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I sell porridge and mandazi to raise school fees, but you have robbed us – Mercy Tarus tells Mandago

She went viral for her bravely confronting Uasin Gishu Governor Jonathan Bii, his deputy John Barorot, and Senator Jackson Mandago over the Uasin Gishu education airlift programme.

But Mercy Tarus, a Kabarak University graduate, says that her journey has been heart breaking as she had to resort to selling porridge and mandazi to make ends meet.

At a Social Hall meeting convened by the county government to discuss the botched Uasin Gishu airlift education program in Eldoret town on Monday, there was deafening silence when the 24-year-old rose to speak.

Tarus regretted that her parents lost money in the controversial project which caused her to resort to selling porridge and mandazi to make ends meet.

The governor, his deputy and Senator Mandago did not expect to receive the dress down from the young outspoken woman, whose dreams to study in Canada were shattered in the scandalous overseas airlift programme.

“We’ve had enough of your stories. We did not put you there to give us stories, we can get them online. All we want is our money,” she told the leaders.

“I was searching for a better life, for opportunities not found here. They told us it would be easier to go to Finland or Canada if we went through the county,” she added.

Despite graduating from Kabarak University in 2021, Tarus has been volunteering at a local school for three months and also took a hairdressing course to supplement her income. Additionally, she writes poems to raise awareness about mental health issues.

She planned to enroll in the Northern Lights College in Canada to pursue a two-year diploma course in Social Service but her travel plans were postponed to February 2023 due to claims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Tarus said that she was unaware that her speech would resonate well with the public when she confronted the leaders at the Eldoret Municipality Social Hall with the hope of exposing the injustice.

She pleaded with President William Ruto to come to their aid and compel Uasin Gishu County government to return their money.

“President William Ruto, please compel them (Uasin Gishu County gov’t) to return our money. Through your offices, look into this matter, and hold them accountable. We sold our land, and homes, and held harambees. Please, Mr President, do not be silent…” she pleaded.

According to Tarus, her parents took out a loan of approximately Sh900,000 for a program that left her heartbroken.

Her touching and powerful speech this week resonated well with the public while demanding a full refund of the money her parents paid.

She was part of at least 126 others who enrolled in the programme that is now the subject of a probe by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) over an alleged loss of millions of shillings.

Despite feeling like she has lost everything, Tarus has refused to be silenced and is using incisive queries to challenge the leaders about the victims’ conditions.

During an interview with Citizen TV on Wednesday, Tarus said that she is no longer interested in going through with the scholarship programme, even if the issues bedevilling it are fixed and it is brought back on track.

Her only plea, as well as that of many others in her position, is that the county government refunds them the money they paid for the programme.

“I cannot believe that they would call us to a meeting and tell us to switch off our phones, put them in a basket and then they tell us about the program. And we did that, I cannot believe it,” she recalls.

Many victims of the Finland airlift programme have been struggling with depression following the loss of their money.

Tarus revealed that her father is taking anti-depressants that cost Sh200 per day. During her confrontation with the county leaders, the recent graduate also addressed other issues such as poor time management and the exploitation of residents.

“You called us for a 9am meeting, but what time did you arrive here? You probably don’t expect me to ask such a question. But we elected you to serve us. I may seem very foolish to say these things considering I am young,” Taurus said.

Last month, Governor Bii declared that the county government is not in a position to refund the money being demanded by parents because, in his own words, the trust account has only Sh1.8 million.

EACC and DCI are already investigating the alleged loss of more than Sh38 million in the Finnish Airlift scandal.

Cumulative, parents claim over Sh800 million may have been lost in airlift scandal – according to EACC probe documents.