Hundreds of Kenyan students from Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet and Nandi counties studying in Finland are bitter with their county governments, accusing county administrators of duping them into overseas study deals.
“There is a price to pay for lying to us…,” was the unequivocal message from the learners who said they were suffering in the foreign country.
Their bitterness was revealed during an emotional send-off of Rodgers Kipruto, one of the Uasin Gishu students who died by suicide on April 18, 2023, in Finland just six months after landing in the foreign country for studies.
Kipruto cited frustrations and the risk of deportation.
Since 2020, the three respective counties have been airlifting hundreds of students to various universities in Finland under work and study programmes, but are now ruing accepting the deals.
Kipruto, who had enrolled for a degree in nursing at Laurea University, is reported to have been sick and depressed and was contemplating returning to Kenya.
One of his classmates Ms Winnie Jepkosgei, moved mourners to tears as she narrated how they were promised heaven but when they landed in Finland, shock hit them. She described life in Finland as a struggle.
“Vitu kwa ground vilikuwa different. Everything was hell, we were promised that within a week we would have good-paying jobs; within three months each of us would be owning a car. The expectations were high and no one told us it was not going to be a rosy affair,” recounted Ms Jepkosgei.
“What dampened us further was the discovery that our fees had been inflated by Sh200,000, an amount agents and corrupt county officials shared amongst themselves.”
The students were hit with another shock when in February they discovered their fees had not been remitted in full to the universities despite raising the requisite amount back in Kenya, before embarking on their sojourn to Finland.
“In February we were taken aback when we were told to pay for accommodation yet we had paid all the money to the education account for Finland students that the county was operating. It was heartbreaking and this is what made most of the students exhibit depression. We have suffered a lot because we were conned and we could not go back home because our parents had sold property, including land to fund our trips abroad,” the student, who is still studying in Finland, said as she wept.
Ms Jepkosgei said owing to the depressing situation some of the students came back to Kenya, but, sadly, Kipruto could not cope with the situation further.
“What is hurting a majority of Kenyan students in Finland are the lies. The county governments should not have lied to us. They should have come clean on the deal,” she said.
Another student Daniel Ondiek from Elgeyo Marakwet County said despite Finland being a friendly country to Kenyans, respective Memorandums of Understanding with the county governments had already been quashed by the universities.
“When we seek employment we are being called liars because of failure to pay for accommodation and school fees. The authorities in Finland are very strict and negotiating with them has proved futile. As students we are now on our own and our parents have been assisting us to pay extra amounts,” he said.
According to Mr Ondiek, weather, finding jobs, language barrier, managing expectations and culture shock, all compounded their challenges in Finland.
“We have now taken upon ourselves to be each other's keeper since the county governments dumped us there. There has been no representative to help us in addressing issues affecting us. At some point we approached Finish MPs and the Kenyan Embassy for help,” he said.
The student said despite the struggles and threats of deportation, none of the county governments has attempted to go to Finland to resolve the issues.
Mr Moses Lagat, who has lived in Finland for the past four years, faulted the county governments for failing to send representatives to Finland who could help the students once they land there.
“Kenyans are loved in Finland for their hard work and such programmes are good if implemented well. A representative should be in Finland to handle any emerging issues because many students go there full of hope and ambition which are dampened whenever they are frustrated,” he advised.
But Kipruto’s family representatives said their son died by suicide after depression.
“We did our best to support him after it emerged the fees and accommodation money had not been cleared. We have heard clearly how the children are suffering there and we wonder about those enjoying the money meant for them,” said Mr Joseph Ruto, on behalf of the family.
Mr John Tarus, another family member challenged the counties to hold responsible all those who were running the programme.
“All those who handled the airlift program should be held to account because it is evident money was lost to the detriment of students and parents. It is shocking to learn some of them are still running offices while people are suffering,” he said.
Mr Kimutai Kurui, a human rights defender blamed county governments for using people's lives to look for votes.
“Unscrupulous agents are hiding behind counties to dupe parents of their money purporting to take students abroad. Higher education is not the work of county governments and it is evident they are using the program to perpetuate corruption. The National Assembly should regulate all agencies and save lives,” he said.