It’s a chilly Friday morning and Collins Juma is heading to the administration block Moi University to check at the ATM machine whether the HELB disbursements have been done. This is the third time he is been here in a span of three weeks. He inserts the ATM card into the machine with hope only to find his expectations cut short by the sound of an empty account.
He stares at the machine unbelievably and curses. Despair is written all over his face. The thought that he has to go borrowing money to survive breaks his heart. And this time, he might not be lucky. He has accumulated debts amounting to over Sh5,000 borrowed from several friends and the prospect of him getting another loan is almost nil.
Tears build in his eyes. His jobless father cannot help him either. All the calls he has been making home proved futile. It’s another day that he will have to eat at a kind friend’s place lest he sleeps on an empty stomach. Juma is contemplating to miss classes for the next couple of days and work in a nearby maize plantation to get a few coins to survive on.
Juma is not alone. Cynthia Wanjiku is a third year student at Kenyatta University. In her three years of education, she has depended on HELB loan to survive in campus. She uses the cash from HELB to get lecture notes, buy food and pay tuition fees.
But the continued delays of the funds disbursements have made life unbearable. Unable to handle the situation, she has been forced to turn on her boyfriend to survive. Her single mother has other three siblings to cater for and therefore cannot savor the situation.
This is the story of thousands of students going through the hardships in the campus. Having no other means to get money, they have been reduced to doing nondescript activities to make the situation bearable.
When HELB recently announced that there will be a funds disbursement delay due to financial challenges on their Facebook page, students and their leaders protested threatening to hold a mega national wide demo to protest against the move.
These reactions were not a surprise considering the place of HELB in the students’ campus lives.
On social media, Babu Owino-SONU President, Ephraim Maina, Kenyatta University Secretary General, and Seleb Kengah from Moi University led the pack in pressurizing HELB to disburse the loans lest “stern actions” follow.
Reacting to the students’ cries, the Loans Boards assured students that funds will be disbursed immediately the treasury releases the cash.
HELB is grappling with an increased university populace and low funds allocation in this year’s financial budget, signaling a struggling treasury having to balance several cash demands from different quarters.
But even with the HELB assurance, student leaders have treated the message with contempt arguing that this is just another ploy to ‘calm the situation’.
Perhaps it’s time the loans body petitioned the government to increase funds allocation for the financial year budgets. That way, the agony experienced by students every year due to the delays might be solved.
By Doyo Mohammed