If Amos Otieno Odero is breathing a little easier these days, it might be due to the end of exam period and the fact he doesn't have to look at another immunology textbook for a while.
Or maybe it's because the young Kenyan student's dreams of being a doctor are a little closer to becoming a reality after friends, university officials and generous Gazette readers banded together to provide the financial support he needs to fund his education.
Now, for the first time since he started his degree at McGill in September, Odero is confident he'll be able to pay next semester's tuition. He has two years to go before completing the program.
And while the financial challenges Odero faces are far from over, he also feels confident about his chances of eventually returning to his poverty-stricken village to help those so badly in need.
"I almost lost hope," Odero said, looking relieved after finishing an immunology exam. "It was a situation I didn't expect to be in."
Gazette readers first learned about Odero in September, when he was in danger of being kicked out of McGill after he couldn't pay his tuition - or living expenses, for that matter.
"It was a very trying moment," Odero, 20, said. "But I dealt with it and tried to stay positive."
It might have helped that Odero has experience dealing with difficult situations. He grew up in one of the poorest regions in Kenya, his family of seven living on less than a dollar a day in a rented mud and tin hut.
When Odero was 13, he received top marks on a standardized high school placement test, which earned him a scholarship to a high school for underprivileged students in Nairobi.
At the Starehe Boys Centre, Odero once again rose to top of his class and became heavily involved in school life. During his final year, he was featured in a British Broadcasting Corp. documentary as a model student.
The documentary was seen by a Toronto man who was moved to help Odero pursue his studies after high school.
By then Odero had decided to become a doctor, after his mother died of an illness considered harmless in most Western countries - asthma.
But not long after Odero began his second year at McGill, funding from the Toronto man suddenly dried up. For a time, it looked like Odero would have to return to Kenya without having realized his dream.
That was until Odero's plight made front-page news.
"If it wasn't for that article, I don't think I would be here now."
Odero said that since then, financial aid officials at McGill have taken over his file to help him deal with the outpouring of support.
Fellow students began sending his story back to their parents in places as far as Calgary, and even Singapore. And cheques were being sent back to Montreal.
In November, McGill music students held a benefit concert for his cause.
In December, staff at the Shriners Hospital for Children decided to donate part of the proceeds from their annual charity fundraiser to help Odero pay his tuition.
One of his professors got him a job doing research at the Montreal General Hospital, which Odero juggles with his other job washing dishes in the McGill residence.
While Odero figures he can pay his bills for this semester and the next, his long-term future is still uncertain.
He says McGill has written to Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier in the hopes of having his status as an international student waived, enabling Odero to pay Quebec tuition rates.
For the third year of an undergraduate degree in medicine, for example, McGill says on its website that it charges $17,981.28 per year in tuition for international students, while Quebec students must pay $2,669.28.
McGill has yet to hear back from Fournier's office.
"I'm getting somewhere," Odero says. "But the struggle is still on."
Odero says he often thinks about the people, many of them anonymous donors, who have helped him along the way.
"I want them to know I'm doing fine. And that I won't let them down."
Amos Otieno Odero story by The Gazette (Canada)
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