Pay Forward


We landed at Kisumu International Airport at 7am. Kisumu reluctantly stirred under a mild blanket of gray. She remained aloof and picturesque. Our driver, standing where a horde of taxi men congregated, held up a placard written “KCDF.” That was us. I convinced Jamo, the cameraman, that we had a moment to dash into town for a quick breakfast before we set off for the assignment in Usigu, Siaya County. I know a decent Swahili place in Kisumu’s sprawling Industrial area called Mafud that serves some truly champion brown chapos. It’s always been my ritual to have breakfast there if I arrive in Kisumu on that horrid dawn flight.

Mafud is a greasy spoon frequented by blue collar men who live off the toil of their roughened hands. It’s set behind a long block of warehouses. The tables are covered with cheap plastic sheets adorned with gaudy pictures of tropical fruits. If you are lucky you will get a seat by the large window which offers a view of the street outside where Kisumu moves on motorbikes and feet. I normally have chapos, coconut beans and masala tea. Their chapos are the size of a flying saucer. Jamo – as a typical Kuyu – had his chapos with beef stew.  We ate soundlessly.

Melvine of KCDF had sent us out there. They – KCDF – were documenting stories about community asset building, endowment fund if you want, spanning close to ten years. This meant travelling across the country and interviewing selected beneficiaries. This was the last quarter of last year. We finished breakfast, bundled into the car and pointed towards Siaya.

Unbeknownst to us, we were going to meet poverty in Usigu.

When we arrived, our driver parked the car under a tree in a grassy fenceless compound where the lone Usigu Trust office stood. The only sound was a cow’s bell clanging as a herd grazed nearby, herded by a most listless man leaning on a staff.

A gentleman who introduced himself as Tom, the chairperson of Usigu Trust, met us with warm handshakes. He was dark and lean and had numerous creases around his eyes. He shook our hands like we are dignitaries. Like we were donors. I introduced Jamo, and then Tom led me into the office as Jamo hauled his equipment from the boot.

The office had one wooden desk and some chairs that I could tell were brought in specifically for our visit. Seated inside were four other officials. All senior citizens. They greeted me with importance and asked me how Nairobi was. People in shags are always asking you how Nairobi is. But who knows how Nairobi is? Hell even people in Nairobi can never really tell how Nairobi is.

Although briefed earlier by KCDF, I explained again why I was there. They nodded and murmured their approval – amiability is the hallmark of old age. The room was dark because there was no electricity. Light streaked through the open windows that also offered a view of a thicket fence and a cloudless sky. A curious yellow-necked sparrow perched on the window looked in with cocked head. Playing kids squealed somewhere the distance. There was no ceiling and the corrugated roof clicked, crackled and stretched in the heat. I suggested that perhaps we should move outside for the interview because of light and recording. They scrambled to their feet like school children. I felt like Khlestakov in Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector. I was embarrassed.

Outside a few more people milled about. That’s the thing with Nyanza, when people see a vehicle in the village, chaps will come to inspect. A vehicle could possibly mean a handout. A handout means unga, and unga means a meal.

Jamo set up his camera on a tripod stand. I sat with my back to the camera and Tom sat in front me. Under a tree, a little away, four kids we were to interview, beneficiaries of KCDF, sat waiting. Two girls and two boys. They sat upright, their files in their laps. One girl had on a school uniform. She went to a local girls’ school and had been brought in for this meet. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation. I bet in a different setting she would be chatty. Next to her was a much older girl who, we learned later, had just finished a tailoring course in a local polytechnic. You could tell from her choice of clothing that the city had touched her. Next to her was a chatty confident boy, an A-student from a single parent who told me he wanted to become a pilot and I had no doubt he was going to be one.

Then I noticed the last boy. He didn’t look like the rest. He slouched slightly in his seat, as if he wanted the ground to swallow him. I suspected they had been told that some important persons from Nairobi were coming down to interview them and they needed to scrub up well and wear their best clothes.

His best clothes were in tatters. Faded. The shirt had different buttons, sewn together with different threads. His pants didn’t reach his feet. The lining of his trouser pockets were yellow, but his pants were brown, the brown of the earth, like when he wasn’t in them he folded them and kept them underneath the soil. The colour, of poverty, it struck me, is brown.

His feet fascinated me. They didn’t look like feet. They were once feet, now they were engorged and tough like the Nile crocodile’s tail. His toenails looked like pumice.  You could tell his feet were not accustomed to shoes. He wore old bathroom sandals because that’s all he had. Those sandals were held together in some parts by wire. They were a size smaller but they were clean. You could tell that because they were told they had to look clean, he had taken the pleasure to scrub those old bathroom sandals clean. Instinctively, he tucked his feet under his chair. I don’t know why his old scrubbed sandals made me so sad.

His level of poverty went so many generations that even scrupulous hygiene couldn’t dignify it. He sat there with the rest of the needy kids without being part of this group, and he fiddled nervously with his tattered blue polythene file that contained all his dog-eared education credentials.  He never looked up. I remember even when I went over to say hello, he avoided my eyes, as if he was embarrassed of the poverty on his back. Embarrassed that he was there with nothing, a nobody, bearing a tin for alms.   He cast a very pitiful sight. But I knew he was the heart of the story.

Because the sun kept moving, Jamo kept moving us around while filming. We finally sat under a tree with this boy. “My name is Kennedy Olwana,” he said as we commenced the interview. But then he was so nervous. He fidgeted and he kept looking at the camera to see if he was saying the things he thought we expected him to say. And when Jamo told him to look at me, he looked like he had been admonished and apologised. His hands were shaking slightly.  He had zero self-confidence. I mean zero. He was so intimidated by us, by our cameras and by him being there with his hat in his hand and he retreat further into himself, obviously bewildered by the attention anyone could give a poor orphan like him.

So I asked Jamo to stop recording for a moment. To make him relax I launched into small talk in luo, you know, trying to draw him out. He remained polite but distant.  

Later, he told us his story.

