While growing up, David Omollo, 35, like any other child, had grand dreams. He dreamt big. He wanted to be an engineer when he grew up, he always told himself. Well, he never realized his dream. But that doesn’t mean he lost focus.
Throughout his elementary education at Rabuor Kaura Primary School in Homa Bay County, this grand dream dominated his imagination. He was determined.
After all, coming from a humble background left him with just one choice; work hard at school, get a great job as an engineer and make a difference in his family.
‘‘Growing up life was tough, because my father used to work as a tea picker Kericho, but his meagre wages couldn’t sustain his survival there, let alone ours. My mother on the other hand could do some small business, working for people in the village and also peasant farming,’’ he says.
His education was a struggle, from the word go. At primary school, all seemed well, until he reached class seven when he was forced to leave school rather than repeat the class as per his teacher’s recommendations. He took a one-year hiatus, but even that did not help him.
‘‘I left school for a year because the teacher wanted me to repeat but I disagreed. So I came back the following year, only to be taken back to class 6. I was not happy with that but I had no option. I studied up to class 8, did my KCPE in 2001 and passed well, scoring 336 marks out of a possible 500, but was not able to join secondary school due to lack of fees,’’ he tells me.
This was a watershed moment for him. A lot of things were happening at this same period that would alter the trajectory of his life, well, forever. As he hit a dead wall after KCPE, his elder brother too faced the same predicament, which saw him land a job as a gardener or shamba boy as they are popularly known.
Serving Two Masters
David’s father had better ideas as well. He wanted to take his elder son for some training in painting, and as such, David became a natural ‘‘replacement’’ at his place of work. This was a brilliant idea as David could earn a living as he planned for what next.
But there was a small problem. After a year into his new job, his new boss decided to enrol him at a day secondary school in the neighbourhood where he could study as he worked for him. Given it is not easy to serve two masters, David found himself spending too much time on schoolwork than herding cattle.
‘‘I stayed there for two years and I was doing good in my academics. We disagreed because I used to concentrate so much on studying than doing the work that could pay my fees. So I went home to see whether my parents could take me to school,’’ he recalls.
While back home, his father, never wanting to let down his son, got a new job as a security guard, with the hope that he could get some money to take his son back to school. But as they say, the devil was in the details.
‘‘As I still waiting for his report, he came home one day seriously sick. This was in 2004. It was so serious that he could barely speak. We tried different hospitals but in vain. Unfortunately, we lost him. That’s how my going to school came to a sudden end,’’ he says.
Undeterred, David knocked on the doors of well-wishers, but that too did not bring any good tidings for him. His dream was completely decimated.
That’s how he found himself having stints at casual jobs at construction sites, and one point working in a hotel. ‘‘I started as a labourer ( mtu wa mkono). Later was called to Nairobi to work in a canteen as a cashier. I worked there for a few months, but the environment and payment was not good,’’ David recounts with nostalgia.
It is this shift into the construction sector that set him on a pedestal that finds him where he is now. ‘’ I got few opportunities and later specialized in painting because I found it easy for me. I developed an interest and could go for training organized by paint manufacturers like Crown and Basco etc. That’s how I became an expert painter,’’ he observes.
On a normal day, David tells me, he wakes up bright and early and gets prepared for the day ahead, depending on the location of the assignment. When he arrives at the site, he changes his clothes, checks on the equipment, and is set for the task ahead.
‘‘Sometimes I supervise, so I assign people to their places and the kind of work to do. My day ends by 5 pm with payment or sometimes it’s done afterwards depending on the agreement we have with the client,’’ says David.
But like any other occupation, David’s painting work is not without its fair share of ups and downs. Much of it has to do with clients who don’t want to meet their end of the bargain once David has met his.
‘‘Mostly the challenge comes when the client wants to underpay me. There are also misunderstandings on the time of the payment. It is common to get a client wants to pay you when you finish the work, yet you may need some down payment before the work starts, ‘’ he says.
Then there are low downs emanating from colleagues at work who simply don’t do their jobs well. He points out that he addresses this bit by ensuring there is clarity on the scope of the work and the terms of payment before executing any assignment.
The painting job has enabled David to accomplish a few things like building his first house, known locally as “simba”, paying dowry and is now educating his children. ‘‘ I think that having something that you enjoy doing and you get paid for, makes me thank God that even though I didn’t want to do it while growing up, it has become something that I’m proud of. I enjoy painting. I now believe it was my hidden talent,’’ he acknowledges.
Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work
The famed Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet Michelangelo said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”
In this light, I wanted to pick David’s mind about what makes him tick in this profession. ‘‘To be a great painter someone needs to have passion for it, acquire enough training though there’s no end to this. Above all, know how to deal with clients and also fellow painters.’’
A pat on the back for any well-done assignment motivates him to keep going. Through such networks, he has been able to get new opportunities through referrals, and in effect, widen the scope of his clientele.
While he admits that his painting assignments have taken him far and wide, to places that seemed out of reach in his wild imaginations, he has also gained fresh insights on the issue of youth and unemployment.
He now urges youths to broaden their horizons beyond formal employment and seek opportunities that can help them progress in life.
‘‘Youths should think broadly and tap on these careers without focusing only on formal employment. If you can make it in a field of your interest, well and good, but if you don’t, never give up because you failed to become a doctor, pilot, teacher etc. Try what is within your reach. What you can do, just do it. Don’t sit and lament about things that didn’t go well, ‘’ he urges.
So for the father of four, who failed in his dream to be an engineer, passion is key in succeeding in any task, and money will follow you.
‘‘Sometimes we work for people who don’t pay us what is due to us, but God allows us to meet others who will pay us handsomely’’ says David.
Through painting, David Omollo is now ‘‘engineering’’ lasting impressions across the country, with his handiwork remaining a signature landmark that will be there for generations to come.
He is painting his future, and his new dreams, one colour at a time. So as you walk in Nairobi and other parts of the country, you could be walking past David’s signature, visible on the many buildings he has given an identity.
Has the engineering dream completely died? Well, he says, it is waning slowly with time, as his responsibilities multiply, and the urge to go back to school keeps dwindling.
‘‘The desire has been there but slowly by slowly it’s fading away because of age and responsibilities of taking care of my family,’’ David observes.
If you would like David to create a lasting painting impression for your building, you can reach out to him on +254 717 493411 or his Facebook page.
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