#24 Kennedy

Monday, August 8, 2011

#24 Kennedy

I met Kennedy in August 2007 when he came to the rectory door, asking to see me.  I had attended a mass with Fr Kiriti at the home of Kennedy’s parents on the prison grounds, where the father was a guard.  Fr Kiriti had told the people I would be doing a “revising” session for 2 weeks at Ndingi.  The next day Kennedy was there, asking whether he could attend, even though it was supposed to be for Ndingi students only.  He was a quiet-spoken, earnest young man, just finishing form 1 at Naivasha Day High School.  He knew he needed help with math and he grabbed at the opportunity.  I told him to meet me at 8:30 the next morning so I could show him where to go.  He was there before 8, not wanting to be late.  We walked up the path to Ndingi that day and every day for 2 weeks and again the next summer.  During that time he told me his story, 2nd born of a large family, father approaching mandatory retirement age of 55, with primary school aged children to educate.  Kennedy’s

hopes of going to university seemed pretty slim.  His dream was to be a pilot.  I was taken by his maturity, strength of purpose and idealism, and wondered how it would all work out for him.

Unfortunately it wasn’t good.  In early 2008 the post-election tribal clashes occurred.  Kennedy and family had gone north to the Luo tribal area for a family funeral.  It may well have saved their lives, as many Luos were killed in Naivasha and other Kikuyu areas.  However, their house was looted and they lost everything!

I’m trying to remember how it was that he was here later in the summer, after the tempers had cooled and the people tried to understand what had caused neighbors to kill neighbors.  I do know that he was here for 2 summer tutoring sessions, but gone the summer after that.

The second summer, Cyrus, our oldest at Mji Wa Neema also attended the tutoring sessions, and often walked up the path with Kennedy and me.  They became good friends and began to work together in the afternoons here in the dining hall.  Several times I wandered in to find their heads together, trying to sort out some problem I had given them.  They were about 15 at the time.

After that summer Kennedy’s family moved to the north, to Kisumu, in the Luo area.  However, the father was never able to find a steady job.  He became what is known as a casual worker.  Kennedy wrote to me, saying his parents couldn’t even afford a day school for him and I ached for this boy who wanted his education so badly.  I had originally decided to focus on the students at Ndingi and at the newly opened SFG, but in the end, I couldn’t let Kennedy founder, not even completing high school.  Despite this and many other unforeseen problems, like having malaria the day of his exams one year and in fact having malaria quite often b/c it is rampant in the Kisumu area, he soldiered on.

Last year he sat the KCSE, earning a B–, which is a quite creditable grade in Kenya.  Since then he has looked for jobs, but they are even scarcer in his area than in Naivasha.   Like his father, he finds casual jobs and hopes for things to improve.

Today he came to see me, traveling all night on a matatu and then waiting for me to finish my stint at Ndingi.  He has accepted that he can’t become a pilot, the cost is too high, but he told me his brother and a friend had both died due to medication errors and he thought he would like to study pharmacy to see whether he could make a contribution in that area.

He’s the same soft-spoken young man, now 5 years older than he was the day he knocked on the rectory door.  His situation is so sad, and unfortunately repeated millions of times, not just in Kenya, but all over the developing world.  Again, I can’t let him just stagnate.  He’s just too fine a person.  I remember conversations we on our daily treks up and down between the church compound and Ndingi, on making a contribution to one’s society, on staying in Kenya to make it as good as they all think the US is—all those ideals he and I both hang onto in the face of harsh realities.

One thing that impresses me greatly is the lack of bitterness and blame.  At best his life was going to be a challenge, but the clashes, the loss of the family material goods and his father’s inability to find work have made these past years bleak.  Yet he just keeps on trying to figure out how he can achieve his dreams.  Sometimes I get a bit irritated b/c I get asked so often for help.  But he didn’t actually ask me today.  He just told me his story.  Again I told myself, “Margo you can’t save them all!”  and I answered, “Yeah but I can save some of them.”  Kennedy’s a keeper.

So, he’s looking into doing something like a community college course, leading to a diploma (sort of an AA).  After that he can work and eventually get a bachelors degree in pharmacy.  It’s a long road, but I’m betting on him.

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