By Augustine Cheruiyot
“Where we love is home, a home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” These words by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. resounds in the life of Mr Kenneth Kinara Nyamwamu. Born and bred in Omosasa in Bomachoge Constituency, Kisii County spent a significant period of his youthful years in Nairobi before moving to the US, Ken’s heart is still strongly anchored in Kenya.
He is always in Nairobi, visiting young people, mentoring groups and showing them the way to self-sustainability .his trips to Kenya is not what only caught my eyes, but his passion for Nairobi’s informal settlements is what made me want to interview him. For the past few years, Ken as they famously call him has made numerous trips empowering women and young people sharing his stories of success, his journey and helping them to start livelihood activities that will help families make a living and their lives in the city more bearable. Asked why this specific demography he said “Most people in the informal settlement leave on hope and the regimes seem to neglect them, while politicians see them as a number for political expedience. That leaves them at the mercy of their God and well-wishers. That is why am passionate and feel that we can make a change if this population are actively involved in the development of the city”
But it’s Ken’s touch with the happenings back home that would catch your attention. He is fully aware and engaged in the political, and socio-economic challenges that an ordinary Kenyan has to contend with on daily basis. Appreciatingly, Nyamwamu is no stranger to the hardships of growing up in Kenya and the cyclical limitations. To begin with, Ken, like many other children in typical Kenyan homes was born in a polygamous family. His father had two wives and 17 children in total. Ken had 8 siblings born to his mother and 9 brothers and sisters born to his step-mother. Right there was a mouthful. From the onset, being raised within such a huge family setting meant limited resources. The entire family depended on his father’s meagre earnings as a school teacher and later an education officer.
But as expected from a teacher, his father was a hard worker and valued education. By what Ken describes as purely God’s grace and his father’s sheer determination, all of Nyamwamu’s 17 siblings were educated to a bachelor’s degree level. As an education officer, Kenneth’s father was instrumental in the implementation of the 8.4.4 system particularly in the Nyanza region. Ken’s other memorable and what he sees as a benefit of being a teacher’s kid is that the family lived in different parts in Nyanza notably Kisii, Homabay, Siaya and Migori—whenever a school transfer called in. This made Ken and his siblings appreciate life from different contexts and lenses. Notably, learning to adapt to different settings and embrace diversity.
For his early education, Kenneth schooled in Siaya. Later he joined the prominent St Mary’s School, Yala. The same high school that his father had attended. While Ken performed well in his academics, it was his talent in different sports that would chart a path for him sooner than later. In high school, he played for the Kenya Team in sports such as basketball, badminton, hockey and taekwondo.
After high school, he was admitted to Survey of Kenya where he stayed for two years. He remained very active in sports and joined the Kenya Commercial Bank Sports Club where he played taekwondo, basketball and badminton. While Kenneth was exemplary in the three sports, the head coaches pushed him to choose one sport and he settled for badminton—a sport that allowed him to play in the national team.
It was while working for KCB that he received his visa to go play and compete in the United States. This was Ken’s eureka moment. With the most coveted US visa in his hands and the opportunity to compete in the US Open in badminton, Nyamwamu’s life journey took a turn for the better. That opportunity marks Ken’s journey in the US where he has been living since 2001.
Higher Education and Career
While Ken’s talent in sports is the key that opened his door to the American dream, he never shunned his need for education. Nyamwamu enrolled on a college in the US where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and later proceeded to study a Master’s degree in Data Analytics. Interestingly, Ken is also a registered nurse in America and currently works as a nursing professional at Henry Ford Hospital in the US. He is also a consultant in big data analytics.
Footprint in Kenya
However, it’s Ken’s frequent travels back home and his connection with friends and former classmates that is most to be admired. It would be difficult to single out Ken from a group of friends enjoying nyama choma and our usual Kenyan drinks on a Saturday afternoon. The guy, who speaks fluent Swahili, Kisii and sheng—including the latest lingo, might seem and sound like he never left this country.
If you are a keen listener as I am, You will also appreciate his contribution to conversations around politics and the country’s state of the economy. In between the jokes of the day, Ken will interject with a serious issue. On this particular day, he has invited some close friends and the conversation is about linking small and medium business people in Nairobi with funding opportunities in the US. According to Ken, the first step in empowering people is sharing information and not necessarily dishing out money. He notes, “if we are really committed to better the lives of our people, let us be honest in how we offer help. The main thing is to empower individuals and by large our communities. Sharing enabling information such as where are the opportunities, linkages and how can they position themselves to leverage on such is key.”
Mr. Nyamwamu has demonstrated a keen interest in the plight of the young people, which he notes if well managed are our country’s greatest asset. As part of philanthropic initiatives, Ken has been supporting projects around youth empowerment through education and sports. In collaboration with friends and partners, he has facilitated mentorship training, scholarships and supported prize giving events for primary schools. As an accomplished sportsperson, Kenneth has been instrumental in identifying and supporting budding talents through sponsoring and participating in sports tournaments.
From my general interactions with Ken, I also get to learn that he has established many business networks and acquaintances in Nairobi, Kisii and many other parts in Kenya and abroad. In addition, Ken has invested in various sectors in Nairobi ranging from real estate to transport. According to Ken, his personal investments are only as much of value as the impact they bring in the lives of other people. To this end, many Nairobi residents have found employment opportunities and gainful means of livelihood from such investments.