He easily passes for a shy student at the University of Nairobi (UoN) main campus.
Those who know him describe him as humble, patient and focused.
But that does not explain why the UoN lecturer Silas Odongo Oriaso is full of humility. It is only after he explains his past that his bravery and resilience comes out. Dr Oriaso, 31, graduates today with PhD in Communication and Information Studies.
“As a department, we attribute his success to discipline, humility and hard work,” says Wambui Kiai, Director School of Journalism.
“As his supervisor, looking at his work, it was evident that a lot of effort was put into his research. He is an intelligent man and he is now one of our staff,” she adds.
The lecturer’s research focused on health and development communication. Dr Kiai notes Oriaso is a living example of a young man whose destination mattered more than where he came from.
Oriaso embodies hard work, determination and love for his family that helped him overcome myriad of challenges to realise his dream.
After joining UoN in 2002, he used his Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) savings to feed his family back home and to pay his sibling’s school fees. Born in a family of 12 at Kanyamfwa village in Homa Bay County, Oriaso says he was humbled by circumstances surrounding his success.
His late father, Odongo Awuor, was a basket weaver and hismother, Margaret Odongo, tilled other peoples’ farms to feed the family.
“I never paid fees in primary school because there was no money. Even my KCPE examination fee was paid by the head teacher,” he recalls.
The baskets his father made were traded for food and other household items.
“That is how my father also managed to buy us clothes,” says Oriaso.
After sitting KCPE in 1996 in the little known Kanyamfwa village school, Oriaso emerged top.
“I was the best candidate in the country in English scoring 99 per cent. Overall, I scored 600 marks out of the possible 700,” he says. But this set in another challenge-there was no school fees for his secondary education. “Even then I had no shoes, school uniform and fees. I borrowed uniform from students who had completed their studies. I had three books and a pen.” At the end of the term, Oriaso topped his class. “I was given a bursary. My clan, the Nyamondo-Nyamwaya, also fund-raised to supplement the bursary,” he recollects.
But that was not all. Oriaso says he joined his mother in weeding peoples’ farms over the weekend to save for the KCSE examination registration fees. Four years later, Oriaso scored a B (plain) with 74 points in his KCSE examinations. It was the year 2000. “I was among the few people in my village who managed to score a public university entry grade,” he says. After his stellar performance, Oriaso taught Biology and English classes at his former high school. “I got pocket money. The biggest chunk of that money was, however, deducted to settle part my fees balance,” he recalls.
Oriaso taught at his former high school until 2002 when he received a UoN admission letter to study a Bachelor of Education in Arts (English and Literature).
“Helb gave me Sh47,000, the highest amount of money a student could get. In addition to this, I also received an annual bursary of Sh8,000,” he says.
“I saved money to buy a mobile phone that I used to contact my mother,” he says.
In 2006, he graduated with a first class honours degree at UoN, opening another door for him.
“I applied for a Masters degree scholarship, which I was awarded. The university also gave me some classes to teach until 2007 when I started my Masters programme in Communication Studies. I graduated in 2009,” he explains.
After graduation, besides teaching at the university, Oriaso also taught at various institutions in the city. “But pressure was mounting on me to start my PhD. So I applied and the university honoured me once again,” he explains.
In 2011, Oriaso successfully defended his PhD proposal. “I worked really hard to convince my supervisors that I deserved the degree and I am proud to have officially been given a letter to this effect,” he says.
“I dedicate this degree to all young men who feel it is not easy to make it in life given their circumstances,” he says. Oriaso is looking forward to dispersing the knowledge he has acquired. “I am working on my biography and I hope that it will inspire many young people,” he says.