If you’re ever looking for Anthony Khisa Juma, you will find him in the fourth floor of the O’Neill Tower in the second room on the right. He will be typing away at the keyboard, working on a paper for one of his computer applications classes.
Juma, was given the room to work in by his advisor, John Byrtus, who is a professor of computer systems. Byrtus knew that Juma “had a weakness in Computer Staff and needed help understanding [the English] language,” because English is not Juma’s first language. That’s why Byrtus gave Juma 24-hour access to the room next to his office where there is a computer and easy access to computer help.
Juma is from Bungoma, a village in the Western Province of Kenya. It is a nine-hour drive from the capital city of Nairobi. The region is “very green” and is “where the food that sustains the entire country” is grown. People can get up close and personal with wild animals such as giraffes, elephants, rhinoceros, and hippos. Residents live a “communal life”. There are phones, televisions, and sometimes computers and with Internet, if people are able to afford a computer and the Internet.
Juma comes from a big family of five boys and one girl. His mom died when he was a “little boy” and his dad was a primary school principal in Nairobi.
His initial interest in computers came from his pre-primary school fascination with telephones. In primary school, he was interested in learning about how computers worked. That is why he chose Computer Systems as his major at Mercyhurst.
Pre-primary school, was also when Juma got “caught in the net and started studying running.” His older brothers ran, so he started running with them when he was about 10. “I sometimes used to beat the guys and they knew that I was better,” he said with a chuckle.
When he was 14 or 15, he ran in a race that determined who was going to the Boston Marathon. Juma’s face lights up with joy and disappointment when he says that he, “woke up on the wrong note” that day. He ended up in fourth place, while his elder brother, whom he often beat, ended up placing and going to Boston.
After the upset, Juma’s dad bought him a bicycle. He threw himself into cycling and by the time he was 18, he was “very fit” and riding more than 500 miles per week.
Around that time, he moved to Nairobi to attend primary school in Nairobi, where he had some of his first major exposure to computers.
When he completed primary school, he returned home. There, he worked at Spinners and Spinner, one of the largest textile factories in Africa until 2009, when his dad died. Then, he moved to Erie.
His initial connection with the United States was when his neighbors in Kenya moved to Virginia in 2000. But his sister, who is a nun, came to live at the Mercyhurst Motherhouse in 2005. She moved to a religious community in Virginia last year, near where her and Juma’s neighbors in Kenya moved years ago and they visit frequently.
Back at Mercyhurst, Juma enjoys learning and likes that there is “enough learning material, friendly staff, and friendly students”. He likes that he has “access to every kind of book that one might need for studies or projects” at the library. He also likes that “the school has enough computers” and that someone “cannot give an excuse that you don’t have a computer”. “Everything is there and available,” he says.
Juma had not seen snow before coming to Erie. He doesn’t like the cold weather, either, because he can’t go biking. But he makes the best of it and is on the exercise bikes in the gym and rides outside when he can. He got his cycling instructors certification last week to teach spinning classes.
When the weather permits, he is outside and is active in a cycling club in Erie. He has done races in Erie, New York, Brooklyn, and Virginia. He never rides less than 500 miles a week and still runs all of the time.
Even through all of the adventures in the US, Juma misses home. Last summer, he returned to Kenya for the first time in two and a half years. The journey begins with 24 hours of airplane and airport travel. It is followed by a five to six drive to the city, and another nine to ten hour drive to Bungoma.
This summer, he will return home again. But this time, he will be returning with 15 Mercyhurst students and two faculty members.
“We’re having a missionary trip to Kenya, because Kenya is awesome,” Juma exclaimed. He started out by talking to someone in one of his marketing classes when he was telling them about business and marketing in Kenya. Soon, other classmates overheard and wanted to join, as well.
They will go to help teach English in Kenyan primary schools and also show their talents to expose the kids to different things. They will also teach students how to use the computers better.
The trip ties perfectly in to what Juma wants to do after graduation, when he wants to return to Kenya and start computer college, where he can “teach people computer” things. It will benefit society, because computers and computer skills are very limited when he takes the skills he learns at Mercyhurst back to Kenya.