Celebrating JKUAT: Kenya's MIT
At the time I was matriculating at JKUAT in May 2007 to pursue a degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering, I also landed a part-time job to teach piano to a daughter of an affluent couple who lived in a leafy suburb of Nairobi. I didn't perform well in the job because I was young and inexperienced but some remarks I heard while teaching there impressed me.
"This young man is an engineering student at JKUAT.," remarked the daughter's mother while talking of me to a lady with whom she was having tea.
"JKUAT!" the lady exclaimed, "That's a university for brilliant guys unlike XY University [name withheld] which is for jokers."
That lady must have been right in saying JKUAT is for brilliant guys given the experiences I had at the university. Okay, let me narrate the story.
I enrolled at JKUAT with the intention of transferring to MIT in my second year. But then, I scored the following grades in my first semester at JKUAT:
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Having scored all A's in my high school KCSE exams, I became disturbed by those JKUAT first semester grades, especially the D in Chemistry. And I think that D was well-deserved given the trouble I had in understanding the subject which we were taught by an abrasive and commanding lecturer named Oyaro. Like Oyaro taught us a structure of the atom that was radically different from the simple one I had learnt in high school. For me, understanding the structure of the atom that Oyaro taught us felt like I was learning Greek.
Those first semester results were a rude awakening that I wasn't as brilliant as I had perceived myself. And they forced me to change my plans of applying to MIT as a transfer student and instead chose to re-apply as a freshman.
My second semester results at JKUAT were even worse because I failed in Material Science. And I am thinking I failed in the subject because its comprehension required that I had understood the structure of the atom that Oyaro had taught us the previous semester. Given the trouble with which I have said I had in understanding Chemistry, little wonder that I failed in Material Science which I failed again when the university asked me to repeat the exam - a further proof that JKUAT is for brilliant guys. See?
Those results notwithstanding, I treasure the experiences I had during my two-year stint at JKUAT. First, I had the opportunity to study with seven former students of Alliance High School in the Eletronics & Computer Engineering Class of '11. I had read that Alliance sent a larger number of students to top American colleges than any other high school in Kenya did, which I still think is the case. That's why I felt honoured to school side-by-side with those seven former students of Alliance High School.
Secondly, I loved JKUAT because it was close to such big urban areas as Thika and Nairobi yet it was pristine enough to offer a rural environment that made me stay in touch with nature. As I wrote in my previous story in this lovely website of mine, I enjoyed roaming in JKUAT's bucolic fields to read and reflect.
Lastly, I came to love JKUAT hospital, a spacious well-protected one-storey building, where I was admitted twice after I went bonkers due to the hard times I underwent while trying to cope with poor grades in class, failure to get accepted at MIT among other issues. So much did I love JKUAT hospital because of its cleanliness and the friendliness of its staff that I later on sometimes wished I could get sick again so that I could get admitted back to the hospital where I had been looked after like an infant baby.
Before I end this story, allow me to mention two shortcomings I observed at JKUAT which put the university reputation at stake. It's main campus neighbouring communities have dusty roads as well as shanty houses infested with petty thieves. A lot of dust stirred by vehicles cruising in those dusty roads usually ends up in JKUAT. And the petty thieves sometimes get into the university to pilfer such stuff as garments on clothes lines.
Given an opportunity to meet the current JKUAT vice-chancellor, I would advise her to partner with the university's neighbouring communities (like the way Yale University does with New Haven) to seek solutions for those two shortcomings because the university's reputation is inextricably intertwined with the wellness of its neighbouring communities. That's all I am saying.
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Salvation is Free Folks!
Back in the '90s, there was this anecdote which made rounds in the impoverished Naru-moru Primary School near my home in Kiserian where I began my kindergarten education in 1993. I stayed in the school till the last term of my Standard 7 education in 2000.
The anecdote was of a boy in the school who attended a Catholic mass one Sunday during which he saw people receive the Holy Sacrament: a small, round and white substance that looks more like a biscuit baked without any additional ingredients apart from wheat flour. Curious to know how the sacrament tastes, the boy resolved he would have to taste it the following Sunday.
According to Catholic Church customs, the sacrament is a symbol for a bread for the soul. It is a freebie because Jesus Christ came to save souls for free. All you need to receive the sacrament as per Catholic customs is to attend catechism classes in the church where you will be taught Biblical values after which you will be ordained in a special mass to be receiving the sacrament.
But the boy who resolved to taste the sacrament didn't know all that stuff. He thought that the tithes offered during mass (which come before Holy Communion) was a payment for the sacrament just like the way you hand out a few coins to a shopkeeper in order to receive a biscuit. So the boy went to look for a few coins and went back to the church the following Sunday.
Now, the Catholic priests usually say "The Body of Christ" before giving out the sacrament. And when the priests say so, you are supposed to reply "Amen", bow your head slightly and then open your mouth with the tongue sticking out in readiness to receive the sacrament. But the boy didn't know that either.
Armed with a few coins, the boy turned up for mass the following Sunday. He tithed during the offertory session. He then lined up during Holy Communion session to receive the sacrament. And when his turn to receive the sacrament reached and the priest said to him "The Body of Christ", the boy looked at the priest straight in the eye and replied, "I have paid!"
That anecdote usually sets me laughing when I think about it because the sacrament is a symbol of salvation which is free. All you need to get saved is surrender your pride and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. Let no pastor ever hoodwink you into parting with your money in order to get saved. Salvation is free for shizzle.
