AGAINST ALL ODDS
AGAINST ALL ODDS
You would hit a dead wall if you went looking for Tonny Owino among his friends. They know him by his nickname Peace. Young Tonny is an upcoming gospel artist, budding event planner, disc joker, spoken word poet and graffiti artist, many hats for a man his age.
“My mom told me I cried a lot when I was a baby, which made her believe I had something special in me. She predicted I would be a singer or in a vocation that involved using my voice,” he says. True to his mother’s prediction, Tonny was already writing lyrics and recording his music in cassette tapes before he turned ten. His father considered music a waste of time and Tonny got into trouble a couple of times for spending time on music instead of reading. He was not deterred as he was convinced from early age that music was his charted path. Tonny’s teacher recognized his talent in music and encouraged him. Fellow students in primary school loved it when Tonny would step in front of a class before lessons began and sing his heart out.
After primary school he joined Nairobi school where his music moved a notch higher. “I turned my subject notes into lyrics, then memorized and sang them, a clever way of learning,” recalls Tonny. Considered something of a genius Tonny was moved to form three after first year in high school, therefore completing ‘O’ levels in three years instead of the usual four. He sat for the exams in 2007 and gained admission to Jomo Kenyatta University to study actuarial science.
Tonny’s Father worked as an engineer for Kenya Railways, while his mother was a house wife. He is the first born of his parents and has three siblings. For as long as he could remember, they lived at Kenya Railway’s staff housings. His life was always a smooth ride but things took bad turn when his father was sacked from his job soon after Tonny joined University.
“I did not understand the issues behind dad’s sacking, but what I remember clearly is the trauma we all went through when we were kicked out of institutional,” says Tonny.
They moved to a house his dad owned in Nairobi West but calamities followed them as his father was soon arrested, detained and all his properties frozen. Neither his wife nor children knew what was going on, or anybody telling them anything. Tonny’s mother was the hardest hit by the turn of events.
She found very hard to take care of the children without an income of her own, and the sole bread winner locked up somewhere. This stress triggered pressure and she ended up admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital private wing. She accumulated a bill of Kshs 400,000 and the family’s was shocked when they found out that the family health insurance could not pay the bill.
Tonny dropped out of University, as there was no money to keep him there. Eventually they were kicked out of the house for reasons they didn’t understand. They became destitute overnight. With their dad in jail and mom in hospital, he and his siblings had to fend for themselves. They didn’t have a choice other than moving to the streets. Life on the streets was hard. Tonny found a job as loader of chicken feeds in Wangige in outskirt of Nairobi. It was a back breaking job that paid peanuts.
Despite their misfortunes, Tonny was clear in his mind that God had not abandoned them. One day he saw a poster advertising WAPI (words and picture) an arts platform for urban youths in Kenya organized by British Council. It was free and so he decided to attend and took his sister with him to kill time. Among the many activities going on was singing competition, which he decided to participate in and was delighted when he emerged second and with a cool Kshs 40,000 to bag as the price money. There was no stopping the newly discovered talent.
Hope on the way….
With this money, he and his sister moved from the streets to a mabati (tinned) house in Nairobi’s Mathare slum. Tonny bought a few house hold goods such as cooking utensils beddings even though they didn’t have a bed they were perfectly happy sleeping on the floor. All this time their mother was still at hospital. Together again and with a roof over their heads, the focus shifted on how to get their mother out of hospital.
When Tonny heard about an event for medical students at Nairobi University, he saw it as an opportunity to show case himself. He approached the organizers with a proposal to offer entertainment, which they accepted. He performed his original songs and as luck would have it, among the people in the audience was the permanent secretary ministry of health Nicolas Muraguri, who was touched by the testimony of his difficult life and a mother detained in hospital. He promised to have her discharged from hospital immediately. She was dropped by ambulance at their new home the following day.
With his Mother back at home, the next hurdle was to get money to post bail their father to be released from remand prison. They were finally able to get the money and with their father back home, the family was complete, although now living very poorly. His father’s dragged on in the court for two years but eventually he was found innocent of all charges and acquitted. It was difficult for his father to get another job and their mother had to do odd jobs to put food on the table. Tonny spent a lot of time in church where he found solace.
Through performance in church he was able to get opportunity to go back to university and also currently working on his album through well wishers support. His sister also is soon to receive admission to university.
“My past life reminds me that I don’t know what tomorrow will be like. I live one day at a time with God as my provider. Trusting in God does not make the mountain smaller but climbing easier,” Tonny says philosophically. He hopes to continue serving God whom he has dedicated his life to. He also hopes to continue supporting new talents and inspire others.
Thanks to Tonny Owino for accepting to share his life story