Engineering student drops out of varsity to dig trenches

William Tsuma at a road construction site in Mombasa where he is taking up menial jobs to raise his university fees. [Akello Odenyo, Standard]
William Tsuma, 23, has been out of university for a year for lack of school fees.

It is the latest setback for the student, who, at 15 years, resorted to doing menial jobs for a year to raise money to enable him rejoin high school. 

A sudden illness on the day he was to join university would not kill his determination for a better life either. But now he is worried that he could have run out of luck.

Tsuma dropped out of Technical University of Mombasa (TUM) in May 2017. He was studying civil engineering.

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He joined TUM in July 2016, but his sponsor, a Member of Parliament who had pledged to be paying the Sh70,000 fee every term only did that for his first year. Tsuma was sent home in his second year of study.

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Tsuma had hoped to approach the politician after the 2017 general election, which the latter had lost. “It was a terrible blow, as my candle of hope suddenly went off. So I threw myself into the world to survive,” he said of the politician's decision to end his sponsorship. 

The student, who scored A- in the 2013's KCSE examination has turned to menial jobs to fend for himself.

The last born in a family of 11 says his parents cannot afford his college fees. His unemployed father is disabled and therefore unable to take up some jobs, while his mother relies on subsistence farming to fend for the family.

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Tsuma’s brothers all work in the matatu industry and live from hand to mouth. "None of my siblings got to high school. I almost followed the trend when, in my second year, my parents could not afford my school fees and I dropped out," he says.

When The Standard met Tsuma, he was working at a road construction site in Mombasa. He was clad in a blue overall with patterns different from his colleagues. Under the helmet, a sweat dropped as the mattock hit the hard ground.

Here, Tsuma finds home, at least for today. Tomorrow, he will have to sieve through pieces of paper, knocking every office with the hope of finding another home.

He always dreamed of being here, but in a different capacity. He hoped to be steering the construction course and not the heavy pick-axe under the scorching sun of Mombasa. All he has is a bundle of certificates and awards. 

His command of English is good, and his eyes shine with hope, as he opens up about his life. He recounts his determination to get a good education. 

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In 2009, he joined Jaribuni Secondary School in Kilifi, but dropped out for lack of fees in second year. He was at home in 2010 and resorted to doing menial jobs at 15 years to raise some funds.

In 2011 he joined Ribe Boys High School, where he sat the KCSE examinations in 2013.

When the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) selected him to study Actuarial Science at Kisii University, Tsuma was elated.

“That was the biggest achievement and a relief from the burden of paying school fees. I could see my dream so close. But that also got stuck in the pipe,” he said.

He was to join Kisii University in September 2014, but on the day of his admission, he lost his sight. "I had arrived a day earlier and checked into a guest house for the night. When my 5am alarm went off, it was still dark. I turned on the lights, but when I still could not see, I assumed there was a blackout," he said.

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William said he groped to the window, pulled the curtains aside, but it was all dark even though he could hear cars hooting and people moving.

Sight messed

The problem, as it turned out later, was his sight. He went back home in Kilifi, where he sought help.

Tsuma returned to Kisii University, but a few weeks to end of semester examinations, his sight problem recurred.

That is when he decided to look for a university closer home. He joined Technical University in July, 2016 for a module II programme after the MP offered to pay the Sh70,000 per semester.

Funds from the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), which Tsuma qualified and applied for, have not been forthcoming. Local leaders, among them the MCA, had promised to secure him a scholarship, but all he can do, for now, is wait.

“There are days when I'm so depressed that I can't be productive but I still dream and hope for the best,” he said.

Do you identify with Tsuma's plight and have a testimony about how you overcame challenges and tough circumstances in life to be where you are today? Encourage others that are feeling hopeless. Send us an 800 words article to: [email protected] 

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