By Charles. O. Okoth
Tucked somewhere in Rarieda, Siaya County, and overlooking Lake Victoria, is a small, sunny Chianda High School; quite far removed from any major urban setting. The nearest urban centre, some twenty kilometres away, is Bondo, the headquarters of Bondo Sub-county.
It is this remote school where Maxwell Owuor Okal scored an A- to take him to the Engineering Department of Mombasa Technical University.
It is a full boys boarding school that hosted Okal, who, despite the bombarding challenges, put behind his childhood tribulations to excel and shake off the dust of poverty that has blown his family for years on end.
The second born in a family of three eking life in Kisumu City, he sees light at the end of the dark tunnel.
“I have been brought up by my mother, who is a single parent,” Okal says, rather emotively. “It was unfortunate that things did not work out very well between my parents; and my father, for his own reasons, left us. I was only ten years old then.”
Okal says his mother took up the challenge of being both a mother and father. His father had been opposed to the idea of them getting an education, which has intrigued him to date.
But he is very grateful to his mother for taking up the challenge. Their father never resurfaced since taking off, and Okal has very little recollection of him.
The stage was thus set for a life of struggle. His mother, Pricilla Adhiambo Oluoch, had to ensure they had food, school uniform, and assorted school expenses.
But the boy weathered that, scoring 382 marks in KCPE at Kosawo Primary School, Kisumu City.
“I was a bit disappointed. I had hoped for at least 400 marks,” relates the young man.
He is proud to have landed a place in Chianda, downplaying evryone’s desire to join Alliance High.
“I did not go to Alliance, but still got an A- which Alliance would have given me. So I am very proud to be an alumnus of Chianda. It is indeed a great school,” he reflected.
He is very grateful to the school principal Dr. Hezron Barkey Oyolla for his understanding and support.
“Without this understanding and tolerance, I would never have finished school. My future would simply have been blown off, but a just God rewards good deeds,” he says, pointing out that his mother would never have made it without his empathy.
The eloquent young man says engineering is just a side kick as he has a strong angling to literature and writing.
We struck a chord as we both had the same interests. When he learnt I also did Science at the university, he was encouraged to talk more.
“My teacher of English Evelin Onoka noticed my somewhat unique skill in composition writing. When a chance came up in the form of ‘Diaspora Times Writing Competition’, she asked me to come up with a story that could be presented,” he recalls.
His story was published as one of the best, and he received cash awards, a certificate and some bountiful encouragement.
Now, even as he pursues a course in mechanical engineering, he has not stopped writing and reading. He has several short stories, a complete novel, and a second one still being worked on.
For fellow young people, he has some advice.
“When you meet a challenge, pick it up. When my father walked out on us, I was inspired to work harder. I had a point to prove, and I am determined to prove it by God’s grace,” he advises.
He further tells them to shun drugs like plague.
“If people were to be feted for taking alcohol, then my father would have had a whole chest of gold medals. I know drugs don’t help. So, leave them alone.”
Okal feels indiscipline is a result of students losing focus on their mission and vision, which every learner must have.
“I went to school with the ultimate vision of passing my exams. Even when I was doing very well, including being one of the top in public speaking nationally, I did not accept the role of a student hero in a negative sense. Such heroism leads to indiscipline. I chose to use such achievements to influence students positively,” he revealed.
He says every student should recognise the central role a teacher plays, taking note that a learner’s attitude towards their mentors will determine the direction their lives take since they are parent figures. He insisted if there is an issue with a teacher, it needs to be sorted out immediately without acrimony.
Above all, he says, students must put their trust in God.