I have just returned from a breathtaking mission across a swathe of our country. The assignment, far from the madding crowds, saw me accompany the amazing Dr Betty Gikonyo of the Karen Hospital to a dozen high schools, assuring students that their dreams are valid. For in 2013, Dr Gikonyo published her autobiography, aptly titled ‘The Girl Who Dared To Dream’.
I had the privilege of midwifing Dr Gikonyo’s gem, as the publishing editor. At the dawn of my publishing career, I produced books for a living. Today, my publishing is an avocation. Accordingly, I only work with the very finest of books in content, narrative and packaging. I unapologetically concede to some level of artistic conceit on my part. This is my strand of self-actualisation, working with the finest to produce the finest.
The Girl Who Dared To Dream is, needless to say, a page-turner, now in its second print. I immodestly commend it to everyone. We exhausted the initial print run of 5,000 copies in one and a half years. My colleagues in publishing in Africa know that this just doesn’t happen. We have been sharing with our children the amazing story of this girl who dared to dream.
And we are not done yet. Indeed, we have only begun.
In the process, we are also learning a lot of humbling lessons. We have already visited The Kenya High School, State House Girls School, Mt Kenya University, St George’s Girls High School Nairobi, Alliance Girls High School, Moi High School Kabarak, Moi Girls High School Eldoret and Friends School Kaimosi Girls High School. Others were Chavakali High School, Kisumu Girls High School and Nyabururu Girls in Kisii. We also addressed a team of girls from Nyanchwa Girls High School and paid a flight visit to Cardinal Otunga High School, Mosocho.
Our schools fill you up with renewed hope. The focus, the enthusiasm to learn, the camaraderie and high levels of discipline among the students knock you breathless. Their chemistry with one another and with their teachers is amazing. This is regardless that your focus is on the Kaimosi Girls of Excellence, or on Nyabururu Girls of Quality Education, Quality Grades and Quality Life. You have to give it to our teachers. They are doing a magnificent job out there. The friendliness mong the Moi Girls in Eldoret and those in Alliance and Nyabururu is infectious. You can see it in the manner in which they appreciate each other and encourage one another, especially in moments of stage fright and momentary self-doubt.
Dr Gikonyo, a leading interventional cardiologist, was here to share with them her story and help them cast away self-doubt. Indeed, her lectures, titled “The Power of a Dream” underscore the role of five qualities in the realisation of noble dreams. Of course the dream must first be there. Having found the dream, the dreamer is encouraged to embrace hard work, passion, persistence, commitment and self-belief. These qualities have informed Dr Gikonyo’s own life story.
She was born in the then nondescript village of Kiamabara near Karatina in Central Kenya in 1950. She attended dusty village schools where even teachers had no shoes. These dusty, laid back rickets prepared her for the Alliance Girls High School. She walked to school barefoot, had one dress, fetched water from the stream, looked for firewood in the forest and did all the little things poor girls do in the village. Yet, all along, she knew she wanted to be a doctor. The dream sprung out of the fact that her eldest brother was then in Makerere, taking a degree in Medicine.
Everybody around her talked of this magical man. They idolised and idealised him. The five-year-old Betty so passionately wanted to be like this gentleman. Going to school and excelling was her dream. The obsessive dream would see her eventually get a post doctoral fellowship in pediatric cardiology from the University of Minnesota in the USA, a Master’s degree in the same discipline from the University of Nairobi, as well as Bachelor’s degrees in Medicine and Surgery from Nairobi. In recent times, she has taken an MBA from Daystar.
Not satisfied to be a doctor, she teamed up with her husband, Dr Dan Gikonyo, a leading cardiologist, to build the Karen Hospital, the first ultra modern indigenous hospital in Eastern and Central Africa. It was a dream realised against huge odds – and even sarcasm. As they looked for the hundreds of millions of shillings required to put up the hospital, someone would quip at them, “So what collateral will you give to the banks? The patients?”
In the end, the hospital is a reality, sometimes giving the wrong impression that it is unaffordable, because of its exquisite and ultra modern character. Betty is the CEO. Her husband is satisfied to stick to the professional challenges and sit on the board.
The Gikonyos have established the Heart to Heart Foundation that raises funds to help needy children with heart problems undergo surgery.
This lady has also served on the Council of the University of Nairobi and is the founder and chair of the university’s alumni association. The association has helped more than 5,000 students complete their bachelor’s studies, through bursaries.
Such is the power of a dream. The Gikonyos have three children – a cardiologist, an epidemiologist and a poet. They are grandparents to six youngsters. Yes, there is power in a dream. In each one of us, there is real magic that can make great things happen.
In an environment desecrated with stealing by senior thieves in high office, amid unending political bickering in the same class, the Gikonyos are a breath of fresh air. People of this kind restore our hope and belief in ourselves and in a good education. It is cheering to know that you don’t have to be a thief. Such is the kind of role model our children need.
No doubt there are many other Kenyans out there, doing a noble job, making honest successes. They have got where they are through hard work, passion, persistence, commitment and self-belief. When you read Betty’s story, you will be amazed by the challenges she has faced throughout her journey to where she is.
She lost her mother when she was 14. She was once the last girl in her class in Alliance. Yet she found the formula that propelled her to be the topmost student in her school certificate exams. She had sleepless nights over rent in a house without furniture.
Her entire life has been a narrative of struggle. No, you don’t have to be a thief, nor do you need to be politically connected to do great things for yourself and for society. Hard work, passion, persistence, commitment and belief in yourself – this is what we should tell our children.