Student hoisted high, then dumped in foreign land

By Robert Kiplagat

It was meant to be a smooth stay in the Philippines with the only worry being studies and passing examinations. In addition, he was to stay miles away from the stress of extreme poverty at home. The journey abroad, however, turned out to be one long nightmare for Edwin Chebon Kandagor.

He went hungry many nights and at times even contemplated making the streets his abode.

Yet, in November last year, Chebon and his family celebrated as he embarked on arrangements to travel abroad for his Bachelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy at Negros Oriental State University after his MP, Sammy Mwaita, facilitated his travel to the Philippines.

For Chebon, 21, who hails from Baringo Central constituency, the earlier ecstasy of being a scholarship recipient seems like a fanciful dream.

So when he came back to the country after ‘going through hell’ last Sunday, he is still dazed, and finds it hard to imagine that he suffered so greatly in a foreign land. He had this distant look on his face during the celebrations at his home after his arrival, a clear indication of the torturous months he lived.

He gets emotional and breaks down a number of times when he narrates his experience to The Standard in an interview later.

He had left the country enthusiastically looking forward to his studies in the Philippines.

As he settled down to study, his dream of success became a nightmare as subsequent events showed he obviously could not continue with his studies for lack of fees.

“I paid the second semester fees from the Sh160,000 my MP gave me but I had to cater for my accommodation and food. For these, I used the little money my family had raised,” he says.

Cheboi soon ran out of money to sustain himself. While he was thinking about getting food for himself, the university came calling for the second semester fees.

“I tried explaining to them that the funds were being sent via electronic money transfer but they could hear none of it. I had two options: Either to pay or ship out.”

University president

Realising he had limited choices, Chebon spoke to the university president who told him the institution did not accept money via wire transfers, but only cash payment. He communicated the same home, and waited for his benefactor to step in quickly.

But as he realised, help was not forthcoming as fast as he expected. As a result, he stayed out of class for two months.

“After this, the university officially discontinued me saying I wouldn’t catch up with the rest of my classmates,” he adds, bowing his head sorrowfully.

Chebon’s defence was weak, as he had joined university late, after the other students were through with one semester.

“I joined in the second semester, which meant I hadn’t started the course with the rest of the students.”

Without money to sustain himself and his education cut short, Chebon felt lost in a foreign land and all he wanted was to come home to his familiar surroundings.

But Philippines is a long way from home. As he waited and hoped for his homecoming, he sought refuge from a fellow Kenyan student, who, incidentally comes from Eldoret.

“He accommodated and fed me as I awaited help from home. That time was the most traumatising in my life.”

As Chebon soon learnt, the cup of generosity doesn’t flow endlessly. The student who had sheltered him felt the pressure of taking care of Chebon and told him the same.

“He’d no longer afford food for two. So there are many days I went without food as I desperately tried to get help from home.”

And in the midst of this, he fell sick with malaria.

“Getting medication was a problem. I was assisted by a friend to get treatment.”

“If it were not for my friend, I would have started living in the streets,” he adds.

Call home for help

Chebon says since he had a mobile phone and a Philippine simcard, he was able to use some of the money his friends gave him to call home for help.

“This communication was my only lifeline. At least I was in touch with my parents. And it helped me get back home through the money my family mobilised to fly me back.”

At one point, he thought of seeking help from the Kenyan Embassy in capital Manila but it meant flying there. He didn’t have the money (some Sh15,000) to buy the ticket, but even if he got money from a generous person he’d have spent it to buy a ticket to Kenya instead.

Chebon’s university is in an island, Dumaguete City, and its distance from Manila is equivalent to the distance between Nairobi and Addis Ababa. Most cities in Philippines are located on islands. The most preferred mode of transport between these islands is by ship.

His only hope

So he put pressure on his family, calling them so often, for they were his only hope.

“I did this knowing too well they could not assist much. They had even sold some family belongings to get me fare on my first trip. So I expected little support,” he says.

His parents told The Standard they had been assured that their son was to be placed on a scholarship in the Philippines.

“We didn’t know that our son was headed for trouble,” said his dejected father, Nahaman Kandagor.

Raising funds for Chebon’s return ticket was difficult but the little they got was boosted by former Co-operative Bank chairman, Hosea Kiplagat. And that is how he travelled back home.

Chebon says he now regrets the time he has wasted in Philippines and his coming back without the education he went for.

“I was supposed to be the light in my family, now all that has been shattered. My parents now have to look for more money to get me back to a local college.”

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