His father died just before he was born. Which means he was born fatherless. His mom sold tomatoes in the local market and they lived in a small hut with his mom and elder sister. Then his mom passed on when he was eight years old and soon after his sister ran off with a man and got married across the lake. He was taken in by his grandmother and went to the local school then later joined high school. Because death keeps taking, because death is merciless, death visited their small humble hamlet and took away his grandmother when he was in Form 2.  He told me he didn’t have any uncles or aunts to speak of and with his grandmother gone he was alone. He lived in his grandmother’s house until one day a strong wind took away the roof. (Yes, who said lightning doesn’t strike twice in one place?) He moved in with well-wishers while he attended school, supported by Usigu Trust and KCDF. When he finished school, he rented a small one roomed mud house on the outskirts of Usenge for which he pays 300 bob a month.

I asked him how he pays his rent of 300 bob and he said he sneaks into the forest to collect twigs which he sells as firewood. It’s illegal and so sometimes the forestry guys grab him and beat him up. Once he was tied to a tree and left there for hours as a lesson. But he kept going back. He told me these stories with indifference, with nonchalance, with little pomp or sense of bravado.

Because I’m foolish, and because I’m completely lost in this stupid middle-class reverie, I asked him if he can remember when he was at his happiest in his life. Like, seriously? Maybe I was looking for a little hope in this story. Maybe I was desperate to project my own sense of optimism into his dim existence to convince myself that there is always some light even in pitch darkness. And I must have come across as insensitive and naive, and an idiot.  

A shadow of puzzlement crossed his face. I’m sure he thought, happiness? This guy is asking me about happiness? This is not about happiness, this is about survival. I mean here was an orphan, dirt poor and desperate, who eked out his living by rummaging in a forest, lived in a dark one roomed hovel, and I was asking him about happiness as if I was interviewing a white collar business leader who had transcended Maslow’s hierarchy. But he answered me after a long thought. He said softly that he was last happy when his grandmother was alive.

We finished the interview and he slithered back to where the rest were. Later as we drank warm sodas that were bought specially for the people from Nairobi, (it’s always a Fanta) I looked at his papers. He wasn’t an A student. He had a B plain in KCSE, but given his dim circumstances, that said something. We spoke some more. He told me he couldn’t join campus because he was missing 21K. He had tried everything, county government etc. He said he only had 1,500, so if I knew anyone who could help him. “I will pay them back one day,” he told me and that for me was the turning point. I will pay them back. That said more than everything he had said in camera.

I have seen and interviewed some poor people, from Kitui to Kisauni. But this boy’s poverty was stark because he was also alone. He didn’t have anyone to share the poverty. A lonely kind of poverty.

I remember giving him 1K as we parted to pay his rent for three months and he folded it in many pieces, until it was a little piece of paper and it clutched it in his palms because I doubt he had pockets to speak of.

I came back to Nairobi and went about my life, because really, you can’t save the whole world, can you? People play the hand they are dealt, after all, right? But that boy wouldn’t leave my mind. His bathroom sandals and how awkwardly his feet fit in them haunted me. Maybe he even borrowed them specifically for that day. I couldn’t stop thinking about his clothes and how poverty refused to wash off them. Yet they were the best in his closet.  I wondered what dreams he had left in him and if it scared him to think about whether he would ever climb out of his hole of hopelessness.

Such things don’t let you sleep. Guilt invaded me. Eventually I sent him the balance he needed and he joined campus at Egerton University, Njoro. He was overjoyed. I had no plans for him. I still don’t. But he’s in school now studying Veterinary Medicine and surgery, animal health and he’s writing a different narrative of his life. Maybe he will make it, maybe he will fall on the wayside. But he’s now riding on hope, not getting tied in forests for twigs.

There are many like Ken. Many worse than him, I’m sure. They don’t have any “tall” relatives to help them because their lineage is tile after tile of poverty that goes down many generations. It’s only education that can rewrite their narrative. But sometimes they can’t even get that. Do you know who is holding back their dreams?


Yes, you. You who has refused to pay back your HELB loan. You who have to be followed and threatened and yet, you still refuse to pay back. Because of you, kids like Ken will wait patiently, in all corners of Kenya until you finish your pressing money matters. And they will wait, it’s not like they have many moves left.

You got helped through campus by HELB, now you need to hold the door open for the next guy who can’t pay. Ken and his ilk don’t need a hashtag, or a Paybill number to go to school. They simply need you to pay back your HELB Loan. Nothing beyond that. You hold the door open for them so that they too can hold the door open for the next round of guys who can’t afford to pay fees. It’s kindness. It’s compassion. Pay it forward. Change someone’s story.

But as long as you put away paying back your HELB loan, you are literally standing in someone’s sun.


Photo credit: Kenyan Facts. @KResearcher on Twitter.

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    1. Yaani this story you read it, and read all of it and you thought “Hah! – am first to comment – or I missed something?

  1. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. Thank you Biko for providing to Kennedy Olwana. God bless you. Inspiring read.

  2. Jobs Biko. Jobs. We are jobless after college 3yrs 5yrs we are still jobless. I am sad though that someone somewhere is suffering because of corruption!

    1. Awuor, why would you or anyone be jobless five years after graduating? Its not like you did astrophysics! Stop looking for a job and start looking for work.

    2. The late Dr Myles Munroe was a man of wisdom.

      He was once quoted as saying:

      I was born poor, sleeping on the floor with cockroaches and rats. Today, I own my own jet. Everything I have is paid for. I am debt free; I open new businesses every year and mentor many people,”

      Myles Munroe strongly discouraged the reliance on Government for jobs, describing it as ‘lazy thinking.’“There is no such thing as unemployment in the world. What you call unemployment is what I call lazy thinking,” he says.“The work of government is not to create jobs, but to create an environment for people to develop their own work,” he asserts.

      Munroe discourages employed professionals against relying solely on their jobs for income, urging them to instead create wealth using their unique talents. He also challenges aspiring entrepreneurs to develop and refine their expertise in a talent, idea, service or body of
      knowledge.When you refine your gift in an area, you become valuable; people seek you out and pay you,

      Munroe said setting principles is the first step towards achieving success for any budding entrepreneur. “I will never be poor again because I have learnt the principles of business,” he asserts.“I can say without a doubt that what I have accomplished is based on principles passed on to me by my parents. You should never build your life on facts or techniques because these often become obsolete,” he cautions.“For you to survive today, you must accept the reality of partnerships. If someone emerges as my competition today, I am not supposed to kill them, but marry them,” he states.“Do not curse a crisis; use it. Every business is a solution to a crisis. Develop the capacity to solve a problem and you will become a successful entrepreneur.”


