was working at construction sites in Mathare in Nairobi.
It was while in Mathare that he learnt that working at a construction site or mjengo as it is popularly in local slang, was no easy task.
He laboured there for a while but can’t forget the energy sapping struggle, all for a pittance of KSh. 100 a day.
‘‘There were areas I always dreaded. The first was offloading bag loads of cement delivered to the site from lorries, which we had to convey straight from the lorry to the top of a building. The guy at the end of the chain at the top of the building, was the one who also felt the weight,’’
But there was the dreaded ‘‘kitchen’’ where the ballast was being prepared. In those days, the automated ballast mixers had not come to the fore. It was this ‘‘manual’’ way of preparing ballast that was revered by everyone. Then there’s the 9×9 block, which he will never forget.
‘‘By the time you are through with the kitchen, you can’t even sleep. You body is aching like you are collapsing the next minute. The ears. The eyes. It was pain all over. Yet the following day, you must show up at the site again,’’ he notes.
At the height of the post-election violence in 2007, with the are being the epicentre of the skirmishes, he was forced to flee the city, back to the village for safety. He said, he would be better back in school.
He went to Oyugis town in present day Homa Bay County, enrolling at Agoro Sare Primary School. Here, he lived in one of the deserted class rooms which the school administration graciously agreed to let him use. He scored 394 marks out of a possible 500.He was admitted to Maranda High School.
He never bothered. It was at this point that Mr. Nyamlori, still determined in his academic quest, met a pastor who was sympathetic to his case. The pastor Oldomoro Ndege lived in Narok. He told this youngster that Narok being a hardship area, it would be easy for him to secure a scholarship if he performed well. He jumped to the chance, enrolling at Aldorebi Junior Academy manging 400 marks out of 500. He was called to Kapsabet Boys High School. He did not go. The scholarship was still not forthcoming.
|NO.||SCHOOL||YEAR||MARKS||HIGH SCHOOL ADMITTED|
|1.||Kipsimbol Primary School||1998||478/700||Kabianga Boys High School|
|2.||Rongo Primary School||1999||559/700||Kanga High School|
|3.||Kitere Primary School||2002||387/700||St. Joseph’s Rapogi High School|
|4.||Sony Sugar Primary School||2003||399/700||St. Joseph’s Rapogi High School|
|5.||Rangwe Junior Academy||2004||434/700||Maseno School|
|6.||Agoro Sare Primary School||2008||398/500||Maranda High School|
|7.||Aldo Rebby Academy||2009||401/500||Kapsabet Boys High School|
|8.||Agape Academy||2010||401/500||Maranda High School|
|9.||Oriri Primary School||2011||403/500||Nairobi School|
Lady Luck Smiles with ‘‘Wings to Fly’’
The year 2012 remains the year etched in Mr.Nyamlori’s memory with indelible ink. After eight years of repeating class eight with the hope of securing a scholarship, he succeeded in his ninth attempt. That year, Equity Ban Group, through its Wings to Fly Scholarship came calling. It was not the only scholarship he got that year, there were two others. But he says he preferred the Equity one because it also had a mentorship aspect which was quite critical.
But that is not the story here.
Fast forward to the day he was showed up at the selection panel for some screening interview for the prospective recipients of the scholarship. Mr. Nyamlori said he regaled the panel with his intriguing life story, so much such that at the end, the panellists contributed KSh. 3,000 for him. This was something.
‘‘After this interview I went back to the village and applied for a national identity card,’’ he says.
He can never forget the chairman of that panel Mr. Tom Kuyo and Equity Group CEO Dr.James Mwangi, for literally giving him the wings to fly in his academic journey.
When he reported to Nairobi School that year, he was received by a welcoming party, with celebrations to boot. His story was already well known.
He says prior to joining Nairobi School, his major worry was how he would fit in the company of his other younger peers in school. But he found the school warm, welcoming and instantly felt at home.
‘‘The teachers were very understanding. They supported me in every aspect. I am always grateful to them,’’ he tells me.
He exerted himself, scoring a B+ in his final exams, an in effect, securing an admission at the Kenyatta University for a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration.
During his entire time at the Nairobi School, Mr. Nyamlori was a prefect from one to form four. He was also a student leader at the Kenyatta University.
If there’s anything that Mr. Nyamlori has learnt throughout this incredible journey, has been the fact that he can never trust human beings easily, especially when they make promises to him.
For instance, when he secured admission to Kenyatta University, many people, locally and abroad reached out to him, promising him to finish university and they would be willing to assist him.
‘‘Now that I have graduated, I have tried reaching them, they aren’t responding even to my text messages,’’ he tells.
His experience with what he now calls ‘‘emotional promises’’ is a long one. He remembers with pain, while at Maseno School, how he pestered his local Member of Parliament for school fees to no avail.
This is despite the fact that the MP’s home was a stone throw away from his home in Nyakach. He attempted to meet the MP severally, to no avail. At one point, he decided to travel to Nairobi, in school uniform in a bid to secure an audience with his MP. He imagines, being in school uniform would elicit some sympathy from the legislator. It did not.
‘‘The MP instead told his Personal Assistant to write a letter to the school principal requesting him to allow me back to school. This letter was useless. The principal did not even look at it,’’ he recalls.
It is the same reason, he tells me, that even with all the publicity he has received in the recent years, there’s no one who has been interested in helping his cause.
He says he doesn’t understand why with all the publicity he has received, nothing positive is coming out of it.
Ready for the Battle Ahead
Throughout this interview, Mr. Nyamlori has been animated. There are times he is almost lost in deep thought. His journey of life has been a gruelling one, a rollercoaster of sorts, punctuated by the worst that life has to offer.
Having achieved one of his life’s greatest ambitions, it is now time for him to settle down for the journey ahead. With his degree in public policy and administration, he has acquired extensive knowledge in how to solve some of the pressing national challenges.
He can now see his challenges within a prism, and can now see, how best they can be solved from a policy perspective.
‘‘About 90 percent of my life has been dominated by problems. Enacting sound policy will ensure that we limit some of these problems in the society,’’ he observes.
What he now needs is a job. Something to do. To keep him busy. To enable play a meaningful role in his country. To impact people. To inspire others. To leave a legacy.
‘‘With all my suffering, I think I deserve a job,’’ he says.
Until that is done, his graduation from university just opened a new frontier of another battle that he is now ready for. He is a Five Star General in the army of the suffering. He is aware of the terrains. He is prepared for the task ahead.
His fairy tale journey looks surreal, almost unbelievable. He is now at the cusp of what might be arguable the greatest breakthroughs of his life. But as the globally acclaimed Brazilian author Paulo Coelho says in his book, The Alchemist, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’’
Mr. Nyamlori harbours no ill feelings towards anyone who may have let him down at his trying moment.
He has chosen to focus on the future, to be the best that he can, no matter what it takes.
He has mastered the tides of life. He knows when it is convenient to make his sail.
It was the same wisdom that Brutus told Cassius as they contemplated the final phase of their civil war with the forces of Octavian and Marcus Antonius in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men Which, taken at the flood,leads on to fortune Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.
This is the time. This is the moment!
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