Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Legson Kayira and his inspiring long walk

Legson Kayira

"I learned I was not, as most Africans believed, the victim of my circumstances but the master of them." - Legson Kayira

We have hundred of stories about, how people with firm determination changed not only the course of their life but the course of an age as well. Each story is unique in its own aspects, no matter whether it is Lincoln’s determination or Edison's persistence.

Legson Kayira, born in a remote African country - Malawi – would have been slip in to the unknown pages of history, if he decided to live a normal life. But, he didn’t submit himself to the fate, his firm determination to find a new life and sustained struggle for the same elevated him to the next level. Here is the story of Kayira from his autobiography – ‘I Will Try’.

Barefoot to America

--- This story originally published in University of Kent, UK republished here with permission.

"My mother did not know where America was. I said to her, "Mother, I want to go to America to go to college. Will you give me your permission?" "Very well," she said. "You may go. When will you leave?" I did not want to give her time to discover how far away America was, for fear that she would change her mind. "Tomorrow," I said. "1 will prepare some maize for you to eat along the way," she said. Next day I left my home in Nyasaland, East Africa. I had only the clothes I wore, a khaki shirt and shorts. I carried the two treasures I owned: a Bible and a copy of Pilgrim's Progress. I carried, too, the maize my mother had given me, wrapped in banana leaves

My goal was a continent and an ocean away, but I did not doubt that I would reach it. I had no idea how old I was. Such things mean little in a land where time is always the same. I suppose I was 16 or 18. My father died when I was very young. From missionaries I learned I was not the victim of circumstances but the master of them. I learned that I had an obligation to use whatever talents I had to make life better for others. And to do that I would need education. I learned about America. I read the life of Abraham Lincoln and grew to love this man who suffered so much to help the enslaved in his country. I read, too, the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, himself born in slavery in America, and who had risen in dignity and honour to become a benefactor of his people and his country. I gradually realized that in America I could receive the training and opportunities to prepare myself to emulate these men in my own land, to be, like them, a leader, perhaps even the president of my country.

My intention was to make my way to Cairo, where I hoped to get passage on a ship to America. Cairo was over 3,000 miles away, a distance I could not comprehend, and I foolishly thought I could walk it in four or five days. But in four or five days I was about 25 miles from home, my food was gone, I had no money, and I did not know what to do, except that I must keep going. I developed a pattern of travel that became my life for more than a year. Villages were usually five or six miles apart, on forest paths. I would arrive at one in the afternoon and ask if I could work to earn food, water and a place to sleep. When this was possible, 1 would spend the night there, then move on to the next village in the morning. I was actually defenceless against the forest animals I dreaded, but although I heard them at night none of them approached me. Malaria mosquitoes, however, were constant companions, and I often was sick.

By the end of a year 1 had walked 1,000 miles and had arrived in Uganda, where a family took me in and I found a job making bricks. I remained there six months and sent most of my earnings to my mother. In Kampala, I unexpectedly came upon a directory of American colleges. Opening it at random, I saw the name of Skagit Valley College, Mount Vernon, Washington. I had heard that American colleges sometimes give scholarships to deserving young people, so I wrote and applied for one. I realized that I might be refused but was not discouraged; I would write to one school after another in the directory until I found one that would help me.

Three weeks later I was granted a scholarship and assured that the school would help me find a job. Overjoyed, I went to the United States authorities, only to be told that this was not enough. I would need a passport and the round-trip fare in order to obtain a visa. I wrote to my government for a passport but it was refused because I could not tell them when I was born. I then wrote to the missionaries who had taught me in my childhood, and through their efforts was granted a passport. But I still could not get the visa because I did not have the fare. Still determined, I resumed my journey. So strong was my faith that I used my last money to buy my first pair of shoes; I knew I could not walk into college in my bare feet. I carried the shoes to save them.

Across Uganda and into the Sudan I walked. The villages were farther apart and the people were less friendly. Sometimes I had to walk 20 or 30 miles in a day to find a place to sleep or to work to earn some food. At last I reached Khartoum, where I learned that there was a United States consulate. Once again I heard about the US entrance requirements, but this time the Consul was interested enough to write to the college about my plight. Back came a cable. The students, hearing about me and my problems, had raised the fare of $1,700 through benefit parties. I was thrilled and deeply grateful, - overjoyed that I had judged Americans correctly for their friendship and brotherhood. News that I had walked for over two years and 2,500 miles circulated in Khartoum.

After many, many months, carrying my two books and wearing my first suit, I arrived at Skagit Valley College. In my speech of gratitude to the student body I disclosed my desire to become prime minister or president of my country, and I noticed some smiles. I wondered if I had said something naive. I do not think so. When God has put an impossible dream in your heart, He means to help you fulfil it. I believed this to be true when as an African bush boy, I felt compelled to become an American college graduate. And my dream of becoming president of my country can also become true."



1.       University of Kent, UK.

Photo Courtesy: Amazon


  1. Very nice inspiring story. Hard work never goes in vain, it always pays, so it will for him. God bless him.

  2. just to let you know that I WILL TRY has been republished by Rivonia media group with updates by Legson's wife Julie

    It includes pictures and life after the journey-
    for more information
    write kerith@rivoniamediagroup.com