Sunday, March 11, 2012

Health workers’ strike and a tale of heroes

Sunday Nation 11 March 2012

The past couple of weeks have seen the demise of several Kenyans, two of whom received national funeral ceremonies with full honours. Like any good African nation worth its name, we flew our flag at half mast and held magnificent requiem masses for the departed leaders who were hailed as national heroes.

There is a solid global injunction against speaking ill of the dead, and we shall refrain from engaging in such profanity today. Instead, let us contemplate the life of a different man, born and brought up in a poor rural village somewhere in this fair land.

In the village

One in a family of many, he grew up herding goats and sheep in the village. He managed to go to primary school late in life, but performed well enough to be admitted to a national school. The village had to hold a fundraiser to pay his first year fees, and later he got a bursary from a wealthy foreign well-wisher who hoped to help him break the cycle of poverty.

The poor young man did not perform as well as he had hoped in high school and, due to the difficulties in raising fees, he could not attend any tertiary institution. He survived by doing odd jobs in the shopping centre near his village, and managed to save a few shillings in the process.

Shortly after high school, he married his primary school sweetheart, an industrious young lady who could miraculously coax his tiny barely arable piece of land to produce some food. Together, they got three children who had to help in the family’s economic activities as soon as they were old enough.

By scrimping and saving, they managed to send the children to school, paying their fees all the way to university. Today, their three offspring are prominent professionals in their respective fields of medicine, law and engineering. As soon as they became more comfortable economically, the couple got involved in community projects.

They helped mobilise the community to protect one of the few water sources in the village, and introduced innovative farming techniques that helped improve the food yield in the village.

Visiting his son

Recently, coming back from visiting his son who lives in Nairobi, the matatu he was travelling in was involved in a grisly road accident. At a police roadblock at the bottom of an incline, the driver of a lorry lost control and it veered off the road, ramming into the matatu and killing most of the occupants.

The man survived with multiple serious injuries. A Good Samaritan took him to a nearby public hospital and had him admitted to the surgical ward. However, due to the then ongoing health workers’ strike, the only staff on duty got to him when he had bled a lot and urgently needed blood transfusion to save his life.

There was no blood screening kit at the hospital and, in any event, there were no theatre supplies to conduct the emergency surgery he needed. He was also in no condition to travel in case a decision to refer him to another facility was made. He succumbed to his injuries soon after admission.

There was no fanfare during his burial late last week. He was not important enough. He was just a self-made man who had left a positive mark on every life he had touched.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine

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