Abdi Ahmed Mohammed, the top boy in the 2008 KCPE exams in North Eastern Province with 434 points out of a possible 500. He is with his grandmother Khadija Omar Hassan, who encouraged his parents to take him to school. Photo/BASKASH JUGSODA’AY
By NIMO BASHOWPosted Thursday, February 19 2009 at 23:39
19-year-old Abdi Ahmed Mohammed joined primary school at the age of 12 years, dropped out twice, was in primary school for only four years instead of eight but beat all the odds to emerge top pupil in North Eastern Province in the 2008 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination.
Mohammed had lived all his humble life in North Eastern Province. He had never set foot in Nairobi where he now has joined Starehe Boys Centre in Nairobi. Starehe, which was his first choice, gave him a four-year scholarship due to his good results. What he went through to emerge top student can only be described as extra-ordinary.
Beat all odds
After dropping out of school twice – Mohammed beat all odds and scored 434 points to emerge the top pupils in the hardship arid province that is known best for producing not images of success, but those of destitution due to hunger. The province is perennially hit by drought.
This is no mean feat for a boy coming from a province which is struggling to shed an image of poor performance in national examinations. Like many other children in this region, whose inhabitants lead nomadic lifestyle, Mohammed, too, faced his own share of challenges. School and modern systems of learning remain unappreciated.
Born in a family of 10 children, Mohammed was the child who had the opportunity to go to school. Thanks to the stubborn determination and intervention of his 70-year-old maternal grandmother Khadija Omar Hassan, she persuaded his parents to enrol him in Standard One. He was aged 12 years.
And like many children from the region, the nomadic life did not allow him to go through the eight academic years of primary education. “I will always be indebted to my grandmother for being resolute in her quest to educate me,’’ Mohammed told the Nation in Garissa.
Teachers at the Kulan Primary School near the Kenya-Somalia border were reluctant to enrol him in Standard One because of his advanced age and relatively bigger frame compared to other children. They decided to enrol him in Standard Three.
And after just one term – Mohammed deserted school to go back to herding goats, which offered him a carefree and independent life in the expansive desert fields. “I was naughty then,” admits Mohammed “I could not cope with being instructed to do things and obey orders.” His grandmother Khadija Omar Hassan, who lives in Garissa agreed.
“When I look back at his behaviour as a child, I never thought he could ever succeed in anything,” she says. But she did not relent or give up. She asked his parents to return him to school. But Mohammed was not for the idea.
However, after wasting time, the old woman in 2004 invited her grandson to her Garissa town house where she counselled him on the virtues of education. The old woman took the boy around the town, showing him various investments by educated people.
She introduced him to prominent people and role models from the area. Among them was the current Deputy Speaker of Parliament Farah Maalim. On hearing the boy’s story, he offered to take him to private school and pay his school fees.
But Mohammed rejected the offer. His grandmother kept her cool but once again refused to take the boy’s No for an answer. Like a good sales woman, she finally managed to persuade a reluctant Mohammed to take the scholarship.
The boy was, taken to a private school where he was given a test to determine the class he was most suitable to enrol. He qualified to be in Standard Six. To compensate for the boy’s lost time Mr Maalim hired a teacher to coach him at home. It worked. Mohammed was soon top of his class and won the admiration of his teachers something, he says, motivated him to stay at school.
Today, just four years after he first went to school, Mohammed, is now determined to focus on education. He says he will never let an opportunity to study slip through his fingers. He has big dreams, too; to be a civil engineer. He says his ambition is driven by the pathetic road network in his home province.
Mohammed’s former headteacher at Garissa Mnara School, Mr Charlis Juma, said of his former pupil: “The boy coupled discipline with hard work. He was always focused and knew what he was doing. Those made me appoint him the school captain.”