      1. Understand crisis and use it to solve a problem. Every business is a response to a problem.
      2. Initiate something; do not wait for things to be done.
      3. Identify and refine your talent, skill, idea, service or knowledge to create wealth.
      4. Whatever makes you angry, you must solve it.
      5. Poverty is not the lack of money, but the lack of ideas.
      6. God does not give cash, but ideas on how to create wealth.
      7. Be in control of your mind, thoughts, perception and mentality to respond to change.
      8. Be keen and take advantage of changes brought about by technology and globalisation.
      9. Leave your legacy, but in the people you train, not in products or buildings.
      10. Every human being was born with a treasure. Your greatest secret to success lies in discovering your treasure……
      Good morning great people!!!

  3. This is the most touching story I have read this year Bikozulu. And while I continued reading, I had this pictorial of Ken in my mind…a picture that I can relate to. So sad. But you did great to send him the balance. People like Ken only look for an opportunity…that’s all. And you gave it to him. I am a beneficiary of HELB and I diligently repay every month. Ken will someday pay you back. God Bless.

  4. I have seen and interviewed some poor people, from Kitui to Kisauni. But this boy’s poverty was stark because he was also alone. He didn’t have anyone to share the poverty. A lonely kind of poverty.

  5. That story has really touched me. Life or is it death is so unfair at times.. Thinking that there could be other worse kens out there is very saddening. I pray that he makes it in life.

  6. I once worked for a very senior lawyer and he used to pay me 3k (as a pupil) and later after several years it came up to 40k once i qualified to practice. This guy qualified to start practicing law back in 1987 when I was born. He was a HELB beneficiary and sometime during the course of my employment, I traveled to Nairobi and passed by his other office which neighbors Anniversary Towers. He was totally shocked when I informed him that I had come to make arrangements to pay my HELB loan, 1k a month until I got a better job. He was so challenged that he went and cleared his loan. I eventually cleared mine too and I totally feel you Biko on this. My younger siblings have also been beneficiaries of HELB. People please pay off your loans. As for Ken, you did a very noble thing and I know he will make you proud.

  7. That left me in tears. Thankfully, i finished paying my Helb loan. I wish i can do more. I wish him and others well though.God bless you Biko for doing something about it.

    1. Call me a sissy or whatever but at some point my eyes were wet too. Am not a HELB beneficiary but Ken’s situation is something I’ve tasted. So does that that make two cry babies here???

  8. touching…I personally like the quote at the end…” you are literally standing in someone’s sunshine”..Na watu walipe helb..

  9. Quite touching. Sometimes you help one person but you feel like you didn’t do enough, like you just solved a day’s problem n tomorrow will come with its own. But you changed a life Biko you really did. God bless you. God bless you. God bless the work of your hands. God bless your kids, God bless you so much.

  10. where do people who have lost so much get the energy to keep going? he is a true phoenix rising from his ashes everytime. Makes me repent for all the times i thought my life was hard..great piece Biko

  11. That bit”I will pay them some day” it broke my heart goes out to him. That really struck me…so sad!

  12. this boy’s poverty was stark because he was also alone. He didn’t have anyone to share the poverty. A lonely kind of poverty.
    Nothing worse than a lonely poverty

  13. “Shit, the helb guys are even here at Biko’s!” That was my reaction once I reached the HELB part towards the end. Well played Biko placing Helb at the end. Maybe if you started with it we’d have 2 comments for this article. Am I paying my helb loan back? No. Why? You ask. I am broke. Will I pay it back? Of course I will. Someday. Does it make me happy that a kid in Usege (is that the village name?) can’t get funding because I am not paying helb? Maybe a little. Okay don’t freak out of course it doesn’t make me happy. What do I think should be done then? Well can we at least get the government to fund helb people until us who haven’t paid back get enough chums to pay them back? Like use the money for El-Niño which I am sure some dimwits stole to fund helb? Or add beer tax and fund helb? I am sure wamunyotas won’t complain. Or use money recovered from overseas accounts by EACC to fund helb. Just do something you government people. Biko getting jobs out here to pay helb people is not easy, my friend jokes that it is so rare that when you get a job you just have a ka-mini orgasm 🙂

    1. If a person trully wanted to pay their HELB loan they would with as little as a K a month. You can never have enough money, its a just a matter of prioritizing what is important. This attitude of Serikali saidia reeks of learned helplessness and in this particular case, smacks of flippant disregard of each other.

      A trully pitiful attitude.

    2. Guilty as accused, 8 yrs later sijalipa bt the story is longer than that. HELB is not friendly to defaulters(that’s wat they call us), it can’t read the kadogo economic times n b in tandem;they want all the money @+2500a month!!!! I can’t afford that so HELB ends up missing the 500(×the thousands of defaulters). Instead what to they do……slap us with a 5k monthly defaulting fine….liability lesson. Due to this my last statement said I owe them aaaaaaa..let’s see ..yes..some figure just under 1m.

  14. I teared a bit at the thought of Ken’s plight. You are a word wizard Biko..You write so well, you create a vivid imagery of your stories in our minds. But you are also a great human being, with a big heart..

  15. Pay up guys… When a kid is trying to escape poverty, and what’s holding him/her by the scuffed tail coat of extreme poverty is you! Biko you are a story taller, things we see everyday but don’t register in our consciousness and humanity

  16. this boy’s poverty was stark because he was also alone. He didn’t have anyone to share the poverty. A lonely kind of poverty.
    what can b worse than that?

  17. Ken story and many other untold stories of dire need, dire hopelessness, make part of a larger story of this world that has and will never enjoy the privilege of being happy even for a fleeting second

      1. Concur is the word, Kamboga. Conquer is what Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte used to do to other territories many years ago.

  18. you wrote about a house without a fence then later your view in the house had a live fence, its a cool piece though, I feel for Ken watu walipe HELB.

  19. You’ve definately made the world a better place than you found telling kens story and doing something about it..

  20. Am a guy but this story has almost put me in tears….seating on my desk and thinking how the world is unfair and am suffering….am even ashamed. I wouldn’t say i have much to offer Ken but thank you for coming through for him, God bless and reward you!

  21. Touching read…Though I’m curious..if he’s been a beneficiary of this organisation previously , any reason they aren’t extending the same for his campus studies?

