Kenya: I Was a Construction Worker During Lockdown, 'A' Student Says

For the eight months that the schools were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Wabwire Nanjala Athman, who scored A- (Minus) of 75 points, shuttled between various construction sites in Mombasa.

The 19-year-old had to move from one site to another to supplement the earnings of his mother, who works as a house help within the Central Business District in Mombasa.

So, he did not revise regularly for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations like the rest of the students.

"I did not open those books. I used to wake up very early in the morning to work in the construction sites. When the sun went down I couldn't study because of fatigue," he says.

His predicament was aggravated by the fact that the single room that houses him and his mother is not connected to electricity.

"My phone is not internet-enabled. Online learning to me is vocabulary. I just heard that candidates were having their online classes. I did not have that opportunity," he says.

Aware of the situation at home, Athman waited patiently for schools to reopen so that he could embark on serious learning and revision.

Even when he was not able to make it to the construction sites, the environment at home did not support any learning activity because he was expected to take care of his six-year-old brother when their mother was always away from home.

"My mother comes back only on weekends. So I have to look for food so that my brother and I do not starve," he says.

When the construction work was unavailable, the boy would do menial jobs just to make the ends meet.

But despite these challenges, the teenager managed to register good performance to earn himself a slot in the university.

When schools reopened, Athman took his studies seriously to make up for the lost time.

"I am a fast learner. I hardly forget anything that I read, so it was easy for me to catch up with the rest," he says.

Athman is one of the top students at Istiqama Secondary school. He wants to be an engineer.

His life in general has not been easy. He started at St Augustine Primary in Changamwe up to Standard Four before moving to Bright Academy, where he schooled for a year.

He again relocated to two other schools before joining Bashir Primary School, where he sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and scored 376 marks.

"I was moving from one school to another due to lack of school fees. Whenever I get someone who could support my education I was forced to move to the school of the sponsor's choice," he says.

After the KCPE results were announced, Athman was admitted to Shimo La Tewa High School but gave up the slot due to lack of school fees.

Together with his mother Juliet Nanjala, he started looking for scholarship opportunities, which unfortunately did not materialise.

"When we were about to give up, a friend of my mother informed us that scholarship forms for Shariff Nassir Foundation were still open for application. I applied and that is how I was absorbed into the programme," he says.

He then joined Istiqama Secondary School in Malindi under full scholarship.

"I joined the school two months after classes had already begun. However, I kept my dreams alive, not giving up despite the many challenges I had. I knew that one day, things would work out. It was just a matter of time," he offers.

His mother told the that she had struggled to bring up the boy, whose father disappeared as soon as he discovered that she was pregnant.

"I thank God for this miracle. I am tongue-tied. Though I believed in his ability, I did not expect this good performance. I am now happy and grateful to God," she says as tears well her eyes.

She was particularly worried about his performance, due to the months he stayed at home, doing casual work to help her, instead of focusing on his education.

"He is a hardworking boy though I was just worried," says Ms Nanjala.

Ms Nanjala reveals that she conceived Athman while she was in Class Three after she was impregnated by a vegetable vendor.

"I have never seen him since 2002. I used to be sent to him to buy vegetables. I did not know he had ill motives," she recalls.

The mother of two briefly narrated how her life became miserable thereafter.

"I was thrown out of the house after the man could not be traced," she recalls.

She says that it was this early pregnancy that made her look for work to take care of the child.

"That is how I became a house help. I have raised the boy with the little that I get from this work," she says.

The Director of Istiqama Group of Schools Omar Shariff says that it was the boy's good grades that earned him a scholarship.

"We did not care about his tribe or religion. We dealt with his situation to offer him the needed help," he says.

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