Until Monday this week, Mercy Tarus was just an ordinary graduate trying to make ends meet in Eldoret. But unknown to many, she was among many students who fell victim to the now infamous Uasin Gishu County government oversees scholarship programme.
When parents and their children affected held a meeting with county leadership on Monday, Tarus stood out as she took on the leaders head-on.
Tarus confronted Governor Bii, Barorot and Mandago over the failed education initiative despite their parents paying out millions of shillings. The students and their parents had been promised places in universities in Finland long after parents borrowed loans and even sold the properties to secure places for their children, the initiative has taken a different twist.
The courageous 24-year-old expressed her feelings as her parents demanded refunds for payments made to the botched overseas scholarship program.
The leaders were caught by surprise when the student stood, sending salvos as she stood unshaken.
Sensing ‘insensitivity’ on the part of the leaders, Tarus kicked off the storm: “First of all, you (leaders) called us to a meeting set to begin at 9 am. What time have you arrived? Probably, you do not expect me to ask such a question, but these are the people who elected you for you to serve them. I may seem foolish to you, considering that I am young,” the student posed.
She reacted on the leaders’ arrival at the meeting venue about three hours after the agreed time.
Tarus claimed the leaders were feeding parents and students with lies while their (leader’s) children lived comfortably abroad studying.
She questioned why the leaders had kept the students and parents, other elderly, for hours. She further mentioned that some elderly parents had not eaten since morning.
“We have brought our parents, some sickly, some diabetic, some depressed. My governor (Chelilim), I went to school with your children, who are now abroad. Deputy Governor Barorot, you told us that your children are also abroad. You told our parents that we, the children, belong to all the parents. I ask, do we have children belonging to these leaders here with us?” she posed.
“I ask do you (leaders) know any anti-depressants? There are students here who are on anti-depressants. You have given your children a head start. They are earning euros abroad while we suffer here. We don’t know whether you sold land, secured loans or sold houses,” the students posed.
The student also questioned how their money was used, a move she said left her selling porridge and mandazi when her dreams were to study abroad dimmed.
“We did not permit you to use our money to offset arrears for other students. You are also very mean with the truth; you will lie to us day in, day out. You keep lying while smiling at us with faces that look innocent,” the student claimed.
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At her salon shop in Kuinet, Uasin Gishu County, The Standard team found Tarus going about her hairdressing business, which she started after plans to proceed to Northern Light College in Canada were aborted due to the controversy.
The Kabarak University graduate said she is not remorseful for speaking her truth. She said many of her colleagues are depressed, and their parents are penniless.
“I am not remorseful for what I said. I watched the viral clip after learning later that it has trended. I said what had to be told and I do not regret it. I am a teacher, and that is why I demanded answers,” Tarus said.
She said she wanted leaders to be accountable to the people they entrusted them with positions.
“We are used to being cowards fearing to face those in position. I was not being rude but brutally honest and demanding accountability,” she explained.
She said her parents, who are teachers, had also watched her and felt proud of her for exuding courage.
“My parents wondered at my guts. They are proud of me and have complimented me for speaking out for many youths,” she added.
Asked if she had planned to confront the leaders during the meeting, the student said she had no plans of doing so.
She said she was agitated, having waited for the leaders for hours and felt that the parents were being taken for a ride.
“My speech was not rehearsed, neither was I coached. I was agitated, especially when I overheard some County employees claiming the leaders were letting us bask in the sun and stay hungry for hours before they would make an appearance. The venue also had a heavy police presence. The officers flaunted their teargas, and I wondered why all that security on helpless parents who would not harm a fly,” she stated.
The Geography and CRE Trained teacher narrated how she had applied to join the program after graduating in December 2021.
She recounted shunning to join her cousins, who were applying through agents to study in Australia, since her dream was to study in Canada.
She said her parents topped up a loan to raise Sh 982,000, which they paid to the Uasin Gishu County trust account before the end of a two–week deadline they had given.
“After paying the fees, our travel date kept changing, and the required fees kept fluctuating because no fee structure was given to us. Now, my cousins who began their process way after I enrolled for the County program are already in Australia, moving on with their lives,” she said.
Tarus said she is pained with the County leaders who have been trading blame over the program instead of providing leadership and solutions to the challenges facing them.
“I still have dreams, and I am hopeful that I will accomplish them, at the moment, I feel drained and wasted, but I am positive that the stars will align again,” said Tarus who is a talented poet.
Parents and students have planned another protest demonstration today (Wednesday).