  22. These damn onions! I hope he does not fall on the wayside, I pray the wave of hope he’s riding on sustains him until he lands on his feet, and he pays it forward. Good job Biko.

  23. I’m still trying to figure out if HELB looks out for people like this young man? Would they give
    him the 21K he needed to join campus? I am done with paying my debt to HELB but I am
    just wondering how so many people like this young man are going to continue perpetuating the
    poverty cycle because despite their educational achievements, they can’t go further…:-(
    Remember that song we heard growing up (in my time), “someni vijana…mwisho wa kusoma..
    utapata kazi nzuri…”? Does it apply, whether it is to jobs, opportunities..?

  24. Gosh, that boy’s story made me cry! May the Lord bless you Biko for this. I’m glad i paid my whole HELB loan… but now i know i need to do more to help someone realise their dreams. Thank you.

  25. Highest level of insensitive and emotional on how fellow Kenyans suffer at the expense of those who think their pressing money matters is important than clearing personal overdues, from a kitty they benefitted inoder to get credentials/skills/experty to earn a living. Parliament should do something about repayment laws once one has got a job.

  26. mtu akikuja hapa all happy about being first to comment…i’ll personally come to nairobi and fish you out…as soon as i get off this hyacinths…biko unasema huezi tupa account number yako huyu kijana apate pocket money?

  27. That’s the point. Many of us are standing in others sun. I am glad I am repaying my HELB loan. It’s a good challenge for all of us beneficiaries of that loan facility to be retrospective and appreciate how big a deal it was to get us where we are now. Thanks Biko for telling the story of Ken. It’s so touching. Your description of that poverty situation is so disturbing. Much blessings!

  28. i identify with ken its a harsh world for the poor God will reward you for reaching out….beautiful piece as always

  29. Eish Biko! First Jadudi then Ken. You have a good heart and that’s a good thing. You cannot save the whole world but you can make a difference to someone somewhere.
    Your writing is full of beautiful sentences…

  30. It really sad that a lot of such cases go unnoticed and gets worse if the student has nobody to hold their hand.
    I join Biko in requesting watu walipe pesa ya HELB.
    Alternatively, change someone’s life today and pay a term’s fee.

  31. Ken’s story is very sad.
    To those who have benefited from the scheme funded by the government, please pay today as little as kes. 1000,.00 for a better tomorrow for children like Ken.

  32. This story broke my made me tear. And unfortunately there are so many ‘Ken’s’, so so many. Wake up call to do something.

  33. eeh Biko! sometimes check the time you release these…mtu ako kwa ofisi analia, boss anashangaa kwani excel yake iko na kitunguu…
    very sad story,true a story of many but still sad when narrated…
    ‘The colour, of poverty, it struck me, is brown’
    ‘But this boy’s poverty was stark because he was also alone.
    He didn’t have anyone to share the poverty. A lonely kind of poverty.’
    ‘He said softly that he was last happy when his grandmother was alive.’
    ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about his clothes and how poverty refused to wash off them.
    Yet they were the best in his closet’

  34. This story touched your soul, and for every reason. It did mine too. I could tell this for the only time I managed a smile was when that ‘Sand Making Machine’ advert came in the way of the story. I will pay my HELB.

  35. Yes, you. You who has refused to pay back your HELB loan.Because of you, kids like Ken will wait patiently, in all corners of Kenya until you finish your pressing money matters. And they will wait, it’s not like they have many moves left.

  36. Double the happiness and even Triple the joy… it forward. In everything we do we should aim to bless others just as we’ve been blessed. There is always someone who is doing worse than you so a little kindness wouldn’t hurt. God bless you Biko and all the kind souls.

  37. Ken I am so happy for you and I am sure you will pay back as promised and not stand in the way of anybody’s sun.

  38. Forget Politicians !!!
    Corruption is when we don’t pay back our HELB loans and give ten thousand excuses. Those loans can be paid back in amounts of less than Kshs 500. But as always if we are Kenyans we always have a story.The pains of growing up is fulfilling our responsibilities and for me especially when they affect my neighbor.Lets encourage each other to pay our loans because feeling sorry doesn’t achieve much. Thanks Biko

    1. Yes zippy. People be like they dont have ajob so cant pay helb and then use 2k for data bundles every month and manage to go out at least every weekend! And some how its the government’s fault or corruption… Just cant see the log in own eyes!

  39. As I read through, at first I think the piece is about Usigu, then comes Ken, then HELB chips in..I keep trying to have such switches in my writings but I have not yet succeeded. One day I will

  40. When you first described Kenn, i actually thought he was a small boy. I was shocked to read that he is a young man who already completed high school!! It is so sad for a man that age to have such low self esteem. This story is just so sad on so many levels.

    1. That also saddened me like hell. I even temporarily hate the brown color if it could represent poverty in such a sorry state.

  41. Amazing piece. I could literally smell the poverty off him.
    May God bless you abundantly Biko for that gesture.

  42. I am fortunate to have had a sponsor so did not require HELB but I feel the pain (to some degree) of those waiting on it, those who have no other option.
    Biko this story is so well told I would not have imagined it was going to end up at the HELB door step. Am both moved and impressed. Let those who benefited honorably Pay Forward.

  43. Thanks Biko.I repaid my HELB loan. I have a boss who insists on all new recruits providing a statement from HELB and for the non beneficiaries, we always do a confirmation check with HELB. Gang, kulipa HELB, ni kupatia wengine the opportunity as well. (Swa has refused).

  44. Powerful piece. I find that in this country people are more absorbed by what the law and the constitution says about their rights. everyone talks about their rights no one talks about their responsibility. Helping the needy, and paying you HELB LOAN is your responsibility. dawa ya deni nikulipa

  45. What a sad story about poverty running from generation to generation, robbing young men off their confidence n esteem. Felt like shedding a tear. Pls pay your helb loans for those in a position but still cant pay

  46. I am yet to be employed 4 years down. Though I wish to start repaying my HELB, the fines Biko. 5k every freaking month! That’s what gives some of us the chills.

  47. very touching life story,there is always light even in pitch darkness.Do keep us posted if you do come up with a plan which I know you will.God bless you for your kindness

  48. i am not a beneficiary of helb bt when i visited their office for clearance certificate i was asked to pay a thousand bob for them! am currently getting legal advice, ill sue them!

