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Beneficiary of Global Literacy's Work in Kenya Reflects on His Quest Towards a PhD

Osia OdulaMarch 6, 2009.- Osia Odula has a dramatic story to tell. As he visited with GLP volunteers in New Jersey on a late winter Friday he reflected upon the series of events that took him from a life of poverty in western Kenya to a Masters/PhD program at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Osia grew up in an extremely poor family headed by his mother who single handedly looked after the six children. From an early age Osia was precocious and showed a hunger for learning. However, it at first appeared that this hunger would go unappeased. The only school he had access to had a dirt floor and used large rocks and stones to supplement as desks and chairs for the students. Even so, the small fee needed to attend this school put a strain on his family. They persevered and Osia eventually passed the primary school exams that opened the possibility for him to attend secondary school.

Here, everything almost came to a halt. There was simply no money to attend the secondary school. Osia and his mother spent months thinking and talking about what to do. Finally, his mother took what was perhaps one of the most courageous actions a person in her position could do. In rural Kenya, they only protection against complete destitution and potential starvation is ownership of some land. Their family had a very small plot of land that often provided that little bit extra to their family. Osia's mother braced herself, took her belief in her son to heart and sold the land to give him his chance.

Even with this brave step, Osia found himself sent home from school in his Junior year when the money ran out. A chance meeting with one of his past teachers saw that teacher paying part of the final year's fees supplemented by odd jobs that Osia and his mother took on. Finally the exams that would determine eligibility for college came along and Osia pass a top of the entire class.

Osia was filled with elation. He had passed, justifying his mother's faith in him and he also qualified for a scholarship to a university! Unfortunately, at his moment of triumph, it all came tumbling down. His mother, who believed in him so much, passed away at a terribly young age. Osia, at age 20, was left head of the family. Struggling to keep the family together he was unable to follow up on his college placement and lost his position along with he scholarship.

GLP Treasurer Camille Mahon, Osia Odula and Anne Delaney
Camille Mahon, Osia Odula, Anne DeLaney

The next few years were hard ones. He volunteered to teach at a local school in return for the school accepting his sisters for free. He worked every kind of job he could get. He even tried moving to Nairobi (eight+ hours away by bus) to work at a job paying the equivalent of $40.00/month--$30.00 of which had to be spent on housing and transport! Luckily though, some friends were reminded of him when the Global Literacy Project, in conjunction with PAMLO (the Pan-African Mentoring and Learning Organization) established a series of scholarships at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

GLP had transferred an entire science library to JKUAT--into a science library building that had stood basically empty for several years. In return, the university created a series of scholarships for worthy students from the western Kenya region GLP was working in. This region was where Osia lived and where he was teaching. When his story was brought before the selection committee they unanimously voted to give him a scholarship.

While attending JKUAT Osia would randomly travel home to spot check that his brothers and sisters were attending school themselves. He would also have to take off time to work at odd jobs to ensure that his brothers and sisters had food and clothing.

A visiting American Fulbright professor from Clemson University, Dr. James Faust, noticed his absenses as well as the fact that despite missing weeks of work he would still score the highest grades in his class. On speaking with Osia Faust was impressed with the dedication to scholarship that the young Kenya demonstrated.

As such, on returning to Clemson and after Osia finished his program at the top of his class, Faust arranged for a scholarship at Clemson for Osia to complete a Masters/PhD program.

In the Fall of 2008 Osia duly arrived at Clemson and is now creating one more chapter in his amazing story--a story that has to be heard to believed!

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