They make an odd couple. He is in school uniform — a maroon sleeveless sweater, white shirt, stripped tie, and dark grey trousers — while the woman he is walking with is dressed in a simple flowered skirt and blouse.
A casual glance will tell you that this is not a mother and her son, and that the man looks too old to be in secondary school. He is. Vincent Odette is 30 years old while his wife, Laventer Ongoche, the woman he is walking with, is 26.
They are going to Mirando Ongalo Secondary School, about two kilometres from their home in Magare Village, Siaya County. Vincent is a student there.
When they arrive, Vincent heads to one of the Form Three classrooms, while his wife makes her way to the school kitchen, where she works as a cook.
Three years ago, Laventer enrolled her husband in Form One and has been faithfully paying his school fees.
“Some people think we’re crazy, they say that we’re wasting money that we can put to better use,” says Laventer.
The couple is by no means rich or anywhere near there. They live in a one-room hut with their three children, and their only regular source of income is the Sh3,000 a month that Laventer earns.
Sh2,000 goes towards her husband’s school fees and the rest caters for their household needs. Laventer and her husband normally wake up at 4am, prepare breakfast for their children, and make mandazi, which Laventer sells to the students at school.
They also cook lunch for their children, who take their daytime meal at home since they go to a nearby school. They then help their children — Collins Odhiambo, seven, Partrick Sungu, five, and Albert Nyawanda, three — to get ready for school. They leave home by 7am.
Vincent usually gets home first since his wife has to stay behind to wash the utensils the students use for their evening tea.
Laventer gives him the money she has made from the mandazi, which he uses to buy what is needed for supper. If there are dirty utensils or clothes, he washes them, then fetches firewood to use to cook supper.
He baths the children, then starts to prepare the evening meal. In between, he studies with his children and a younger sister who lives with the family.
Vincent says that he is sometimes ridiculed, especially by fellow men, for being supported by his wife and allowing her to pay his school fees, but he has made peace with that.
“They say that it is not manly, but we’re doing this for the sake of our family’s future — without an education, it’s difficult to be successful in life,” he says.
Vincent scored 466 marks out of 700 in his the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, securing a place at St Mary’s Yala Secondary School, a provincial school. But his widowed mother could not afford to pay his school fees, so his dream of becoming a doctor died.
It is a reality that hit Vincent hard and he would break down and cry every time he saw his former classmates in primary school in their new uniforms. But life had to go on, so he took up casual jobs to support himself and his mother.
When he met Laventer in 2002, he was selling vegetables at Luanda Market in Emuhaya, Vihiga. Laventer, then a tailor, was one of his regular customers and within a short time, the two fell in love.
“What initially attracted me to him was his humble and cheerful nature,” Laventer says.
After dating for five months, they moved in together.
“That was one of the happiest days of my life,” Laventer says, her smile wide.
By the time she delivered their first child in 2005, they had moved to Vincent’s rural home to help look after his sick mother. Vincent, who would not allow his wife to do any heavy duties, became the sole bread winner, fishing or working at a nearby quarry.
In 2007, Vincent’s mother died and his two sisters and a niece who depended on her moved in with him and his family. This made their financial burden even heavier.
His mother had been a cook at Mirando Ongalo Secondary School. After her death, Laventer approached the principal, Joseph Ojwang’, and requested to fill the vacant position. He agreed to give Laventer the job, which came in handy because the couple now had two children.
“I would leave our two children at home under the care of Vincent, who would sometimes go to the quarry with them, when the weather was good,” Laventer says.
Interacting with the students at her new place of work made Laventer, who did not go beyond primary school, long to go back to school.
“I hadn’t been a bright student like Vincent had been, and I knew that being unable to complete school bothered him. He often told me that should he get a chance, he wouldn’t hesitate to go back, no matter how old he was.”
One day, she plucked up courage, walked into the principal’s office, and asked him to allow her husband to join Form One. To her delight, he agreed, but on condition that he passed a test.
“The questions were drawn from English, Kiswahili, Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics. I passed,” Vincent says.
In 2010, through his wife’s encouragement, Vincent joined Form One.
“Adjusting wasn’t easy — I felt different from the others, especially since I was much older, but I was determined to fit in, study hard, and make my wife’s sacrifice worth it,” he explains.
That term, Vincent was number three in his class. The principal, Mr Ojwang’, says that since then, he has been leading his class and was appointed school captain in spite of the fact that school captains are traditionally in Form Four.
“Vincent is humble and likeable and is popular with his fellow students, who picked him to represent them,” says Mr Ojwang’.
He adds that even though they try to treat him like other students, there are times when they make exceptions.
For instance, there are days when Vincent skips classes to work at the quarry when the financial burden becomes too heavy on his wife.
“We cannot punish or send him away for that, can we?” the principal asks.
The school management also turns a blind eye when he has fee arrears, which is most of the time.
While there are those who think that their sacrifice is in vain, there are those who are supportive. One of these are the members of their church, St Peter’s Magare Catholic Church, which recently raised Sh55,000 to help Vincent clear his fee arrears.
“We’re really lucky,” Laventer says.
Vincent agrees, and adds that he is a lucky man to have found a woman like his “Lavie”, as he fondly calls her.
“She’s the greatest gift that God has given me. How many women would do what she does? I will study hard so that I can qualify to join university and study law. I intend to give Lavie and our children a comfortable life.”
He adds, “I want my children and wife to eat well, study in good schools, and wear good clothes like other children.”
He dismisses those who have told his wife that he would abandon her once he becomes successful.
“I would be a fool to even think of leaving a woman like her. I know just how lucky I am to have such a supportive wife and I’m convinced that there is no other like her. I love my wife very much and plan to stick by her until I die.”
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