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Orphaned student is reunited with family after Nairobi News tells story

Five days is all it took for orphaned university student Ishmael Chacha to connect with his mother’s kin after his story ran on Nairobi News.

The 21-year-old says what happened on August 24-29 is nothing short of a miracle.

On Monday August 24, an article about him was carried by this website, in which he was pleading for help in tracing the relatives of his mother who died when he was three years old.

He said that he was penniless and homeless — living with a friend’s family in Buru Buru — and that he badly needed to find his mother’s kin to help him continue his education at Chuka University.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the article did the rounds on the Internet, catching the attention of a number of Facebook users. Comments on the social site included phone numbers of people willing to help, prayers, words of encouragement and even adoption offers.

Come Thursday, he received a call from Mr Caleb Machera, a policeman who said he had read the story and had an idea which family Ishmael was looking for.

The following day, he received another call from one John Chacha who had been contacted by the policeman. John promised to link Ishmael with an aunt who lived in Mombasa.

On Saturday, he spoke on phone with his step-aunt and his step-grandmother, a moment he says he is yet to find words to describe with.

Between that Saturday and now, Ishmael has been in a series of trips: from Nairobi to his father’s home in Kuria then to Kisumu before heading to Busia then Namayigo in Uganda and finally Mombasa — all in a “tour” of his big family that stems from his grandfather who had four wives.


He has shed a couple of tears in those travels. He has seen his relatives shed some too. He has also been showered with gifts — mostly chicken — and he feels the longing of his heart is eventually satiated.

With that journey, he has come to solve the riddle of his mother’s death. He knew she died in 1996 but other details of her death were hazy.

He now understands that she died in Namagiyo, Uganda; and that she passed away after a disease that had put her under the care of her mother.

He has even been shown photos of her late mother and says he is happy to put a face to her mother Sofia, a woman whose image had been in the realm of dreams before.

“Now I can concentrate on what I wanted to achieve, especially in academics,” an elated Ishmael said on phone on Thursday from Mombasa, where he was staying with his step-aunt Fatuma Mwanaidi Musa and her mother Mwanaidi Songoro.


Ishmael Chacha, a 21-year-old orphan, studying at Chuka University.
Ishmael Chacha, a 21-year-old orphan, studying at Chuka University.

When he spoke to Nairobi News on August 21, Ishmael had more details about his late father than he did about his mother. His father, Tobias Motongori, had died in 2003 when he was aged 10.

According to Mr George Chacha, a well-wisher who brought Ishmael to the Nation Centre and pleaded that we run the young man’s story, the father was a General Service Unit officer who fell in love with Ishmael’s mother while he was on assignment in Busia.

Mr Chacha explained that Ishmael’s mother was a primary school girl when she met her husband-to-be.

“Motongori was so smitten he offered to cater for the girl’s secondary school education. After she completed her Form Four at Mary Hill Girls, they married and Ishmael was conceived shortly after. Motongori even converted to Islam to get her family’s blessings,” Mr Chacha said.

Ishmael’s father would later quit the police force and by the time he died, he was a chief in Kuria East. He had married two other women after Ishmael’s mother died — who are both dead.


It is the connections the father had while a GSU officer that enabled Mr Machera, the policeman, to join the dots after he read Ishmael’s story and spark the process that saw him reunited with his family.

Ishmael said that he had nothing to call his because family disputes had seen his father’s property destroyed.

“I am not living at the homestead my father left behind because there were wrangles over land ownership. During the chaos, all the property in the house was taken away. Nothing was left for me to inherit. Not a photo of my parents, not a piece of furniture … nothing. I have been moving up and down chasing dad’s pension and I hope all will go well,” he said.

The Catholic Church sponsored Ishmael’s studies up to Standard Eight. A priest at the Timaru Catholic Parish housed me till I sat KCPE in 2007 at St Anne’s Academy. He then won a scholarship to New Dawn Orphans’ School in Laikipia, where he sat KCSE in 2011 and scored an A-(minus).

His admission to university was problematic. He had to defer joining Chuka University for one year because he could not get enough guarantors to enable him secure the lending of the Higher Education Loans Board.

On Monday, he will be reporting back to the institution to start his third year as a computer science student.

He describes the first meeting with his relative — an uncle called Sadat Mansoor who is based in Kisumu — as intense.

“When I saw him in front of me, I couldn’t believe it was really happening. The atmosphere was intense. ‘I am glad I found you after all these years,’ he said to me,” Ishmael recounted.

After meeting Mansoor, they proceeded to Busia, where they met Ishmael’s aunt called Hadija, the eldest in his mother’s family.


“She couldn’t recognise me at first but after looking at me she, saw her late sister’s face and broke into tears. I couldn’t help it either. She couldn’t imagine I was standing in front of her after almost two decades,” he said.

Ishmael’s mother was a fifth born of the first wife of Mzee Ali Mansoor Kibira, who had five wives. His grandmother Namukoma is still alive and they met when he went to Uganda.

“She also couldn’t believe the she was actually seeing me. She said she had thought she would die without seeing me, like it had happened to grandpa,” he stated in a message he sent to Lifestyle.

“She broke into a very terrific dance, saying ‘Mzee wangu amekuja’. She took a chicken and took it three times around my shoulders then the invited me into the house.

“All of us sat down in a circle and an aunt started narrating the same story in Samia language. Some people could actually break down. Grandma was very happy,” he said.

Ishmael has now been given a place to live in Mombasa by his step-aunt Fatuma Mwanaidi. Fatuma is the second born child of Mzee Kibira’s second wife. Fatuma owns a boutique along Mombasa’s Moi Avenue. For the past two years, his home had been in Nairobi’s Buru Buru Phase One, after his friend Malon convinced his father to host him.

“My aunt (Fatuma) knew from day one that I still exist but her efforts to reach me wold backfire because of the nature of our family,” he said.

Fatuma was the first relative to call Ishmael before his step-uncle Sadat Mansoor invited him to Kisumu. Mansoor coordinated Ishmael’s trips to meet his relatives.

When you call Ishmael, the Safaricom call-back voice says: “Do you know that ‘Ishmael’ is a Hebrew name meaning ‘wanderer’? I thought you should know.” Maybe the young man has now kissed goodbye the circumstances that had made him a wanderer.