Kevin Waita is fascinated with structure — whether it’s buildings and highways or words and music.
Originally from Nairobi, Kenya, Waita attends Tulsa (Okla.) Technology Center’s Lemley Campus and plans to own a masonry or construction business.
“My grandpa has quite a number of buildings, and some of them are not finished,” he says. “So, that’s sparked an interest in the field.”
Waita came to the United States for his brother’s graduation and ended up staying. He believes educational opportunities are better here than in Kenya, where nearly 40 million people live in an area about the size of Texas. Its government provides a free education through the primary level, but schools are crowded and the competition to attend is great. To go beyond that educational level, the costs are high.
“What you would pay in my country — to go through some of the courses that we go through here at a fair price — that would be very expensive,” Waita explains.
As he studies construction, Waita is particularly interested in the reinforcement of buildings. “It’s a career with global potential,” he says, due to the frequency of earthquakes worldwide.
“In Kenya, we don’t have very many earthquakes. We do have them, but very mild,” Waita points out. However, when he competed in the SkillsUSA Championships, the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake was very much on his mind. In the national Job Skill Demonstration A event, he showed how to strengthen buildings with anchors, wire and rebar.
“I have done some research on why there were so many fatalities in the Haiti earthquake, which was lesser in magnitude compared to the ones that hit Chile and Japan, and found out that there was very little reinforcement used in this country [Haiti] that had more than 200,000 lives lost,” he says.
“In Japan, the buildings were better prepared for earthquakes than in Haiti. However, the sweeping effect of the ocean made it a whole different ball game.”
Waita’s mood lifts when he talks about construction in the United States.
“I’ve told people about the infrastructure you people have,” he says. “The roadwork, it’s organized. You people are way ahead. I talk with my friends from home. We believe we’re more than 100 years behind.”
Waita explains that under British rule during the 1920s and ’30s, Kenya’s cities were planned for 50 years out. Now the highways are so congested, it once took his mother from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. to drive three miles. She could have pulled over and walked, but she was warned there probably would be no car to return to.
“They are trying to build more roads, to bring in highways,” Waita adds. “That was one of the shocks that I had when I came here: the highways that you people have, four cars going one direction. The maximum we have is two.”
Building with words and music
Besides buildings, Waita constructs songs. He plays guitar and has been interested in music since the age of 11.
“That’s when I began to start to try to imitate people and write down lyrics. A few years later, I started to write my own songs,” he says. “I used to perform in places in Kenya.”
Visiting Tulsa’s Victory School as a guest speaker, he was asked to write a song. The result, “Kool 2 Be Kind,” is geared to younger audiences and addresses bullying. (To see his music video online, visit YouTube and search for “Kevin Waita 1010.”) He’s also working with a studio to record an album.
Waita’s masonry instructor, Chauncey Kila, likewise builds with words. He discovered a talent for poetry when asked to write something for a class.
“I was reading up on how to write a poem, and most of the things that I read said to write something that you’re passionate about,” Kila says. “Well, I’m a bricklayer, so I’m passionate about bricklaying and what I do. So I wrote a poem about bricks and mortar. I had to get in front of the class and read it. The teacher said, ‘You missed your calling.’” (Read samples of Kila’s poetry at: www.skillsusa.org/champions/poems.html.)
It’s been a blessing to have Waita as a student, Kila adds. “He’s hungry for knowledge. He’s always had a positive attitude. It rubs off on the other students. He’s become a mentor to some in the class. That’s why I was able to get him a job. I hear comments from his boss all the time.”
Waita works for Advance Masonry in Tulsa and also hosts an international radio program broadcast at 107.9 FM in Tulsa (www.kfmyradio.com). “We have different languages from all around the world and have done a special on Japan,” he says.
Word by word, brick by brick, Waita and Kila are building strong futures, whether it’s for youngsters learning to be kind or for those who need sturdy roofs over their heads.