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Gideon Letaya – Hard times create strong men


“Tough times never last but tough people do.” I could adopt this phrase as the title of this story but Robert H. Schuller had it first for his book in 1983. However, G. Michael Hopf said “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times”. Therefore, from today henceforth, when talking about tough men, please remember to mention Gideon Letaya somewhere. Why? Let’s find out.

It all began in Oloibor-soito, a small village in Kenya’s Narok County. Gideon’s early childhood education was cut short when day to day survival for his family became a herculean task. A dream conceived in the hills and valleys of this village saw the 12-year-old herds boy then, craving a better life. His neighbours would welcome him to their homes as a young casual labourer whose brilliance would be evident whenever he interacted with their children. Letaya would assist the neighbours’ children with school assignments then rush back home after earning some coins. One day, one of his bosses in the village decided to take a chance on him by sending Gideon back to Oloibor-soito Primary School. He later joined Osonkoroi Secondary School where he wore shoes for the first time in his life. Besides heading the student council for two years, he played volleyball. He then moved to Shamberere High School where he was granted a sports scholarship.

Even with the scholarship, life back home wasn’t a walk in the park. His mother sold local brew to sustain their livelihood. During the holidays, Gideon would work for other people as a herdsboy and shamba boy to put food on the table. Eventually, he sat for the Kenya certificate of secondary examinations and attained a B- (minus). Even with this grade, he couldn’t get an opportunity to join college. As the cold hands of poverty greeted his family on a daily basis, investing in Gideon’s college education was a luxury. The family was happy that he could at least lend a hand when he landed a job at a local petrol station as a sales agent.

The big move to Nairobi

He later moved to Nairobi for a job as a hostel manager, a job that one of his former teachers recommended. He would send regular upkeep to his family in Oloibor-soito village. After a year, the hostel closed down and he moved in with his friends with whom he would hunt for any kind of job which would calm his belly whenever hunger struck. However, the friends pursued separate paths and Gideon had to move again to find his own place. With nowhere to go, he reached out to his former teacher, who was kind enough to pay his rent as he moved into a small shanty. Moons later, sleeping on the floor and managing a meal a day was more reason for Gideon to hope for better days. One of his friends, who also came from Oloibor-soito, blessed him with bedding which were later flooded by heavy rains one night, while Gideon slept.

An opportunity came knocking on his door and he embraced it as a sales person at a bakery in Nairobi’s inda (Industrial Area). He’d be up by 2am and go to bed at 10pm. However, he sold bread while wishing the pay could at least be commensurate with the amount of work it involved. Four months later, he resigned. “I thought to myself, selling bread would not lead me to where I wanted to be,” says Gideon. A real estate company was recruiting a cook but there he was, the eloquent and elegant Gideon whom they thought was overqualified for the job. “You are too good for this job. Therefore, I’ll contact you when another opportunity comes up,” said the interviewer. Gideon travelled back to Oloibor-soito village because life in the city was unbearable.

Office messenger studies law

True to her word, the interviewer contacted Gideon a year later. He started off as the office messenger and later the company’s property manager. His boss, with whom Gideon had shared his dream of pursuing law, introduced him to Prof. Luis Francheschi, founding dean of the Strathmore Law School. “The messenger is going to study law at Strathmore University!” Gideon’s colleagues would say. The journey to becoming a lawyer began a week later when his boss paid his initial deposit of the fees. Through the dean came Strathmore University’s Financial Aid office (FAO) which granted Gideon a 90% scholarship. Paying the remaining 10% was a hustle, therefore Gideon sought further financial assistance from the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB).

Tuition fees were now no longer a hassle. How does he survive then? Walking from Kangemi (Gideon’s residence) to Strathmore University and back proved to be too unfriendly to his feet and shoes. Blisters on his feet came in between him and his class attendance. The Dean of Students learnt of this and went back to FAO to seek help on behalf of Gideon; they got him a hostel around the university’s vicinity and granted him a monthly stipend for his upkeep. Some wind of relief was whirring by Gideon’s life until he lost his grandmother, the family breadwinner. His family now completely depended on him.

FAO granted him a job opportunity under the work-study program in the School of Computing and Engineering Sciences (SCES) as an administration assistant. Gideon’s earnings from work went into the construction of a house for his mother and siblings. In the wake of COVID-19, Gideon had to relocate to the village. However, there is no electricity in the village and, therefore, he had to rent a place in Kilgoris town. Fortunately, shifting to online learning was seamless since the university provided data bundles for all SU students. Gideon successfully completed his coursework and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree, 2nd class upper division.

What next after graduation?

Gideon, a mentor, and the former president of the African Youth Leadership Forum, is a legal intern at CM Advocates. He is currently pursuing a course in arbitration as he looks forward to becoming an arbitrator. He also aspires to be a constitutional lawyer; therefore, he is in search of a scholarship to pursue a Master of Laws degree. He continues to mentor young people through his story and help the less fortunate because “helping someone does not decrease you in any way.”


This article was written by Odhiambo Obonyo.


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