They say education can fit the world into a village.
On a warm but humid Saturday last week, it did just that at Eron village in Salawa, Baringo County.
From the United States, Canada and across the country, relatives, friends and former students poured in to pay their last respects to a man who opened the world for them-Wilson Chepkoit, fondly known as Mwalimu (Teacher).
Mwalimu-a humble man who, using the pen, chalk and paper changed the destiny of an entire village and beyond, was coming back home for the last time.
He was returning to a village he left months ago when travelled to the United States for treatment. He died on April 27 of cancer.
He was 81.
But beneath his age and lean frame lay a strong spirit that had become a legend in the his village and beyond.
Mwalimu, a strict disciplinarian and a solid pillar for hundreds of young souls whose brains he helped shape over the years undoubtedly died a happier man; happier because of a rich legacy he left behind in a teaching career that spanned 35 years.
A legacy that his children have promised to build on.
“We will establish an education centre of excellence at Eron to honour him as a great mentor and teacher who believed and invested in education,” said Dr Ben Chepkoit, his first born son.
The education centre, he promised, will be fully equipped, and the first of its kind in the region.
Chepkoit’s quest to set the bar of academic excellence saw him try his hand in teaching in 1960-three years before Kenya got her independence. He was 22 when he first started teaching at Kapluk Primary School in Baringo Central.
His love for teaching led him to Mosoriot Teachers College after which he started teaching at Salawa Primary School, where over the years, he climbed up the ladder to become the head teacher before retiring in 1995.
And when he died last month, his send-off brought the entire village to a standstill.
Mwalimu’s body was first airlifted to Kapchomuso Airstrip, a few minutes’ drive from Kabarnet town. With scores of villagers watching and the silent hills simmering in the sun, the beige coffin was transferred to a waiting hearse.
The long convoy then snaked its away between the hills, through the valleys that Mwalimu once walked in pursuit of knowledge and past the Baringo-Elgeiyo Marakwet border that his passion for education helped bridge.
All along, eager heads popped up the fences, while others lined the road to get a view of the convoy. Mwalimu was coming back home; home where he had invested heavily in education and community work, and created lasting impressions.
“He was a pacesetter in the entire Kerio Valley. He made learning seem easy but with a strict sense of discipline,” said one of his former pupils, Charles Bore, a nominated member of County Assembly.
According to Bore, Mwalimu was more than a teacher: He was the village’s senior counsel, an agriculturalist and environmentalist who brought the best of the lush-green Kerio belt, not just through his passion for education but also by actively championing for its conservation.
Mwalimu was among the first people to sound a warning against environmental destruction in Kerio Valley.
“He could ‘smell’ its destruction and fought for its conservation, not through confrontations but with subtle shrewdness that would put back things in order,”said Bore.
Beyond the classroom, Mwalimu gave out part of his farm for farming demonstrations.
Nothing captures his enthusiasm at drawing the best out of children like the family that he left behind. After careful molding, his children are trailblazers in a variety of professional fields. The family has produced engineers, accountants, scholars, nurses, communication specialists, teachers and human resource specialists with multiple degrees.
“This is the kind of pace he set for the entire Kerio Valley belt,” said Bore.
For his children’s education, Mwalimu spared nothing. He made the trip from the small village in Salawa to Moi High School Kabarak to seek vacancies for his children.
Fourteen of his family members either attended the school or are enrolled there- nine of his children and five grandchildren.
It is here that he caught the eye of the school’s patron, former President Daniel Arap Moi.
“His love for education that saw most of his children admitted to Moi High School-Kabarak brought the two families closer and they have since been great friends. This passion for education is worth emulating,” said Baringo Senator Gideon Moi.
Still, Mwalimu did not believe in shortcuts-to get admitted at Moi High School Kabarak, the children had to work for it and earn a place in the prestigious school.
“It was our grades that took most of us to Moi High School-Kabarak, a number of us were enrolled right from the time the school started,” said his son, Ben, who among the first batch of students to be enrolled at the school.
“The gentle humble soul, a forthright man with measured speech, walked purposefully and never engaged in small talk. His lean frame was compensated by a big heart,” said another son, Alex Chepkoit, a journalist.
Standard Group Deputy Editorial director Kipkoech Tanui said Chepkoit’s hard work and discipline was reflected in his children., some of whom have climbed through ranks in the company over the years.
“His contribution can be felt all over, including in our staff who passed through him. He gave education his best that is why he has attracted people from all walks of life,” he said.
And as the sun slowly made its way to the hills, Mwalimu’s beige coffin was slowly lowered to his final resting place, watched by hundreds of his former pupils who solemnly pledged to follow the roadmap he left on the sands of time: discipline, simplicity, order, study and hard work.