“I Was A Sand Harvester To Pay My Fees! Things Changed When I Got the Barclays Scholarship” – Paul Meeki Osidai
Barclays Bank of Kenya has been running a three-year scholarship programme from September 2017 for bright and needy university students in partnership with the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB). Currently, the programme has 470 student beneficiaries across the country, catering for their school fees and upkeep money. The bank set aside Kshs.65 million to support the fund in the 2017/18 academic year.
Paul Meeki Osidai is one of the programme’s beneficiaries and he sees himself as a relentless fighter in the quest for a better tomorrow. Paul grew up in Oltepesi location in Kajiado county and in 1998 when he was 3 years old, he lost his father to a stroke. Being from a polygamous family, his father’s property had to be divided among his wives. Paul’s mother, who was the youngest wife, didn’t get her fair share; so their lives changed became very difficult. They struggled with meeting basic needs in addition to Paul facing the stigma of being fatherless and his peers teased him and this ended up affecting his self-esteem as a child.
Throughout his primary school life, his mother sold beads, and milk from her three cows to local hotels in Oltepesi to support them. For years she kept on saving money in anticipation that her children would need to advance in their education. Paul attributes his mother’s saving culture as the biggest reason why he managed to get a secondary education. Paul doesn’t know how to quit no matter what comes his way, and he has worked odd jobs to support his education. Which is why it was such a blessing to be chosen as a Barclays Bank scholarship beneficiary in 2017.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am 23 years old and I am currently living in Nairobi. I am the second born in a family of four children. I grew up largely in a single parent home, where my mother battled challenges on a daily basis to bring us up. I come from a place called Oltepesi in Kajiado County. I went to Enchorro Esenteu Primary School and then proceeded to Olkejuado High School. I finished school in 2014. I joined Kenyatta University in 2016 where I am still a student. I had a tough childhood but I survived.
What do you do in school?
I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education arts, English and literature. I am currently in my second year of study.
What made you choose that as a career?
Well, initially I wanted to do law and I applied to two universities but realised that I couldn’t manage the school fees. So after talking to a few close friends and my former high school teachers, they advised me of the potential of a career in education and I decided to pursue it. So far so good.
What plans do you have after you are through with your university education?
Once I am through with school I plan to continue on building myself as a person and I am hoping to get employment soon after. However, even if that doesn’t happen there is still a lot I can do. I plan to work from Nairobi but still be involved in my community back in Oltepesi in terms of development. I just don’t want to clear school and go back to being a normal villager. I want to make a change working with the youth, poor families and people living with disabilities, mainly because I have lived in poverty and I identify with people who are in the same conditions as I have been in.
How did you hear about the Barclays scholarship program?
I was actually just surfing the net when I stumbled upon the scholarship being offered by Barclays bank in partnership with the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB). I found that the status of the scholarship program was active on the HELB site and I applied. It’s just like how one would apply for HELB, you download a form, fill it in, take it to your chief, former high school, commissioner of oaths for signatures. They then came to my rural home to verify that the information I had given was correct before I got selected.
How has the Barclays Scholarship impacted your life?
It’s impacted my life greatly because it found me at a time when I had been struggling with tuition fees for a while. In fact, just before the scholarship, I had taken a year off school in order to work and get some money for fees. I was to join campus in May 2015 but I deferred to May 2016 in order to work.
Also since I got into the programme learning has been uninterrupted for me. Initially, I would go back to my village to work for upkeep whenever I got free time. I would spend the days I had no classes or weekends working in Oltepesi, and that sometimes led to missed classes.
Now it’s different. I worry less especially because I know that everything is catered for and this has positively influenced how I relate with others. However, at the same time, I try not to forget that I am still a needy student and that I can’t behave like everyone else and go on drinking sprees. I try to remain focused and maintain friendships that will help me forge forward.
Do you believe your experience in the Barclays Scholarship program has made you different from other students? Yeah, Why?
I believe that the program is in the process of making me a better person. For instance, there is the Elevate workshop where we will get some skills and knowledge that will enable me to navigate through my university and future life better. I really look forward to meeting other beneficiaries, and the program’s facilitators to share ideas.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Lack of school fees has been the biggest challenge I have faced. Currently, two of my younger siblings are also in school; one is in class eight and the other in form four. It’s not easy for my mom to raise fees for them in addition to myself.
I have overcome this in the past through doing odd jobs to raise money. I have done sand harvesting; loading the trucks transporting sand from Kajiado, and also worked as a middleman in the market. The residents of Kajiado County are primarily pastoralists and there are two major markets for trading livestock there, one of which is held on Saturdays and which is close to my home.
So I would wake up very early in the morning and catch up with the people going to buy cattle. I would then convince them to task me with looking for the type of cow or goat they wanted, in addition to negotiating on their behalf because at times the sellers are illiterate and thus couldn’t communicate clearly with buyers. I would then get a commission from the transactions.
Another challenge I have had while growing up was accessing basic needs like food and clothing. But apart from the physical, there was always a vacuum, a space in my heart that was not filled. I missed the love of a father, especially back in primary school when kids would make fun of the fact that I was fatherless.
What were your expectations when you joined the Barclays scholarship program and have they been met so far?
In the beginning, I wasn’t fully informed about the whole scholarship process and I thought once I got it I was guaranteed all through my university education. However, I later came to learn that beneficiaries would have to reapply for the program again and that they aren’t always guaranteed. That has made me aware of the need to prove good performance in school and concentrate on my academics.
Also, I expected the scholarship to free me from having to work to cater to my fees and upkeep. That has been met as currently I am settled. I have received money for my school fees, upkeep and I have not been missing classes.
What has been your highlight in the program?
My highlight in the program has been seeing service to humanity first hand. I was struggling and was at a point where I was asking myself whether there was anybody somewhere who would come to my rescue. Hence, after getting selected for the scholarship program it hit me that there is always somebody whom God has placed somewhere to help you in your time of need.
Why do you think you managed to get into the scholarship program over other applicants in the first place?
I think I qualified to be identified as a beneficiary of the scholarship because I proved that I am in need, and apart from that, I am also a promising student. I have potential to excel and I have overcome hardship to get here.
Why do you think such programs are important?
Well, I think scholarship programs are significant because they not only give you material support but also impart important skills that you may never learn anywhere else. For instance, some of the things taught in these workshops that we attend are not even taught in class.
Any advice to the group of students that will be joining the program this year?
First off, I would advise applicants, that if someone knows they are not needy, they have no problem with paying school fees or are from a well-off family; please do not apply. Give other people that chance, because applying may mean you are shutting a door for somebody who is more in need.
For the beneficiaries who will qualify, I would say work hard to stand a better chance of being considered for subsequent awards. After all, a good performance is what you owe Barclays, so you have to do your best.
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