Every person is a world of emotions, challenges, dreams, small and big achievements and failures.
True friendship is about discovering these worlds in those around us; discovering others we ultimately discover ourselves.
Reuben and Wilson are different. They are miles apart in terms of professional interests, background, character and looks.
Reuben did financial economics at Strathmore while Wilson did law at the University of Nairobi.
Next week, I will tell you more about Wilson. This week, I want us to focus on Reuben, who has always been full of joy and energy. He greets everybody loudly with a big smile drawn on his face.
COST OF DEVOLUTION
In 2015, I wanted to write an article on the Cost of Devolution in Kenya: A Cost Analysis of the New Governance Framework Introduced by the 2010 Constitution of Kenya and Its Impact on the Country’s Public Finance.
I could do the law part, but I needed help with unravelling numbers and the policy side. This is when I decided to approach two brilliant students: Reuben was in his third year of finance and economics. He would help with numbers.
Shillah, from deep inside Masai land, would look at the policy side. She had just finished university and was quickly becoming an expert on developmental policy.
Shillah is now in the last leg of her PhD in Germany.
JUMPED ON BOARD
Reuben and Shillah enthusiastically jumped on board, and we co-authored an article published by Harvard’s Africa Policy Review (http://apj.hkspublications.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/APJ-2015-Int.pdf)
After finishing at Strathmore, Reuben became a Graduate Assistant for a few months and then went to work with McKinsey & Company. He will be leaving this month for Geneva, Switzerland, to do a master’s degree in international economics.
With his permission, I have transcribed below a post he shared with me and many other friends on Facebook. A post of hope and faith. The faith and hope of an amazing mother who kept pushing and encouraging when all the odds were against her, and her children.
The year was 2006. I had been admitted to join high school but my mum had no money for my school fees and for buying the many items needed for Form 1 enrolment. So, what to do? She decided to sell the only piece of land she had so I could join high school.
During my schooling years, my mum went bankrupt. One sunny morning at our rented apartment in Thindigua, Kiambu, auctioneers ambushed us.
They ransacked our house and carried everything. They only left behind our clothes, the beds, and family photos.
By the time they were done, the house was a hollow space and so when everyone spoke, you could hear a loud echo. No sound absorbers, just mere walls and the beds.
Clothes and utensils were on the floor; no TV, no gas cylinder, no cooker, no fridge, no wall unit, no wardrobe, no furniture - all gone. Even the carpets gone and left with a cold red floor.
SELF ESTEEM SHATTERED
It was painful to witness auctioneers lower our stuff from the 2nd floor to the big lorry waiting at the ground.
Our neighbours from all the other 14 apartments witnessed this, my self-esteem was shattered. That year was a painful one for me.
When the auctioneers left, I jumped on a pile of clothes on the floor and cried. I remember using a hand mirror to see if my eyes were visibly red. I remember the words of my mum “Reuben, it shall be well. God will see us through, He has never forsaken us”. This made no sense to me.
I hated questions from curious neighbours. One neighbour was kind enough to give us one of her extra 3-seater sofas.
EMPTY SITTING ROOM
And still, my mum would host visitors in our empty sitting room and they would be facing a wall. I want to think she was being funny.
A few years later, I joined Strathmore University on partial scholarship to do finance and economics.
Some of my mum’s friends reprimanded her for taking her son to a school she couldn’t afford. Her faith suffered mockery.
One year later, I got a full scholarship and at the end of 4 years, I graduated top of my Financial Economics class and was voted the "Most Outstanding Student" by my graduating class.
Fast forward and over the last 5 years, as a family we’ve had the opportunity to educate my younger siblings without means through high school and college.
And while in campus, I had the opportunity to travel many parts of the world for competitions and exchange programmes.
For the last 2 years, I have been working at McKinsey, the global management consulting firm.
My mum now lives in her own house and does large-scale chicken farming, alongside her pastoral role of preaching the gospel.
My youngest (cousin) brother is doing his Form 4 exam this year at Moi High School, Kabarak. God’s been miraculously providing his fees.
In a month's time, I'll be starting my Master's program without my mum having to sell any land or having to stay at home.
I say this because I remember some days when I was in campus my mum had to spend the day at home because the money she had was just enough for my fare to and from Strathmore, not for both of us to leave the house.
She thought my attending class was more important than her errands. Despite all the odds, God's love and grace stuck around.
As a family, we resolved we will not put our trust in any man - be it in matters of careers, family, ministry, relationships, business, etc. ALL our trust is in God.
Most of these episodes have happened just under 10 years. The shame in my teenage years is gone, I got my self-esteem back and I regained my smile. Grace has worked on me. Behind every face, there is a story.
As Reuben ends his moving story, I can’t help thinking how many more such wonderful stories we come across every day.
They pass unnoticed, hidden behind wonderful smiles; there is a lot of heroic humanity hidden in this apparently inhuman world we live in.
Dr Luis Franceschi is the Dean, Strathmore Law School. [email protected]