    1. Sue?? Because of 1k? This is not legal advice but you should pay and thank God your Parents afforded to pay your fees. Good conduct certificate is also 1k. You should plan to sue them too!

  49. well done Biko. Yes we cant change the world, but surely we can light the candle of hope for someone out there…

  50. Great read. Ken’s poverty is gut wrenching. And yes, I cleared my HELB loan last year after playing hide and seek for eons

  51. The best piece this year!
    “this boy’s poverty was stark because he was also alone. He didn’t have anyone to share the poverty. A lonely kind of poverty.”
    Yes, let’s pay up our HELB loans…and look out for one “Ken” and change their narrative.

  52. Biko Zulu, You will get back these good deeds someday. You’ll be paid back for the just courses You pursue.

  53. Awesomely woven piece of reality! Superbly written! You, my friend, just cast a whole different light on the “fearsome beast” that is HELB!

  54. “The colour, of poverty, it struck me, is brown.” I must have read that sentence 5 times.

    In a world where you can be anything, be kind. And preferably, debt-free.

  55. I had sponsorship so no Helb to pay. Biko, that boy needs pocket money and I also like his determination. Give us a number to send him pocket money.

  56. People Should Pay HELB. I am in HR and the first thing i demand is a HELB statement.I think Employers should work together with HELB.
    Thanks BIKO for reminding All to pay. I cleared mine and i am very Proud of it.
    On the other hand, I would like to but the Gentleman some Shoes and Clothes Please. How do i do this.

  57. Am in tears after reading this,the guilty in me for having not started paying my HELB mays me o be the biggest offender on this planet.God bless your work and hands too,may you have more to give

  58. death is very cruel,,,i guess i am not the only one who has been moved to tears by this boy. I hope all goes well for him in Egerton. Please guys let’s pay back Helb, no matter how kidogo, it goes a long way in helping someone achieve their dreams

  59. …you could tell from her choice of clothing that the city had touched her..You made me laugh so hard there Biko.Then CRY……God bless you for what you did.The description,I felt like I was there

  60. Very inspiring.The moment you cry because you have no shoes, think of that guy without feet.Ken finally had his happiest day, the day he joined University.You did not come to this world to move mountains, you just came to be rainbow in someones cloud, like you became the rainbow in Kens world.

  61. I am teary eyed by the story..
    I’m always moved to act when I think that poverty can make bright people to not move forward!
    Hence I have dedicated myself to paying for education for some unable students in high school.
    As for Helb, I was a beneficiary and i vowed to pay every single cent, even took myself to HELB
    and got some payment plan, when I discovered that I had overpaid , I didnt ask for a refund, I
    asked them to plow it back to help someone else… We need to get more people helped !

  62. You have a way of creating a connection between the reader and the subject using words, first it was Jadudi now Ken … damn… sijiu izi vitunguu nitamaliza kukatakata saa ngapi na boss asinipate…

  63. Excellent piece Biko!!…I know that feeling, I met a boy in Marsabit once and thats how we connected. I paid his fees and he is now in Kenyatta University….he neeeded a fighting chance in high sch…now in campus, he is able to get assistance elsewhere….I agree watu walipe HELB!!

  64. The greatest kindness we can give to someone is to empower them to hope, to become more. You have brought tears to my eyes with this piece. Thank you Biko. “If every heart and hand could touch another, then every motherless child could find his brother”.

  65. Biko, kindly provide us with the contact so that the young man can get pocket money, fare or different sandals. Meanwhile, another way of helping the likes of Ken is not to apply for HELB loan when we can afford to pay the university fees. The university tuition fees in Old public universities (UoN, KU, Moi, Maseno, Egerton and JKUAT) remain what we paid in 1996. If a parent can afford to pay exorbitant fees charged in High School, likely they can afford what is charged regular students in public universities. I have taken my brought through Chepkoilel (Eldoret University) without HELB. It cost me a maximum of 60k a year (including his food) and now my niece at Maseno I paid First Semester 25k and Second Semester 15k. That way, the really needy cases can apply for HELB loan. Meanwhile I cleared my HELB loan 10 years ago. I also support those who call for increased funding of HELB. Giving it an additional Kshs 5b will sort out issues like those of Ken. That said, HELB is not as organized at it was in the 90s. It disburses funds almost a year since students joined. How does it expect them to pay fees and survive in university?

      1. Thank you Sachy. I was in Moi University with this guy who was also my high school classmate. The father was fairly well off as he used to buy him very many books. His father is a brother to a certain prominent Kisii politician. The politician was paying his fees at the university. The cheque he gave him covered all the fees needed and my friend even went for a refund. Can you believe he still applied for HELB loan and was allocated more than me?

  66. Biko, its true you cannot save the world, but you just did! By writing his story, helping where you could, and enabling him to join my alma mater, you have given him hope and brought light into his world! Bless you

  67. Since I started reading your column;
    Three stories have touched me-
    1)The mum’s fon call;
    2)The young man who had a tumour in the brain;
    3) …and this one about Ken.
    Pls, if you still have his contact, connect me with him…
    Am supporting my two nephews on campus, and I know for a fact, that they need more than just school fees….
    Am sure, if I can squeeze even 5k every so often, will help him with a few regular necessities .
    All in all, may God keep blessing you and giving you openings, to give us platforms, where we can reach the suffering people in our country.
    Biko, one day, when you decide to run for any government seat, be sure for my vote!!!
    I believe, am speaking for many of your readers…

  68. I choose to see the rainbow in this story.
    He remembers being happy only when the grandma was alive…You made him smile again when you gave him money to join the university,and just like that the wheel of change moved. God bless you.I can now see his future lined with so much joy after he is done with campus and
    that boy is going to re-write the history of his lineage. You wait and see, am already smiling from the thought.

  69. Powerful piece. Reminded me of my dirt poor beginnings. I can relate 100%. You wrote it well. Did HELB pay you to write this?
    Very persuasive. I cleared my loan many years ago. I was also clutched from the expansive hands of poverty by my uncle and later my half brother. Poverty is demeaning man, very ruthless. When I was a kid, I stole to feed myself. I will tell my story one day. Whenever I start, my wife gets sad and traumatized. But I will tell it. One day. Too busy right now raising kids.

  70. I have been paying my loan for the past two years now, I did not know it cascaded down like this till today. I am now even more committed to pay back every single dime of it thanks to this article.

