By Rebecca Wolfe
Benard Onyango is a farmer, accounting assistant, and, above all, a caring and supportive guardian for four boys, all of whom came into his life about six years ago. Benard’s wife at the time had a sibling who died and left behind two sons. At Benard’s insistence, he and his wife brought the oldest of the two, Samuel, into their home. Samuel’s younger brother, Godfrey, proved difficult to track down. He had dropped out of school and joined a group of street children in Eldoret. Samuel, Benard says, was “really devastated but… could do nothing.” Not long after Samuel came to live with them, Benard lost his own older brother and sister-in-law in a “greasy accident.” This couple also left behind two boys – Paul, age eight, and Silmax, age seven. After the burial the two boys, having nowhere else to go, joined their cousin Samuel in their uncle’s house. “With 3 boys now,” Benard says, “life had to change completely.” Benard’s wife did not wish to stay with the family and moved away. All of a sudden, Benard was tasked with raising and providing for three growing young men. Soon enough, that three turned into four. After his wife left, Benard went in search of Godfrey, finding him on the streets of Eldoret. Convincing him to come back home with him, Benard reunited Samuel with his younger brother, and introduced him to the cousins who had, in effect, become his siblings. This trip to Eldoret, Benard says, “was one of the trying moments,” but he “had faith that [Godfrey] was an innocent boy who was pushed to the wall.” All four of his boys, Benard says, “are very bright and willing to fulfill their dreams in life.”
Benard himself “grew up in a very challenging situation” under his stepmother’s care, with his parents having divorced when he was three. He is familiar with the struggles of a painful childhood. Benard cites this as one of the primary reasons he has been so eager to take in his nephews. “I really understand what they go through,” he says. For six years now Benard has been caring for his boys, and in March of 2016 this care brought Benard to Zidisha. “I was stuck with Samuel’s final exams fees,” he says, “and went to request my long term friend to bail me out. He then told me about Zidisha.” This friend was a new member with Zidisha and, after their talk, sent Benard an invitation to the platform. Within a week of applying, Benard received his first loan. The $150 provided by Zidisha lenders allowed Benard to pay for Samuel’s final exam fees which, in turn, allowed him to graduate. Samuel walked across the stage, receiving his diploma and First Class Honours from Muranga University. With his degree in accounting, he can pursue employment in the financial sector. In Kenya, an accountant makes around 550,000 KES per year – more than four times the national average of around 126,500 KES. Thanks to the determination of a loving guardian, and the help of Zidisha lenders, Samuel can look forward to a life of greater prosperity. In the future, he hopes to enroll in a CPA course, furthering his ability to provide for his brother and cousins, as well as any children he might have himself one day.
Benard repaid this loan out of his wages. Since 2008, just a few years before the boys came into his life, Benard has been working for the Institute for Security Studies. Having begun his tenure as a driver, he is now assisting in accounting and administration, as well as operating as the “authorized agent in the Institute Accounts.” Recently, however, the organization has “been experiencing funding difficulties,” forcing them to lay off twenty-five staff members. Benard was among the few who remained on payroll. The office is now running with a skeleton staff, and will likely be closing down in December. “We are still holding on to faith that… the institute will get funding to continue with their activities,” Benard says, but the very real possibility of his job disappearing, and school fees for Godfrey, Paul, and Silmax on the horizon, has led him to pursue entrepreneurship. With a crowded job market, Benard decided that he would create his own source of income, starting up a small poultry farm in the village where he grew up. “It’s still in its early stages,” he says, “but I have high hopes it will grow rapidly with the help of Zidisha.”
Around the same time as Samuel’s graduation in June, Benard applied for his second Zidisha loan. He had already purchased chickens and wire mesh, but required financial assistance to fund a fencing project. With unenclosed land, Benard’s chickens were vulnerable to theft, disease, and simply getting lost. Benard’s loan was quickly funded, and he immediately took to constructing the fence, keeping his chickens from harm and allowing him to better support his boys. This poultry business alone, Benard says, will pay for Godfrey’s school fees.
It was not very long ago that Godfrey, the second eldest of Benard’s boys, had joined a group of street boys in Eldoret after dropping out of school. “He had already given up in life,” Benard said, “because he had nowhere to turn to.” Benard gave him a place to turn, and this year, “to prove the world wrong,” Godfrey was his school’s top student on the KCPE exams. The next step for Godfrey is high school, but with further education comes further financial strain. Benard put out a large number of scholarship applications, but came up empty handed as the school year approached. In the end, he was forced to use a small part of his second loan to directly finance Godfrey’s enrollment. This, however, is really what the money was intended for all along – an education and a chance at a more prosperous future, a chance that Benard is doing everything to provide for his boys.
In early September Benard posted photos to his discussion page, sharing the progress of his farm. Fencing was up, and chickens were roaming. With three more boys to put through school, Benard hopes that his chickens continue to thrive. He is making plans to expand his farm to include dairy cows, as well considering starting a taxi business. Such endeavors require significant effort but Benard says he believes “that a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, and that is the step I have already taken.” With Zidisha lenders walking Benard’s road with him, the path ahead looks a bit smoother, the climb a bit less steep. There are many steps to come on this journey that has already begun, and together, with Benard, his boys, and the Zidisha community, these steps will lead to great places.
If you would like to journey with a member of your global community, head on over to our loans page and help fund an entrepreneur’s dreams.