Part 1: “The only way out of poverty is through continuous education…”
I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, to a young military officer and a high school teacher. My parents were by no means wealthy, but worked very hard to provide for their small family. Both my parents were born and raised in Mang’u, which is located approximately 44 kilometers (27 miles) outside of Nairobi. My paternal and maternal grandparents were not wealthy either – but one value they all shared in common was their great respect and desire for education.
For my parents and their siblings, not going to school was not an option. My grandparents firmly believed that the only way out of poverty was through continuous education. They constantly told their children that they had a personal duty and obligation to learn, broaden their minds, and engage in new experiences. My late grandmother, Mwalimu (Teacher) Alice Githiora, was a highly respected teacher, who taught in Mang’u Primary School from 1957 to 1973. She transferred to Mutuma Primary School because it was close to the new home located on the farm the family had moved to in 1973. She taught at this school until her retirement in the late 80s. She was an extremely hard-working woman who juggled multiple responsibilities while raising 12 children. She was also deeply committed to her faith and spent her free time teaching catechism classes to local children.
My paternal grandfather, Mr. Raphael Githiora, served in the military and then held different jobs upon his return to Kenya. He and his family relocated a number of times, since the Kenyan government posted him in different parts of the country such as, Embu, Kerugoya, and Narok. He eventually secured a job at the Jeans School, which was later named the Kenya Institute of Administration, and is now known as the Kenya School of Government. In the late 50s, he started working at the National Grindlays Bank, in a building that now houses the Kenya National Archives. Part of his responsibilities included working with Kenyan citizens who were interested in obtaining loans. He also travelled in different parts of the country opening new branches, and working with local citizens to open bank accounts and acquire loans. He retired from this job in 1966.
My late maternal grandfather, Mr. Stanley Kimani, was a Medical Officer, who had worked in several hospitals in different parts of Kenya, such as Kirinyaga, Muriranjas, Muranga, and Kilifi. He finally became the Medical Officer in charge of Thika District Hospital, where he worked for many years. He spent his retirement running his own business in Thika town.
My maternal grandmother, Mrs. Tamaru Kimani, was a highly respected midwife in Mang’u. She assisted many women with home-based child delivery, and educated them on proper diet, as well as pre-and-post-natal care. She provided these services at no cost, since most women could not afford to pay the fees associated with hospital deliveries. My grandparents’ commitment to health and health awareness, serving their community, faith, and volunteering, greatly influenced our keen interest in volunteering as we grew older.
During our school holidays, my sisters, cousins, and I would spend at least two weeks visiting with our grandparents. In addition to their personal and professional duties, my grandmothers also spent a lot of time managing their farms, and were committed to teaching us (city children) the fine elements of responsibility, hard work, teamwork, and understanding how to care for animals. We were woken up early in the morning and would spend the first part of our farming experience gathering food for the cows, goats, and rabbits. We were cautioned on which plants were healthy for each animal, what was considered a treat to be given in moderation, and what was poisonous particularly for the rabbits and goats. The second part of our experience was spent picking fruits and vegetables, while the final part was spent learning how to pick coffee, and the types of diseases that could wipe out the entire crop. After lunch, our reward would be to spend the rest of the day playing in the garden.
Coffee farm in Kenya: www.guardian.co.ke
As “city folk”, we were certainly not accustomed to this level of manual labor. Quite honestly, we were not even close to expending as much time and energy as my grandparents and farm workers did. The constant digs about how spoiled we were, how accustomed we were to city life, and our lack of appreciation for the hard work that propelled our aunts and uncles to their current success, served as enough motivation to prove to our grandparents that we were just as hard-working as anyone else. After dinner, we would pray with our grandparents and spend the rest of the evening listening to fictional stories, or tales of their earlier lives. Not one day passed without them telling us that we had to make something of our lives. They reminded us that our parents were making sacrifices every day and working hard so that we could have a good education. Particularly as girls, we were responsible for remaining disciplined, getting good grades, and remaining committed to pursuing higher education so that we could have access to every opportunity that we desired.
My sisters and I were very fortunate to have access to good schools, health insurance, food, and a safe, comfortable home. From my young perspective, my life was simple, structured, and often times quite boring. My appreciation for the good education I was receiving was often affected by mundane things such as how much I disliked a certain teacher or class, or the latest disagreement I was having with a close friend. At that time, I never once questioned what quality of life I would have, if I did not have access to education, healthcare, or a good home. My whole perspective changed at thirteen years of age, when I came home from a particularly uneventful day at school.
To learn more, look out for Part 2 of my blog series!
Member of the Board of Directors, Rukmini Foundation
Grants and Research Manager