So to make salvation more freely available in a modernized way, just click the button below if you would like to get saved:
Haha! Indeed, you are now saved. Let no more sins and sorrows grow in you. Be reading the Bible everyday. Be meditating on its message regularly. Be forgiving of yourself and others. Be beautiful. Be grateful. Be loving. Be honest. Be humble. Be bold. Be you!
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A Model For Servant Leadership
Truth be told, the world needs servant leaders everywhere: in all nations as well as in the family. Without promoting servant leadership, we risk having another world war or having our children morph into social derelicts.
So let me tell you of a friend who exhibited servant leadership. And that's none other than Philosopher David Munene whose photo I have displayed above of him posing with my general Moses Aran. He served as Starehe Boys' school captain from around August '06.
Munene was a classmate of mine in the Starehe Boys' 4F Class of '05 who was nicknamed Philosopher by some 4F classmates because of his philosophical remarks. He was first promoted to be a red-lion, as the three head-honchos of the Starehe prefectorial force were called, sometime in 2005.
When Munene was announced a red-lion back then during one school assembly, the whole hall burst into a seething cauldron of cheers. That reflected the kind of wise person he was because as the Book of Proverbs points out, there is always great rejoicing when a righteous man ascends to power. I would also have chimed in the cheering by brushing my fingers across the piano had I not been jeered when I attempted it earlier on in the assembly.
Munene and I happened to have been among the students interviewed for a job by one Mr. Njoroge as our high school years drew to a close. He was offered the job and I wasn't. But he declined it and instead chose to report back to the Starehe Institute to continue serving as a red-lion while pursuing a Diploma in Information Technology. Me, I madly craved to have the job because I didn't want to return to the institute. But since Mr. Njoroge refused to employ me even after following up on my interview results, I had no choice but to return to Starehe to pursue a diploma course in Information Technology just like Munene.
That failure to get the job turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I would have missed the great days of learning and adventure I had at Starehe Institute. And I later learnt that Mr. Njoroge's job was low-paying and deadly-dull because it involved such menial tasks as cleaning his office. So Munene was wise to decline the job offer. A wise man, wasn't he?
As we prepared to report back to the institute in December '05, I advised Munene to emulate Gilbert Kimani: the 2002/03 Starehe Boys' school captain who came across to me as friendly and easy-going. Both Munene and Gilbert bore resemblance in that they were of the same physical size at the time they served as school captains of Starehe. Actually, I think Munene was thinner in his time as school captain than Gilbert in his - something that led my general Moses Aran to backbite him by saying, "This Munene is very thin!"
Judging by his recent Facebook posts, I am happy to report that Munene has gained weight these days which I think is beneficial for his wife Miriam for obvious reasons. See?
What I appreciated most about Munene in his reign as school captain was the way he held me in high esteem. He once referred to me as a genius while addressing students in a baraza for me having set up a website for our high school stream, The Mighty 4F, in that time when such social media networks as Facebook and Whatsapp that we take for granted hadn't yet been created. And he wrote for me a wonderful peer recommendation when I unsuccessfully applied for undergraduate admission at Dartmouth College in the United States. He mentioned in the recommendation of how I had volunteered during the 2006 August holiday when I was in Starehe Institute to teach piano at a remote Catholic parish in Mwingi District in the then Eastern Province of Kenya in that era of provincial administration.
Unfortunately, and I say unfortunately for a reason I will explain later, Munene dropped out of Starehe Institute in late 2006 and chose to fly for a gap-year intern-ship at the Armidale School in New South Wales, Australia. So he turned out to be the only Starehe Boys' school captain who never completed his one-year term during my years in the school. He was also the only student who never completed the diploma course in Information Technology in the Starehe Institute Class of '07.
Had Munene finished his one-year term as school captain of Starehe Boys', he would have been offered an opportunity to study a post-high diploma at Deerfield Academy, one of the best college-preparatory schools in the United States, from where I am sure he would have been accepted in such highly-esteemed universities as Yale, Harvard and Stanford. As to why he chose to drop out of Starehe Institute thus sacrificing an opportunity to study at Deerfield Academy is something I have been dying to understand.
I later on in 2010 inquired from him in a Facebook chat why he sacrificed an opportunity to study in the United States. He never disclosed to me the reason; he just told me it is true he lost something by not flying to Deerfield, but he also gained something by flying to the Armidale School. That sounded wise. No wonder he was nicknamed "Philosopher".
Of late, I have been thinking that Munene dropped out of Starehe Institute probably because he didn't want to get caught up, like a mosquito in a spider's web, in the negative politics that were brewing up in the school following the demise in 2005 of Dr. Geoffrey Griffin: Starehe's founding director. What else would you expect from such a wise man as Munene?
Anyway, I was heartsick when I over-heard from some reliable sources that Munene was dropping out of Starehe Institute back in late '06. I expressed my sorrow to my friend Theophilus Kamwaro who just replied, "Good people never last."
I have always had a feeling that had Munene completed his term as Starehe Boys' school captain, he would have organized for me an opportunity that opened up in 2007 for one Starehian to study a post-high school diploma at a college-preparatory academy in Cleveland, Ohio. That's why I have said it was unfortunate for him to drop out Starehe Institute.
By the way, after his gap-year days at the Armidale School in Australia, Munene flew to Great Britain to pursue a BSc. degree in Business Information Systems at the University of East London. He graduated in 2011 with first class honours. And he now resides in Great Britain but sometimes he comes back to Kenya for a visit like he did recently to familiarize his English wife with his roots. I hope, just like I think Dr. Griffin is hoping as he reposes now in heaven, that Munene will one day permanently resettle back in Kenya to advance the course of his Motherland through entrepreneurship, if not political leadership. So help him God.