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Full Biography for Opanyi K. Nasiali
Opanyi K. Nasiali
Born in a small village in the western region of Kenya, Opanyi was the first of 10 children and grew up in the height of British Colonial rule.
His father served in the British army during WWII. Since only white British soldiers were given government jobs or allocated large plots of land for farming, Opanyi's father was given the job as housekeeper for one of the British bureaucrats while Opanyi and his mother lived on the Reserve. He only saw his father during holidays or when he and his mother could go visit him in the city
Although his parents had little schooling, they encouraged Opanyi's education. In fact, his parents worked hard to raise sufficient funds to pay for his education since there were no publicly financed institutions. Schoolroom amenities were also a challenge and the teacher was obligated to take the students outside so they could practice writing in the dirt. More than forty students would share what books they had with four students huddled over one book.
As the family grew, Opanyi's education was tempered with work on the family farm to produce food for the family and food to sale. This helped to raise tuition for his schooling and provide for the family's needs. This backbreaking work steeled Opanyi's resolve to excel at school. However, Opanyi soon learned that being a good student was not enough. For three years in a row, Opanyi "failed" to pass a fourth-grade exam which kept him from advancing into the fifth grade. Frustrated, his parents transferred him to another school where Opanyi advanced into the fifth grade. Later, they found out the headmaster in the previous school had accepted bribes from parents whose children were doing poorly + so the children doing poorly in school were advancing while the good students were kept back. This injustice taught Opanyi a painful lesson: the need for honesty, fairness and equal opportunity for all.
Opanyi was singled out in both intermediate and high school by his teachers and was appointed prefect (leader) of his fellow students. It was in high school that Opanyi first met Americans who were his teachers sent to Africa as Quaker missionaries. But his high school years were clouded with the death of his father. Being the first-born male, Opanyi was expected to take care of his family + dashing all hopes for college and someday going to America. However, his uncle stepped in and agreed to pay for Opanyi's tuition. Opanyi also received a scholarship from an organization on the island of Tasmania, Australia + due in part to the assistance of his teachers. This generosity taught Opanyi the importance of helping one another + even though they be strangers.
Although Opanyi passed the examination to pursue higher education, it was still an unattainable dream for him in view of the need to help support his family. Instead he took a job as a Checker at Kenya's Mombasa Port Cargo Handling Company. He later applied for and accepted a job as Hansard Reporter in the Kenya Parliament, where he witnessed how laws were made and enjoyed the thrill of mingling with members of parliament. But he still longed for higher education.
Serendipitously, a friend told him of an opportunity to study in the United States through the Institute of International Education. But with this opportunity, came another dilemma + he was under contract to work an additional year for the government and was under obligation to financially help his family. Again, his uncle came to the rescue - advising Opanyi that this could be a chance of a lifetime - and promised to support the family. The Kenya government also graciously released him from the contract.
Opanyi's first plane ride took him for the first time out of Kenya and onto the campus at San Fernando Valley State College, California + later known as California State University, Northridge.
Opanyi thrived in his new yet somewhat challenging environment, with culture shock over items such as household appliances, vending machines and unconstrained freedom of speech. He was elected president of the International Students Club, made the dean's list, and was selected to "Who's Who in American Universities and Colleges." College is where Opanyi also met his future wife, Kathryn.
When tuition was increased due to then Governor Ronald Reagan's desire to balance the budget, Opanyi took on various jobs from campus resident advisor and electrician's assistant, to working at a local pharmacy, a 7-11 convenience store and a gardener. Thus he paid for tuition and continued to send money home to help his family.
Despite opposition from Kathryn's parents and grandparents, she and Opanyi married in 1974 with her two sisters and close friends in attendance.
After graduating with a Special Master's Degree in Urban Planning and Public Administration, Opanyi returned to Kenya with Kathryn. He found employment as a Planning Officer for several municipalities. However, Kathryn couldn't find employment as a teacher. Ultimately, they returned to the United States where, for the next nine years, Opanyi held various urban planning jobs. Subsequently, he worked in the private sector, first in commercial and industrial land development, and later in a consulting firm engaged in site acquisition and governmental approval of projects for various telecommunication companies.
For 25 years, Opanyi, Kathryn and their daughter, Minayo, have called Claremont home. The City's tree-lined streets and especially the wilderness that caps the surrounding foothills evoke for Opanyi a similarity to the landscape in his land of birth. The family cherishes this environment and other city amenities including parks, schools, colleges and a small town atmosphere.
His love for the country - that made his dream of education a reality - ignited a true sense of belonging in Opanyi who soon became an American citizen. His path, although at times rocky, has steeled his resolve to give back. His thirst for knowledge is only paralleled with his desire to make a difference.
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Created from information supplied by the candidate: February 18, 2011 12:36
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