When Joe Biden helped needy student from West Pokot with college fees

Thirty-two-year-old former United States International University (USIU) graduate Jonathan Tyno Rotino from West Pokot County is hoping that Joe Biden wins in the tight US presidential race against President Donald Trump.

”I am hoping for the best for this gentleman who understood my plight and helped pay for my outstanding college fees when I was on the brink of being sent home for defaulting,” Rotino, who works for Act Change Transform (ACT), a human rights NGO, told The Standard in Mombasa on Thursday.

Rotino, who comes from a large family, had difficulties finalising his university education and at one time contemplated dropping out of college.

”With an outstanding fee balance of over Sh200,000, I knew it was next to impossible to raise this amount of money to clear my fees. I had faith and one day everything turned into my favour,” he says.

Rotino, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and Masters in International Relations from USIU came face to face with the then US Vice President Joe Biden when the American leader visited Kenya in June of 2010.

”I did not know that my Political Science lecturer Ivonne Knudsen had selected me from a group of well-performing first-year students to meet Biden who was meeting opinion leaders and students from marginalised communities at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), Nairobi,” he recalls.

A day before the KICC meeting, Rotino was not aware of it and only got to know about the meeting from the lecturer.

”Colleagues had spoken about receiving invitations to the KICC event,” he says.

It was only after the lecturer called him at night to tell him that he was among those listed to attend the meeting that he got to know about the would-be life-changing event.

“She asked me if I was excited and said my name had been sent alongside others,” Rotino said.

On that day Rotino, who could not afford hostel fees, had to put up with relatives who lived near the college and wash the shirt and pair of trousers in which he met Biden. The tie and sweater had been borrowed.

”I remember seeing the late Prof Wangari Mathai at the function whose key speaker was Joe Biden. I had taken my seat at the very front row”.

After Biden had finished speaking, he walked straight to Rotino.

”I was taken aback and deeply surprised when Biden came to me and asked my name and inquired what I wanted to be in the future,” Rotino recalls.

The answer was that his dream was to be the President of Kenya but was seeing the dream going up in smoke because of the fees balance.

”Biden looked at me and called the then US Ambassador at that time who was around, Mr Michael Ranneberger, to see how I could be assisted,” he recalls adding that university student leader from West Pokot, David Biwott, witnessed the happening.

Jonathan Tyno Rotino pictured with then US Vice President Joe Biden in a 2010 picture taken at the KICC Nairobi. [Courtesy]

After Ranneberger pulled Rotino aside and asked for his contacts, off they left for college.

”After a few days, I got a call from the US Embassy in Nairobi with the caller asking me to report in person at the Embassy premises in Gigiri. I did not have fare from college and had to borrow from a friend,” says Rotino.

After being asked about his encounter with Biden, Rotino was asked to fill in some forms.

”A thorough background check with my college followed when the university’s Head of Financial Aid, Mr Wilson Komba, was asked about my case and confirmed to the US Embassy officials my fee arrears,” he says.

He said that thereafter from 2010, the US Government took over his education. A letter from the embassy said that all his college fees would be paid for by the US Government until he completed his education.

”I also was entitled to a monthly stipend of more than Sh20,000 and was even moved to the college’s hostels which at that time accommodated mostly foreign students,” Rotino recalls.

All along, Rotino said that he had wanted to personally say “Thank You” to Biden.

”I used to communicate to Biden through a member of the US Nairobi Embassy staff who went by the name Catherine. Catherine would later inform me that Biden had responded,” says Rotino.

Rotino was happy when Biden won the Democratic Party ticket for the US presidential elections after defeating Bernie Sanders. As a show of gratitude, he sent his best wishes to Biden.

Rotino has been following Biden’s campaign and his prayer is to be invited to the inauguration if Biden is announced as the 46th President of the US.

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