Award-winning science student doing menial jobs in Nakuru to pay for UoN

Most people think Esther is thriving in the US on a scholarship but she's struggling to pay for UoN

In Summary
  • While the rest of the world thinks she is happily living in the US, the poor girl is hiding from neighbours shocked to see her still around.
  • She was a protege of global superstar teacher Peter Tabichi who helped Esther's family  and taught her science at Keriko Secondary School.
Award-winning student, Esther Amimo, and her mother, Ruth Owendi, at their home in Lare, Njoro subcounty, Nakuru.
AWARD-WINNER: Award-winning student, Esther Amimo, and her mother, Ruth Owendi, at their home in Lare, Njoro subcounty, Nakuru.

Esther Amimo was supposed to be flourishing, studying in the US after winning a promised 2019 global science award and scholarship.

But she's not. She's living in poverty with her family of seven in Nakuru, doing menial jobs to pay for her University of Nairobi education. 

Esther was a headline-making protégé of global teaching superstar Peter Tabichi who gave 80 per cent of his pay to help poor students.  

He taught at Keriko Secondary School where Esther studied and it shot to fame because of her science project.

In the past, Tabichi has called on governments to help the girl child.

Some people think she and her family are feigning poverty after winning Sh100,000. But she used it to enrol at UoN where she will be in her third year. School reopens on September 3.

Meanwhile, she's doing laundry and working as a househelp. She moved in with her sister in Naivasha. Esther is the second born.

Esther was one of two Kenyan girls who won UN Sustainable Development Global Awards during the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2019 in the US. Her science partner was also promised a scholarship, she said.

She featured in a video of Tabichi's winning project of the Global Teacher Prize from the Varkey Foundation. Her family was one of the beneficiaries of his work.

In the project video, Tabichi is seen visiting Esther's home in semi-arid Njoro subcounty. He helps the family instal a polypropylene bag for growing vegetables.

Her family status did not change. Then her father was fired as a watchman at Keriko Secondary School. Now he needs surgery.

The family solely depends on mother Ruth Owendi, a cook at Keriko Primary School.

Speaking at her home in Lare, Esther says she lives on a single meal while on campus to save and pay university fees.

Esther is mentioned a number of times in videos about the school situation, the community, poverty and the environment.

Esther said she's embarrassed by questions asked by neighbours who think she's hoarding prize money.

My science partner and I were promised two scholarships in the US and  one in Ukraine during the science fair
Esther Amimo

Their questions are annoying and stigmatise her because they remind her of the opportunities she has missed.

She said she did not have direct communication with the people and institutions that were willing to help her.

“My science partner and I were promised two scholarships in the US and  one in Ukraine during the science fair," Esther told the Star.

"The pledges did not come to fruition and I do not know what happened because communication was through the school,” she said.

Other Kenyan students in the project got scholarships in tertiary institutions overseas but she and her partner got nothing, she said.

The education science (mathematics and physics) student at UON has just concluded her second year. To supplement her earnings from menial jobs, she does online writing.

“My annual school fees are Sh26,000 per year, so I have to get Sh18,000 to top up the Higher Education Loans Board’s relief of Sh8,000 per year,” Ester said.

She needs Sh3,500 for accommodation on campus, food, laboratory manuals, printing paper and  other things her mother and father cannot afford. They support her four siblings at home.

Esther was featured in local and international media besides being congratulated by national leaders. They included TSC chief executive officer Nancy Macharia.

"I did not use even a penny of the award money [except for fees] because I knew chances were high that I might miss university if I depended on my parents,” she said.

Her father, Josephat Anyanzwa, said everyone believes Esther and the family have gotten a huge financial windfall.

Her family too is stigmatsed by residents who accuse them  pretending to be poor and hiding the money from their daughter's success to invest at their rural home in Western.

“When the foreigners came to see Teacher Tabichi’s project, they came in a convoy of many big vehicles. Our neighbours believed they came with aid for the family. They don't believe we are still poor," Esther's mother Ruth said.

Esther is appealing to well-wishers to help her complete her university education. Then she promises to uplift her family and help with her father's medical treatment.

When contacted, Keriko Secondary school principal Daniel Mwariri said he was not aware Esther was not sponsored to UoN.

He said he did not know of her financial struggles. Mwariri said  teacher Tabichi was in charge of their welfare and following up on the promised scholarships in the US and Ukraine.

Esther also said after she graduated, the school still calls on her to appear in uniform at science fairs and media events.

“I would be told to go school in uniform whenever the management needed to showcase the project and I would wait for hours without food or drink,” Esther said. 

She  is starting her third year in September. She joined UoN in September 2019.

Numerous efforts to reach teacher Tabichi by phone were unsuccessful and calls were not answered. He has not responded yet to text messages.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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