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Juma Nyongesa: College Principal Who Worked As A Tea Picker, Security Guard Before Breakthrough

Juma Nyongesa is the principal at the Kenya Institute of Development Studies and a part-time lecturer at Africa International University.

He has managed to rise to the top despite initially failing to further his studies past secondary school, a move that later made him feel like the education system was unfair to the poor.

Juma also missed a chance to serve in the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) despite getting the calling letter and reporting to the training school.

Here is his story as told by WoK.


Born and raised in a village along river Mururi Matunda in Kakamega County, Juma is the first born in a family of 11.

As the firstborn child, he also took care of her siblings as his mother did menial jobs while his father did construction work.

“When you have come of age, you are supposed to take care of your young siblings including, but not limited to paying their school fees. My parents were peasant farmers, we lived in perpetual poverty

“I remember my mother working on other people’s farms to be able to supplement what my dad could get from his meagre seasonal construction work,” Juma said.

In an interview with Standard, he noted that he would join his mother to work in the farms during weekends and school holidays.

“I could be able to raise money for uniform and books. The silver lining was that at an early age I learned the value of hard work and sacrifice,” Juma said.

Juma said that excelling in his studies and proceeding to university was the only option out of the situation at home.

His parents could have sold their land to finance his education, but unfortunately, his final grade denied him direct entry into university.

“I felt I was a failure, good for nothing, a letdown and a disappointment to myself and the rest of my family. If you do not have a strong support network at this point you can easily slide into depression. For me I had my mother,” he stated.

False Start

After failing to further his education through self-sponsorship, Juma turned to informal employment before trying several disciplined forces recruitment exercises.

He was not successful the first time he tried but success followed the following year when he was recruited by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).

He was given the calling letter and he reported to Recruit Training School in Eldoret only to be turned away a month later.

“A parade was assembled and six called out. My name was among them and we were asked to pack our belongings and leave the school within 15 minutes

“We were told there was an error in the process of recruitment even as rumours abounded that a powerful politician had influenced our ejection to make way for his team,” Juma recalled.

After the discouraging incident, Juma moved to Limuru where he worked as a tea picker before moving to Nairobi where he worked as a security guard.

“After missing the university cut-off with a few points and lacking resources to proceed, I felt the education system was discriminatory and unfair to the poor

“The poor then simply had to excel at exams to stand a chance at life. The privileged, on the other hand, had a number of alternatives available to them,” he said.

Enrolling for community development and business management

Juma did not lose his desire to further his education, and later, he enrolled for a course in community development and business management.

“Community development helped me comprehend the multifaceted layers of underdevelopment and the solutions therein

“Business management was to help me link between entrepreneurship and wealth creation for the poor,” he explained his decision to pursue the course.

Juma also discussed his decision to pursue a Master’s degree and later a PhD.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup. You can’t give what you don’t have. Because my life was transformed while in class, I will want to do the same for others by lecturing and paying their school fees. This could only be done if I advanced my education,” he said.

He noted that through education, he has not only served as a principal in a premier institution but traveled the world for seminars and conferences.

He has also take his siblings through school and supported over 26 needy students.

Juma enjoys playing rugby, reading books and serving in church when he is not teaching.

“They say teachers affect eternity, there is no telling where there influence stops. The moment I step in the classroom I remember how my life was before becoming a student and how I changed through education

“I not only teach content for passing exams but teach skills for life using myself as an example,” he said.