Learn, Love and Serve!
My name is Lawrence Vincent Ochieng. I was born and raised in Kibera slums by my mother as a single parent. We were a family of four, my mum, my elder brother who is currently with the Kenya army and my younger sister who’s now married with three kids. Having lived in Kibera slums for nearly three decades, I must admit that life wasn’t as smooth as I would have wished it to be. During grade school, I had to deal with many adversities including missing many meals, spending many days at home because my mother lacked the small amount of school fees needed, and having poor study and living conditions. Our home would get flooded during heavy rains.
It is said that, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade; and I made really good lemonade from the many lemons I got. Eventually I did my final primary school examinations (KCPE) in 2003 and got a mean grade of B+ with 372 out of 500 marks. This brief moment of success was curtailed when I received calling letters from three good schools, but my mother’s wages were barely enough to feed us, and paying for my high school was clearly not possible. We were about to give up on my further education when I received what has proven to be the best news of my life. A family friend told us of this high school that was being founded specifically to offer high school education to needy orphans from Kibera slums. I gave it a shot; and, after several days of desperation, I was finally called for interviews. I went for it, nervous and eager. After passing the written interview, I was invited for the oral one, which I also passed very well.
In early 2004 I was officially a student at St. Aloysius Gonzaga High School. I was happy and grateful for the opportunity. Another demanding journey with promises had begun. The challenges were numerous but I grew with them. The learning curve kept on rising. This was made possible by the ever present teachers and staff, always supportive and giving me hope in the midst of all difficulties. They went extra miles to make sure that I progressed well at St. Al’s. At the end of the fourth year in 2007, I sat for my secondary school final exam (KCSE) and got a mean grade of B (plain).
During the six month transition before joining college we were required to partake in a community service program, just to extend our services to the surrounding community at large. This was never going to be enough repayment for what St. Al’s had done to me. The service provided another opportunity for me to raise my learning curve. I was posted to Thomas Barnardos children’s home where I assisted in different departments including sanitation, office clerical work and accounts. The most interesting part was that I worked with kindergarten kids by assisting them in small daily activities such as using the washrooms. Working with these little children taught me humility and patience – two of the most important virtues. I really enjoyed my community service, especially creating good rapport with people and making new friends. It was, indeed, a life changing experience, full of critical lessons. Upon completion of my community service program in June 2008, I began preparing for college life. This wasn’t much of a hassle because I already knew what I wanted to pursue; and, once more, St Al’s was there to hold my hand. I had two options: electrical engineering and accounting. I qualified for both, but I opted for accounting. St. Al’s sponsored me fully to do CPA (Certified Public Accounting-Kenya). I worked hard, determined again not to let my sponsors, caregivers and teachers down. After moments of difficulty in individual subjects, I finally came through as a Certified Public Accountant in 2011. Many are the times in life when we are left feeling guilty because of our inability to adequately repay someone for their efforts and generosity on our behalf. That’s exactly how I felt about what St. Al’s had done for me. I kept on praying to God to give me an opportunity to serve more in repayment for the huge debt I felt toward St. Al’s.
Upon graduating from college, I decided to visit my mother in the village to assist her in some farming activities. She had moved to our home village and was depending fully on small scale farming for her livelihood and to support my rent back in the city. My brother was already in the army. My sister moved in with a family friend after her high school so that left me alone in a single mud-walled room. As I continued looking for a job, I relied mostly on casual work in the construction sector and support from my mother and elder brother to put food on the table and pay rent. While I was at the village, I got a call from the principal of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School. The school needed an intern to assist in the accounts office with clerical work. To me that was an answer to my prayer. God had just given me another avenue to give back, serve and continue learning. I took the opportunity earning 5,000 shillings ($50) per month. I did my work with passion, utmost dedication and integrity. I met different people, from diverse cultures and opinions. All I could do was to continually learn from them.
After I had served in this way for three years, in 2014, the accountant I was assisting left the school and I was directly promoted to his position. Now, three years later, I am still occupying the position as the school bursar. Working at St. Al’s is very special to me. Serving and protecting the walls that have shaped my life is indeed a great honor. This is living the true spirit of the school as expressed in our school motto: to learn, love and serve! It is only fair for me to give it my all without leaving anything to spare, hoping that I continue to inspire others to live out their dreams, just as St. Al’s has done for me. There are many people to thank but I extend my special gratitude to Fr. Terry Charlton. He might not know it, but he is my greatest mentor of all time.
I still believe that St. Aloysius Gonzaga High School is one of a kind and one of the few schools in the world that does what it does. It’s not a cup of tea taking someone through their two most important transition periods of their life, namely high school and college, successfully at no cost. St. Al’s is the reason I am where I am today even as my journey continues.