  71. Very inspiring of you Biko, you cannot save the whole world but the little you do goes a long way. M touched!

  72. Almost cried…would’ve if I were somewhere private. Here I am…stressed, sad, devastated because of some girl. That’s my biggest problem! I wonder what Ken would think of me. I am ashamed. Thank you Ken. You’ve healed me.

  73. That some in the gang await to “get jobs” to pay their HELB loans is the tragedy of this whole communique… Talk of a message lost on it’s recipient.

  74. Boss,I want to contribute something towards his next year fees,share the number Biko,I do not have much but will share the small I got with this dude..strange no one has noticed the chap still has 4 years to go,let’s all pull a Jadudi harambee for him

    1. People like Ken, should have 110%, back up from the govt, surely?
      @BIKO, do govt officials and politicians read your post as well?
      Mm mm, but maybe they have hearts of stone…
      May God forgive us all…

  75. If a picture is worth a thousand words,then Bikos one word is worth a thousand colour pictures. Well told and gang lets pay forward!

  76. My home town is Usenge where Ken lives in a mud house paid at 300/-,my area mp is Gideon Ochanda who took over from Oburu Odinga after 15 years of poor service,having placed a record of returning 40 millions back to treasury claiming he lacked where to channel the funds,by that time I vouch there were people like Ken who needed help,now Dr.Gideon Ochanda has a tendency of playing mind games with people in need of bursaries,when you are a child in high school he will lie that they only give bursaries to campus guys,and the same lie continues on Campus guys in the reverse,you wonder where the guy takes the CDF money to.People like ken wouldn’t be in that situation,he is a victim just because of poor governance,now on HELB,please pay,but Biko please tell HELB to be fair,there are cases when HELB will award the the Kens of this world a zero loan,and instead reward the balling kids with the maximum loan amounts,all because of who knows who.Finally we can sympathize with Ken but that will not help him,why dont we find a way of at least changing his closet,giving him proper upkeep,now that he has nobody who can do these things for him,and HELB too will take centuries before reflecting on Ken’s account

  77. This is among the most touching stories I have ever read on this platform. Not to be insensitive, but it ranks the same with “The Hardest Part” where your uncle is overcome with emotions. I am a beneficiary of HELB, jobless, was paying till I left formal employment. While I am still jobless, I will go back to paying. For unlike Ken, I can comfortably pay a house that is a tens of times as expensive as Ken’s hut. More importantly, I will start counting my blessings.

  78. Biko,send me his contacts,i will send him something,he will need upkeep cash.
    There is help out here,but its hard to help because most times it needs one to visit in person.
    If every one would adopt their village and support through donations or expertise,we would have helped a lot of children and empowered our communities
    I want to start an adopt a village Sakwa chapter and go from there,i feel its time for people who are in the cities to go back home and assist.

  79. Dear Ken,

    This is the path many have taken and made it. Don’t feel sorry for yourself & neither should anyone do so. What you need is the right attitude, the Lord & Bikos of this world.

    You will make it young soldier. Utaibuka kaka mdogo.

  80. Will Say A prayer for you kido…. Thanks for sharing Biko…meanwhile can you kindly share his no. At least send him something kidogo for the upkeep

  81. I love this BIKO FORUM!
    This is what Jesus would do
    God Bless You, Biko, for helping us reach out.
    It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

  82. A K a month isn’t too much to ask. Money is never enough. Its a matter of prioritising. I am sure a lot of us could rustle up a k a month if we put our minds to it…..

    Hii story ya gava isaidie is getting tired and reeks of buck-passing to me.

  83. I started reading this story and I didn’t know that minutes later hot tears will be streaming down my face. Biko you paid forward. Guilt will kill me if I cried this much and did nothing. Please get me a contact, I can help Ken get a decent pair of sandals or trousers with pockets.

  84. Great piece Biko,God bless your soul,May God set you on higher grounds for such a kind heart…I have re read this piece more than thrice…I would like really love to help….I would love to help Ken,I would love to support you support him,let me know how kindly.

  85. Perhaps you should do a story that encourages people not to lie when applying for HELB. People who are financially able lie to get that money. Lying that you are orphaned and a single parent so that you can party and buy more shoes when there are genuinely needy children who miss that money! It’s a pity.

    1. Not just stopping to lie Wanjiru but even stopping to apply for HELB loan if you can afford to pay the university fees (it isn’t a lot for regular students in Kenya’s old public universities). That way HELB won’t be in a tough situation trying to figure out which case is more needy than another.

      1. I agree Musa. Those who are able to go through campus without a loan, should please do so.It also doesn’t make sense to take a loan (which you pay back with interest!) to spend on partying and frivolities..

        1. i concur with you guys, people tend to misuse HELB money and as a result those who really need it don’t benefit

  86. Dear Biko,

    Please patia sisi number ama tuanzishe paybill.I didn’t get helb, but I know what it feels like to lack fees in campus, to lack pocket money and to sleep hungry while in campus.

  87. l buy your story biko but believe me anyone who gets Helb is as willing as getting, to pay back but structures laid by Helb are poor very poor.on what bases do people get different amounts? on what bases some are given and others are not given? this where to start biko……

  88. I keep thinking about Ken’s feet. Do they fit in shoes now? I bet his nose is in his books now that he has a second lease in life. I wish him the best. Helb though, how they expect payment when people are barely eking a living is beyond me. Biko, kindly avail details as to how we can help Ken.

  89. Gang, as we go all onions over Ken’s story, lets make the first step to changing lives and pay a needy students 2nd term fees this end month! Around you there surely must be poverty and his/her family and clan, just open your eyes. Then on our May comments lets touch base on how it felt to help.”If you want to know the value of your money, spend it on someone else”

  90. Wow chocolate man, you have a way with words. This story has made me cry and makes me appreciate what I have be it family, a job, a roof over my head, clothes…….. I could go on and on. May God richly bless you for what you did for Ken

  91. A shadow of puzzlement crossed his face. I’m sure he thought, happiness? This guy is asking me about happiness? This is not about happiness, this is about survival. I mean here was an orphan, dirt poor and desperate, who eked out his living by rummaging in a forest, lived in a dark one roomed hovel, and I was asking him about happiness as if I was interviewing a white collar business leader who had transcended Maslow’s hierarchy. But he answered me after a long thought. He said softly that he was last happy when his grandmother was alive. God bless you Steve Biko

  92. if some helb ad person/PR reads this …the script is written .that’s your ad right there.the emotions ,the story , the sadness , the guilt of defaulters all in one …just sum it up for TV ..but its the punch in the belly needed to get the message across

  93. My former workplace, even guys who earned good salaries got those reminders from the HR’s office!! People pay your loans!!! May God bless you Mr for coming through for Ken 🙂

  94. “I will pay them back one day,” he told me and that for me was the turning point. I will pay them back. That said more than everything he had said in camera.
    So sad that people have to go through this pain…
    i have no more words

  95. Biko, please share Ken’s contacts so that we can see how to send him pocket money. I can imagine that he needs money for his other expenses, and what about his school fees for future semesters? It would be really sad if he had to drop out because he cannot manage to pay school fees. I read this story yesterday and I could not stop thinking about Ken. Biko you’ve done well.

