We all admire the fine professionals, the wealthy and the well-off in society, but often, we have no idea what they had to go through to be where they are.
In his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2005 in Kamelilo primary school after repeating, Ibrahim Omar led in the school with 383 marks, an upscale to the 368 marks he had scored the previous year.
He was at home, hopeless and clueless about where to get fees to further his studies. He had been called to his dream High school, Tenwek Boys. Young and fragile, he resorted to doing manual jobs as a mason around the expanding Kamelilo village in Koibatek Sub County, Baringo County, for a living.
Towards the end of the first term, while still at home, word reached his Primary school Headteacher Mr. Henry Limo through Madam Soktoi, that Omar was still at home. Saddened by the news, the teachers resorted to doing a small fundraiser and had Omar admitted to the just newly-established Kamelilo Day Secondary School. This was weeks before the term was over; he says he came home with a bad grade then.
“God bless them for their thoughts, I would not be here, I had been given promises to get Constituency Development Fund (CDF) before by one famous politician, but he never came through,” says Omar.
“Mr. Limo took me to Koibatek Uniform, bought me the uniform. I used my savings to repair my old school shoes and was good to go,” he adds.
Kamelilo Primary school teachers would contribute every term and send word for him to be excused whenever the fee was late. He only needed Ksh. 12,000 per year.
In 2008, luck would be waiting for him; he was invited to join Poror High school for tuition during his second term in form three.
His discipline and dedication bore great performance that his teacher Mr. Chumba and the then Principal would not let him go. He joined the school.
He represented the School in Physics and Science contests and excelled. This also allowed him to represent the School in The Nairobi Agricultural Show for ten days, where he met and presented his project to the late President Mwai Kibaki.
Though he was sent home severally for fees, he always returned genuinely and explained that he would not afford it. During the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) registration, he had KSh 35,000 in arrears and couldn’t afford the KCSE Examination fee. Despite all, he got index three in form four.
“I went home and came back, I talked to Mr. Chumba and told him I could not afford the examination fee, but requested him to add it to the already much arrears,” he narrates, emotionally.
“In February, 2010, the results were out and I had a B+ (plus) of 72 points, I was second in the school,” he adds.
The then Education Minister, now Kenya’s President, William Ruto, announced that all KCSE and KCPE leavers shoud receive their result slips, whether they had arrears or not.
Turn of events
The same day he received his results, his two friends were waiting for him in Eldama Ravine Town with a newspaper cut-out from one of the Daily newspapers.
“It was an advertisement by the Islamic Development Bank for a scholarship to study Medicine in Turkey. I had to have a B in all sciences to apply,” he says.
His friends willed it for him as they knew his background and what he needed to succeed.
The process of applying was to be done through The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM). Though giving up at some point, he later recollected himself and started again towards the April deadline.
He sought an audience with his former Principal Mr. Kimosop.
“Here was a scholarship chance that could change my life but the system was strict. Surprisingly, the principal was so glad and gave me all the documents I required, without a penny! Discipline and hard work made favor easy all my life,” narrates Omar.
The deadline for submitting his documents to SUPKEM was near. He had not certified his documents, his identity card was not out, and he could not apply for a passport without it.
All this while, he prayed in all tongues, desperate to change his life. He knew his fate would not be sorted at home. His parents had their plates full for the season. His last day of an additional week from SUPKEM had him visit their offices and explain his ordeal to them. He was favored and given a high-profile person to assist him concerning the scholarship.
Studying abroad, a breakthrough
With his 16 Kenyan colleagues benefitting from the scholarship, they were briefed about life in Turkey and bid goodbye.
He landed in Ankara City, Turkey, in October 2010 and started his seven years journey at Istanbul University. The university is among the top 500 best universities globally and is known for producing world-class doctors and medical experts.
With his colleagues extracted from different parts of Kenya, they were subjected to a year of learning the Turkish language. The academic journey was a tough experience, and of the sixteen who started, only thirteen returned to Kenya having graduated.
During their first two months of the Summer Break in July 2011, their Kenyan seniors advised Omar and his colleagues to use the time to perfect their new Turkish language. They had failed severally due to failure to understand the language. Their second break was in winter, February 2012, for two weeks.
