At 25, some of his age-mates are university graduates. Some are even pushing for their master’s degrees or own them by now. Yes, others remain unemployed and are still toiling but a number of them are employed, driving or being driven in high-class vehicles.
Yet, Kenneth Brown is a regular cyclist on the Senga Bay side of Salima. He cycles, not for physical fitness, as other people do. Brown does so to earn a living. He is among several young men who operate bicycle taxis trade around the beach.
The bicycle taxi business-well known as dampa in Salima, kabaza in some areas and several other names in different area—is more often than not associated with men who dropped out of school, gave up on life and just strive to keep their families alive. Brown has a different story though.
Born in Chitsa Village, Traditional Authority Tengani in the Shire Valley district of Nsanje in 1992, Brown sat Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations at Kadabwako Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in 2013.
Prior to 2013, together with his brother and other family members, Brown lived a difficult life of poverty under the parenthood of his late mother’s aunt.
The grandmother, who is a mere peasant farmer in the village, tried to pay fees for Brown and, out of the challenges, he scored 25 points in MSCE examinations.
But the grades failed to impress Brown, a young man with an insatiable appetite for tertiary education.
He deeply considered the competition for university space in the country and totally forgot about the 25 points.
Thereafter, he embarked on a journey to the country’s old capital, Zomba. He had gone to the city to visit a friend and, while there, he befriended another man from Lilongwe.
When G4S, a security company employed his Lilongwe friend as a Salima-based guard, Brown saw it as an opportunity to make a move to the lakeside.
“I asked him if there was a school nearby and he told me about Parachute CDSS. He also told me about piecework along the lake and I arrived in Salima in September 2015. I initially started working along the lake by helping in preparing fish for the market. But I was not going into the lake for the actual fishing,” Brown recalls.
It is at this time that Brown enrolled at Parachute CDSS as an open distance learning student.
He was working at the lake in the morning hours and attending classes in the afternoon up to the time he started the bicycle taxi business.
“At first, I was using a borrowed bicycle whose owner was receiving some money at the end of every day. Thereafter, I met another friend who sells fish and he bought a bicycle for his fish trade. He allowed me to use it for taxi purposes whenever it was not in fish business,” he says.
The kabaza business and afternoon Form Three classes continued up to the time the head teacher saw potential in Brown. The head teacher told Brown to start reporting for morning classes.
In September 2016, when schools opened for the new academic year, Brown changed the schedule and started Form Four with morning classes while attending to the kabaza business in the afternoon. All this time, he was paying fees and buying basic needs such as food, clothes and paying rentals using proceeds from the bicycle taxi trade. Of course, in the second and third terms of Form Four, he found a Good Samaritan, one of Parachute CDSS teachers.
When the results of MSCE examinations that Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) administered between June and July 2017 were released, good news out of Brown’s long and winding academic journey arrived. He scored 10 points.
“I think about life and I know that, for me to move out of poverty, I need education,” Brown says.
The American neurosurgeon and 2016 US elections Republican candidacy hopeful, Ben Carson, inspires Brown.
“A friend in Nsanje told me about Ben Carson and I bought his book [Think Big] when I was in Zomba.
“Ben Carson will tell you that ‘every child is a champion worth wrestling’. Ben Carson has a touching and inspiring story. Everyone should have a goal in life and that is what propels a person to move on in this life of challenges. Challenges are just part of life,” Brown says.
Despite scoring good points, Brown remains a troubled man. Hearing stories of how other needy students in public universities are struggling to access loans for their education, he feels the 10 points are not enough to move him out of poverty.
“I need tuition fees for university education and I know that, without that, I cannot continue and I will not realise my dream,” the man who aspires to pursue university education in environmental science signs out.
After narrating the story, Brown cycles on with the hope of finding the next passenger for his bicycle taxi to at least get food for the da
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