When Colin Powell said a dream doesn’t become reality through magic, that it takes sweat, determination and hard work, he might as well have had Phillip Chepsoi in mind.
The 67-year-old Form Four student at Marigat Integrated Secondary School is an inspiration in an area where education is still not taken so seriously. His thirst for education has not been derailed by his advanced age and numerous obstacles he has faced.
Despite dropping out of school in 1975, the father of 23 picked the pieces in 2011 and enrolled for secondary education. And after years of toiling, victory is at hand because he is preparing to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams later this year.
Despite his immense parental obligations, Chepsoi’s determination to perform well in this year’s KCSE is unrivalled. Of the 23 children, two are in University, seven in secondary school, nine in primary school, and three others are expected to join Form One.
He has not only puzzled residents of Labos in Marigat town, Baringo County who see him every morning escort his children to Marigat Primary school before he proceeds to his own. The two schools are separated by wall.
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Chepsoi, who has four wives, told this writer that after 33 years of marriage, he had a burning desire to return to school.
“But it has not been easy for me. To arrive at this bold decision, I had to weather many storms including ridicule from my community for rubbing shoulders with classmates young enough to be my grandchildren,” he says.
His first-born child, a boy, is proceeding to his second year at Chepkoilel University while another son is joining second year at the University of Nairobi and Chepsoi says he and his children form a great study group during the holidays.
Three are a class behind him while one is waiting for his KCSE results he sat for last year.
“They go through my results, end-term report forms and guide me on areas to improve on. But I also beat some of them hands down when it comes to some subjects,” he says while laughing.
Chepsoi joined Standard One in 1970 but quit five years later following the death of both parents and he later joined the Kenya Forest Service as a forest guard until 1994 when he voluntarily resigned to engage in other things.
He says the salary could not sustain him and the family and decided to engage in irrigation farming at the Perkerra Irrigation scheme.
After sitting for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education as a private candidate, Chepsoi scored 178 marks out of a possible 500 and was selected to join Marigat Integrated Secondary school.
His favourite subjects are, Agriculture, History and Kiswahili.
“I had to seek the assistance of the Principal to ascertain that the admission letter was indeed mine. It was good news considering I had waited for close to four decades,” he says.
To catch up after decades outside the classroom, he had to purchase eight textbooks and hire two private teachers who would tutor him from 6pm up to well past midnight.
Although he has not fully decided what to pursue after secondary education, Chepsoi says he would be grateful if he could score at least a C plain when KCSE results are released next year.
“I do not want to score anything below that. I am determined and have been burning the midnight oil studying till late at night,” he says.
He solely depends on farm produce from the irrigation projects managed by the wives while struggling with books. “It is always a busy day for me. My youngest wife wakes up at 5am to prepare me and the children. Every day I leave the house before dawn,” he says with a chuckle as he writes Literature notes fast without looking up.
Chepsoi, who has followed in the footsteps of the late Kimani Maruge, says his desire to go back to school was triggered by a decision by one of his sons to decline admission to a Teachers Training college.
He says great businessmen who have excelled in various fields also inspired him to seriously think about going back to school.
“It was hard at the beginning but I have adapted. I’m doing well in class,” he says.
His principal Nikko Tenges said Chepsoi is a hard-working and determined student.
“While outside the school compound, I am a parent but as soon as I set my foot here things change. Teachers here are of my children's age but I respect them,” he said.
The Principal said one cannot tell the task of fatherhood Chepsoi has at home, given that he pays school fees for himself and his several children. He spends more than Sh270,000 in school fees every year.
He says classmates accepted and respect him despite the age difference, adding that with time he has learnt to balance between school and parenthood.
Describing his performance as average, the principal says Chepsoi works closely with teachers, most of them of his children’s age.
“I felt embarrassed being illiterate. I had to go to school to learn to read and write for a great future,” he says.
He is yet to clear an outstanding fee balance of Sh16,000, after agreeing with his children to clear theirs first.
“Everything is a sacrifice. I am also doing catch-up but they are always a priority,” he says.