What you need to know:
- The 34-year-old caused a stir in July 2016, on her first day as a Form One student at Nzuli Mixed Day Secondary School in Mwingi West Constituency.
- For the four years that she was a student, Florence faced the daunting task of juggling caring for the family with being a full-time student.
- She scored a C+ and is now among the 125,746 students from across the country who are set to join public universities next year to pursue degree courses.
When Florence Muia Nyenya, a mother of seven from Kitui County, decided to go back to school after 14 years of marriage, her biggest worry was the ridicule she would have to endure.
She caused a stir in July 2016, on her first day as a Form One student at Nzuli Mixed Day Secondary School in Mwingi West Constituency.
Her classmates, most of whom were 20 years younger, burst into laughter when the principal introduced her but she did not lose sight of her dream for academic excellence.
Outside the school, Florence's peers in Thaana Nzau village in Migwani district mocked her as a “confused woman” who returned to school to escape the pressures of marriage and rearing her big family.
But she is now basking in the glory of surmounting great odds to qualify for university admission, after scoring a C+ of 52 points in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination.
“My children, who attended a neighbouring primary school, withstood similar sarcasm as their mates would laugh at them, saying their mother was going to school at an old age," she told the Nation during an interview at her home.
Florence's husband, Mr Nyenya Kathuku, was not spared as his ''drinking buddies'' said he would go to jail if he impregnated a student.
For the four years that she was a student, Florence faced the daunting task of juggling caring for the family with being a full-time student.
She woke up at 4 am daily, prepared breakfast for her children and then trekked eight kilometers daily as the school was four kilometers away.
"It was quite a challenge because I went to bed late after ensuring the family had eaten and that I had done my homework, but I never had any trouble with teachers for late-coming," she said.
In the sleepy village, it was a spectacle to see the mwanafunzi – Florence's nickname which is Swahili for student - walk to and back from school, donning a green and white uniform.
Her story of passion for education and determination to succeed has been cited in Kitui as one that inspires girls who got married or pregnant at a young age
Florence is among the 125,746 students from across the country who are set to join public universities next year to pursue degree courses.
Born in 1985, she did her Standard Eight examination in 1999 and scored an impressive 483 marks out of 700, but her parents were too poor to afford her secondary education fees.
Florence, therefore, did not turn up for admission at Kimangao Girls' Secondary School but kept her academic dreams alive.
She said she spent the next three years idling in her village and got pregnant in 2003, so she decided to get married.
“I gave birth to my first born that year, and had six other children in a span of 14 years,” she said.
Then one day, early in 2016, Florence got the chance to speak to former Kitui Woman Representative Nyiva Mwendwa.
She explained her desire for education and Mrs Mwendwa offered to pay for her secondary school fees through her office.
However, before seeking admission, she took time to convince her husband, a casual labourer who did menial jobs to fend for his family, that the idea was worth pursuing.
“My husband agreed to support me, especially with chores, and even helped me secure admission at the nearby day secondary school. I couldn’t join a boarding school because I had a two-year-old child, " she said.
Florence returned to school that July at the end of the second term, with Mrs Mwendwa’s office paying her school fees for the rest of the year, and then for the whole of 2017.
When Mrs Mwendwa retired from politics in 2017, Florence stared at the possibility of dropping out of school again but the next Woman Representative, Ms Irene Kasalu, stepped in.
With a commanding presence in the classroom, Florence quickly adjusted to her new life and became the student to beat in continuous assessment tests.
Students in her class elected her the languages prefect the following year, while the school voted for her to be the president.
In the KCSE results, she was ranked position four and the top girl or woman in the school, having been beaten by three boys.
“My decision to go back to school and my excellent performances in end of term exams motivated many students in the village, including my own, who felt challenged by their mother,” she said. Her first born scored 338 marks in the 2019 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam.
Florence said she would have liked to study law at the University of Nairobi in order to defend the rights of people in her community.