  96. If I had a HELB loan, I would have cleared it after reading this. this is so heart wrecking. 🙁 🙁 🙁

  97. This story made me tear up im the office. Then I got to thinking that even before we all jump into asking Biko for this gentleman’s contacts so that we can assist we need to remember that in our villages, our shaggs, maybe even our extended families thkere are such people as this guy. Hopeless. In dire need. Hungry for opportunity. We can all start somewhere and make a difference…..

  98. Touching story! I agree with all here who are asking for the young man!s contacts. We have to be sure that his studies are fully paid for. He doesn’t sound like a kid who will drop out let’s push him through! Let us/me know?

  99. this made me so so sad. Happy ending, but gosh, I could not hold back tears. I paid my HELB and made sure my husband paid his as well. I find it incomprehensible when people who can afford to pay choose not to do so – ati ni loan ya gava. Like really?

  100. A great read as usual.. Guess we’re all destined to make an impact in people’s life. But all we do is struggle to improve our lives….

  101. Poverty robs u of confidence. Biko, God bless ua soul n may your children never lack. U have such talent n such a beautiful heart.

  102. Reading the touching story a day later. Biko has a way with words that nobody else has; ‘visa denied’ is a testimony to this. This story though,,,,, i am doubting whether it really isn’t fiction to help us probe ourselves and pay back Helb loans. I am reading it a day later and there are numerous offers by persons to help with pocket money, clothes and fees yet Biko has not provided any response to that. If the story is real, that strikes me as being very very odd.

  103. Biko we want to pay back the helb loan but how with only a degree? Graduates are more desperate than dropouts, they go for minial jobs which can barely put enough food on the table for one. The only hope is frm a sch mate whose father is a civil servant and had managed to secure a post of a clerk for his son/ girl. And you because you knw noone, will wait for 5-10 yrs to get the required experience to be considered for 1st 30k job since gratuation.

  104. I have walked in this path, poverty robs you dignity, takes you to the edge…those times we would boil potatoes, no money to buy even salt. When you get a chance to change it, you cant lose focus. How can he fall on the wayside..? Now paying my HELB loan and thanking God for those who come through for us, the likes of BIKO

  105. Wow! Biko wow!Only you can tell a story that paint a grim reality that is poverty!And of course in Brown color!Still went ahead to give Ken head start in life,by opening him his next chapter in life.God richly bless you baba Tamisha

  106. Hi Biko, i love your articles and i think the moral of the story “PAY YOUR HELB” is pretty strong. But i will say this, if you go in the village with Nairobi mentality you will never understand communities ethos.

  107. A very touching has made me stick to my decision of not applying for helb again. Most of us simply applied for it because it’s what people do not because we needed it. Thank you for this though

  108. I am so touched by this story……..”lonely kind of poverty”…..just sad. Ken’s hopes live on because you did right by him. I have a feeling this is not the last time we are reading about him in your blog Biko. When you write next,im sure it wont be about how he has become a stone thrower in campus, but how hes maximized his opportunity to change the lives of others. May stories like this keep haunting me, so that i can live life selflessly for others to have hope in thiers

  109. As I read this post I was at Held offices checking my helb loan statement payment.yes I do pay my loan monthly. Good work Niko you have a great heart for needy people.

  110. Wuon Tamisha,wow!just wow!The poverty scenario,the grim reality of poverty that only Bikozulu can paint!And from the look of things,it seems chocolate man wont give us the contact to assist Ken,you have already done your part,and your reward is in heaven as it’s a debt Ken won’t be able to repay,though i know he’ll try.

  111. All those people asking for ken’s contacts,there must b someone who is as needy as ken somewhere close to tht guy na utakua umetenda wema

  112. That Ken’s part is really touching . . . . . Became soo teary while reading it. Be blessed Chocolate Man for the much u did. People really need to pay their HELB loans for the sake of the other ‘kens’ out there, personally didn’t know how important that was.

  113. I hear you, Muthoni…
    I hope, Ken is reading these blogs…
    BTW, why hasn’t Biko given us Ken’s contact?
    Ama bado hana cell fon ???

  114. I don’t think the problem is not paying HELB coz let’s face it Helb these days are like the NSIS they catch up with you pretty quick.Thousands of graduates who took out HELB loans cannot even get jobs to pay that loan and still make ends meet. Ken will one day graduate with his Vet degree face the harxh reality of kenyan unemployment.we have Phd hokders still tarmacking coz “hawajui mtu” in some board or HR to employ them.Untill we sort out leadership issues,corruption,nepotism..etc the default rates of those loans will continue to increse.sadly.

  115. There is something about ‘not having’..Not having keeps us in touch with humanity, Its in the times we dont have that we are at our best of our creativity,its in not having that we dare to dream!poor Ken,its in not having that God provides.

  116. if the gang can remember how the Jadudi’s story was later used against Biko, then you will know why he is cautious with the contacts details of Ken. let’s help our Kens, those you can reach as of now.

  117. I read well, enjoying the blog, then I develop compassion and finally guilt! Damn! I’ll clear my HELB loan ASAP beginning June.

  118. We are paying back. And personally i must clear it. But HELB, much as it is helping others, should also desist on putting an excessive debt burden on graduates with the illegal monthly fines. If only they could stick with the initial agreement, we would clear up the balance quickly. Now you pay, and then they compound the fine and in the end, it is like you have not reduced a cent, yet we try and pay every month.

