04-08-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
Kona Mbaya means 'cursed crossroads' in Swahili.
In reality, those who live in Kona Mbaya will never curse their village, accustomed as they are to breathing its poverty and distance from civilisation.
A distance that may seem unbridgeable, to embrace the dreams of a 13-year-old boy.
On one side the dangers of the Lugari forest, on the other the rapids of the Kapkarren river.
And in front of him, kilometres and kilometres of rocky nothingness between the climbs and overhangs of Kenya's Rift Valley.
These are the kilometres that George Masinde, the young boy with dreams bigger than his shoes and stronger than his young muscles, has travelled to present himself at the secondary school he has always wanted to attend, the St. Joseph Boys School in Kitale.
That college, too expensive for the finances of his parents, who run a vegetable stall in Kona Mbaya, is 50 kilometres from home. He enrolled in the school in the hope that someone would come up with the money to pay the school fees. But if he had not turned up on time for the opening of the school year, which was brought forward this year because of the pandemic, his place would have been taken by some other waiting student.
George passed the equivalent of the eighth grade brilliantly, with a rating close to excellent.
But his mother's attempt to collect money from the poor people of Kona Mbaya had no effect.
The college of his dreams would have remained so, and perhaps he would have been able to wear the uniform of the nearby St. Lukes Boys in Lumakanda or the modest Lumama Secondary at the foot of the forest, had he been content.
Instead, George, without telling his mother, put on khaki shorts and a green jumper with the crest of his old primary school and walked from Kona Mbaya on Sunday morning, seeing the misery of the shacks, the Catholic and Anglican churches on either side of him, the markets of Mautumba and Makutano, climbing the hills that divide the county of Kakamega from the northern county of Bungoma and arriving in the cold, unknown nothingness of the village of Ndalu in the evening, resting in the shelter of a plant with the severe cold of the equatorial winter as his only companion. Then, at first light of day, they set off again, a few more hours in the mountains to arrive at St Joseph's before the bell rang.
"I was afraid I wouldn't make it and feared for my life," George told the headmaster, appearing in his office looking innocent and dressed like a primary schoolboy, "but I was told that if I didn't show up here today, my place would be given to someone else.
George explained that his parents will never be able to afford to pay for his dream school and that they barely managed to support him and his siblings without making him miss a single meal a day and that attempts to apply for a scholarship fell on deaf ears.
"Sacrifice doesn't scare me," he said visibly exhausted, "to go to Primary I would wake up at 3am and come out at the top of my class. When I grow up I would like to be an aeroplane pilot."
The headmaster of St Joseph's told of his astonishment at seeing the boy in his office.
"When the secretary told me I had visitors, I expected anything but to see a boy in a tattered uniform from a primary school in another county, shivering in the Kitale cold. He begged to be allowed to go to class with his classmates, even though he had no other clothing and his shoes looked more like two slippers."
So the headmaster, in order to activate probable benefactors, decided to tell this story to the media and the solidarity race has already started to guarantee college for George, in a country where the dreams of young people, especially when it comes to education, are not miles away, but light years from what should be the natural accompaniment to their realisation.
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