“I once scored 4% in Biochemistry. But there was no way I was going home, though the rule was that if you fail two times consecutively, your sponsorship would be revoked; I could not afford that at the time,” he says.
Under the scholarship, they were given a stipend of 1680 USD every four months, translating to three times a year. These would be for them to budget for their upkeep.
He says the money was more than enough for some; to some, it was peanuts. For him, it was a blessing as he would help educate his siblings back home.
He made strict guidelines for himself, avoiding anything which could waste his chance.
His third year had been the hardest hurdle. On his way to Turkey, he received his sponsorship cancellation while in Egypt. He had failed twice. He still went on. With his siblings having finished high school and now in college, the burden was on going through the fourth year. He never informed his family till he graduated. He needed to sponsor his education and his upkeep in Turkey.
Arriving in Turkey during the coup, he had to get somewhere to stay.
Fortunately, during his learning in 2016, he was treating a cancer patient with whom they became close friends due to his care. He succumbed to it, but his family had asked Omar to always keep in touch with them. True to their word, the family took up his sponsorship with many other friends he had made due to his professionalism and charisma. They supported him until the seventh year.
“2016 was a tough year for me; I almost gave in to the loneliness. One of us went mad. It takes a lot to keep myself together, but I made it. 2018 was a decision-making year, at some point, I stayed away from class; I repeated severally but was determined to make it,” he narrates.
Omar says life is about making choices, and bad company can impact your life negatively.
Though he finally graduated in 2021, he bagged many lessons for the Kenyans aspiring to study in Turkey in the future. He says the fees is pocket friendly, barely under KSh. 100,000 a year. According to Omar, Turkey has excellent learning institutions and direct employment there is easy.
If one practices as a General Practitioner, the salary would be the same as that of a Turkish citizen with similar qualifications. One can specialize too and be paid by the Turkish government.
Since his graduation, he has already sat for the board examination under the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Board, as required in Kenya’s field of medicine. He would then be posted for a year’s internship.
The exams plus the translation of his Degree certificates cost him KSh 50,000. The Board exam checks on the Theory, which covers 40% and Practical, covering 60%. He was examined at Nairobi Hospital School of Nursing.
Back home, he has been politically active but says there is no goodwill as far as coming from a minority community. He says politicians have always taken advantage of their status as a minority group to get votes but later nominate none of them to any of the various key positions.
He says the shortlisting of one of them is just a show-off by the county shortlisting board but never goes to the end.
He wishes to meet the president to discuss recognizing the Nubian community as a Kenyan tribe. He laments their existence since Kenya’s independence is being taken for granted.
He says having lived with other Kenyan communities has opened his eyes in diverse perspectives. It saddened him to see childhood friends progress by receiving their IDs while the Nubians who are Muslims, are left to suffer. He laments about the process of acquiring the title deed, which is also hectic.
“…the chief knows you; they signed your birth notification, you actually grew up with his child, but when you ask why your ID is not out yet his child’s is out, he has no response,” he laments, adding, “I almost lost this chance because of being denied my basic right. Politicians have not been raising this issue.”
With Kenya’s government devolving the health services, it has become more frustrating for doctors such as Omar, who, as much as should be considered to the various hospitals in Counties, find the hospitals packed already.
Their fate lies in private hospitals or private practice. This has contributed to more doctors having their brains used abroad.
Omar is wishful that after his internship, he will earn his license and go back to Turkey to specialize. He says he is not willing to pay for employment in Counties as the other doctors do.
He blames the bureaucracy in Kenya, saying though the pay is good, getting there is worse. He laments the lack of modern machines in Kenya, which also frustrates a doctor’s job.
“I am not yet there yet,” he says, “I have a lot to offer to the community.”
Omar cautions those that will make the journey to Turkey always to keep their discipline and hard work, adding that there are some places non-citizens cannot visit or stay, including some offices. “When you fall short of cash, there are no part-time jobs, making life really trying and difficult,” he says.
He stresses the need for Kenyan students to dress decently and avoid abusing drugs and any other law-breaking behavior to avoid being deported.