  119. One of the most touching and moving stories I have read in recent times. Indeed God bless you Biko. To those still holding HELB loans and any other loan facility meant for the benefit of others and are able to pay, it’s upon you to do the honorable thing and act.

  120. This has taken me back..& worked in Saya for 5 years at the County Hospital…& encountered this story over and over again and it broke my heart…I plan to go back there and do what I can to help..Awesome story…Pay your HELB loan guys.Biko, I will look for you when I go back to Siaya in a coupla years. We can do much to help.

  121. This story made me shed a few tears. I paid my entire HELB loan back and I’m glad not to be standing in someone else’s sun.

  122. What really irks me is those people who applied for HELB and don’t really need it. Yet there are people who need that cash and don’t get allocated.So many people in campus use their HELB to rave and buy clothes. Its not free money..its a loan. You gotta pay it back!and if you really don’t need that money do yourself a favour and don’t apply for it

  123. Done with my HELB loan. Not standing in anyone’s sun.Thank God for that.
    Jadudi story was used against Biko? Kwani kirindi inatakaa nini?

  124. At first I enjoyed the humorous writing, but this was not the case when I started reading about Ken Olwana. Biko, you really know how to write stuff, always! On the other hand, thanks for helping Ken, and yes, please share with us his mobile number if that’s okay with you and him as well – we don’t really want to talk to him but send him a small ‘token of hope and love’.

  125. Thank God we have PIN numbers as well as the fear of CRB my Gelb is deducted directly am glad that boy got a chance be blessed Biko

  126. Biko shared Ken’s contact in another post for those who might have missed it. Below is an excerpt of the post.
    “Many more of you asked if they can send him money or if
    they can help in any way. This was not a fundraiser, but you
    can reach him directly on [email protected]
    Should you need to talk to him directly (yes, because as
    someone mention this could be my fictitious creation to beat
    up emotions or even fleece the public of money) please email
    me on [email protected] and I will share his phone number
    privately. Otherwise, it’s touching to see how many of you
    just want to help others. Viva humanity.”

  127. Biko, take heart and keep up the good work:
    This is your calling and your reward is awaiting you..
    Don’t mind haters…
    They are a part of the society.
    God Bless you, Nyakwar Dana!!

  128. Great piece Biko. Now that he is in campus, someone who can should assist him with a place to earn some money for fees or upkeep during the long holidays. That will really do him good and motivate him to work hard in his studies. The HELB loan does not cater for everyday upkeep.

  129. Lots of hard questions asked here,Ken tried going to relevant govt machinery mandated by electorate and constitution to cover and be of help to guys who are mellowing in this cruciating circumstances…why???? Why??? Why?? Couldn’t even one ear heed to his cry?
    On helb,yes guys should pay up. Just do everything you can to payup. Do not look the other way. That takes away another ones sun. Act. Iam challenged and touched

    1. +254 792 232 352.
      That’s Ken’s number.
      He’s a great guy;
      Very industrious ;
      Let’s back him up.

  130. In 1892 at Stanford University, an 18-year-old student was struggling to pay his fees. He was an orphan, and not knowing where to turn for money, he came up with a bright idea. He and a friend decided to host a musical concert on campus to raise money for their education.

    They reached out to the great pianist Ignacy J. Paderewski. His manager demanded a guaranteed fee of $2000 for the piano recital. A deal was struck and the boys began to work to make the concert a success.
    The big day arrived. But unfortunately, they had not managed to sell enough tickets. The total collection was only $1600. Disappointed, they went to Paderewski and explained their plight. They gave him the entire $1600, plus a cheque for the balance $400. They promised to honour the cheque at the soonest possible.

    “No,” said Paderewski. “This is not acceptable.” He tore up the cheque, returned the $1600 and told the two boys: “Here’s the $1600. Please deduct whatever expenses you have incurred. Keep the money you need for your fees. And just give me whatever is left”. The boys were surprised, and thanked him profusely.
    It was a small act of kindness. But it clearly marked out Paderewski as a great human being.
    Why should he help two people he did not even know? We all come across situations like these in our lives. And most of us only think “If I help them, what would happen to me?” The truly great people think, “If I don’t help them, what will happen to them?” They don’t do it expecting something in return. They do it because they feel it’s the right thing to do.

    Paderewski later went on to become the Prime Minister of Poland. He was a great leader, but unfortunately when the World War began, Poland was ravaged. There were more than 1.5 million people starving in his country, and no money to feed them. Paderewski did not know where to turn for help. He reached out to the US Food and Relief Administration for help.
    He heard there was a man called Herbert Hoover — who later went on to become the US President. Hoover agreed to help and quickly shipped tons of food grains to feed the starving Polish people.
    A calamity was averted. Paderewski was relieved.

    He decided to go across to meet Hoover and personally thank him. When Paderewski began to thank Hoover for his noble gesture, Hoover quickly interjected and said, “You shouldn’t be thanking me Mr. Prime Minister. You may not remember this, but several years ago, you helped two young students go through college. I was one of them.”

    The world is a wonderful place. What goes around comes around. Please help others to the best of your ability. In the long run you may be helping yourself. God never forgets anyone who sows a good seed in other people, never.

    Nothing in nature lives for itself. Rivers don’t drink their own water. Trees don’t eat their own fruit. Sun doesn’t give heat for itself. Flowers don’t spread fragrance for themselves. Living for others is the rule of nature. And therein lies the secret of living.


    1. Hi Mungai..
      If you mean Ken, his number is-0792232352.
      We are also trying to give him ideas with backup, of what he can do to raise money, during the holidays.
      He is industrious and savvy.

  131. This made me cry. I grew up in such poverty, and surely HELB benefited me a lot. Now that I am earni, I will start paying back Helb next month. That’s the time Helb told me to start paying. I am also disappointed by the corruption in our government, but that’s not an excuse for not paying Helb at all at all. Helb was a loan that you promised to pay. If you really hate corruption, start fighting it by paying back your Helb loan.

  132. This story is sad. The saddest I’ve ever read. It made me cry and I learn a lot from Gods working. God bless Ken.

  133. Me too. I didn’t think it was possible, I found this story so sad and Biko managed to make it even sadder the second time around.
    Either way I believe quite a number HELB defaulters were touched to repay their loans. As I’m sure many Kenyans will pick up the Random acts of kindness baton.
    We Kenyans are good folk with hearts in the right places.