Down memory lane: Moi and a school named Mercy Njeri

Simon Ng’ang’a Waiharo with portrait of his daughter [Harun Wathari, Standard]
A few kilometres from Nakuru town, along Kabarnet Road, stands a shopping centre known as Mercy Njeri.

And in the middle of the town stands Mercy Njeri Primary School, formerly Kiamunyi Primary School.

How the school, and by extension the shopping centre, came to be named Mercy Njeri is a story that is as intriguing as the name itself.

It turns out that the school was renamed by former President Daniel arap Moi in the 1980s.

And no, Mercy was not a politician, neither was she a Kanu party stalwart.

Instead, she was a nine-year-old girl who touched the President's heart.

Mercy Njeri died from rheumatic heart disease in 1985. But her name and story live on, more than three decades later.

Born in Kiamunyi in 1975, Mercy was a healthy child until she turned six. Then she started having breathing difficulties and endless bouts of flu.

Health deteriorated

When her health deteriorated, Mercy was taken to the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital in Nakuru, where a cardiologist referred her to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).

At KNH, Prof Hillary Ojiambo, who was then in charge of cardiology, diagnosed Mercy with rheumatic heart disease and recommended surgery.

After some time, doctors recommended a heart operation abroad because the cardiac unit at KNH was under-equipped at the time and therapeutic equipment installed in the 1960s was not working.

The cardiologists recommended Birmingham Children’s Hospital in Britain.

Mecry's father, Simon Waiharo, received the news with mixed feelings. The former banker did not have the Sh500,000 needed to send Mercy to the UK and pay for the surgery.

The family managed to raise just Sh94,000 through a fundraiser organised by then area MP Koima Kimosop.

“We organised several funds drives but were not able to raise the required amount," recounts Mr Waiharo, who describes his daughter as brilliant, polite, obedient and hardworking.

They were on the verge of giving up when Moi came calling.

According to Waiharo, on February 4, 1985, the President made a stop-over at Kiamunyi Primary School where Mercy was a Standard Three pupil.

The head teacher told Moi about Mercy, whose dream was to become doctor but who had a hole in the heart that was affecting her general health and development.

The entrance of Mercy Njeri Primary
Mobilising funds

Moi immediately set about mobilising funds for Mercy's treatment.

At the beginning of March, Mercy's father was invited to State House, where Moi handed him the money to take Mercy to the hospital in the UK.

"He requested me to visit State House, and gave me the money for travel and the surgery," recalls Waiharo.

He and his daughter left for England on March 14 accompanied by Dr John Kariuki, a cardio-thoracic surgeon at KNH. It was his first time to travel outside the country.

Mercy underwent a 12-hour operation at Birmingham Children’s Hospital on March 29. Unfortunately, she died at 9pm the same day.

"I saw my daughter fight for her life but she lost the battle," says her father.

Mercy’s body was flown back to the country for burial on April 6, 1985. Moi attended the burial.

During the funeral, Mercy's head teacher requested that the school be renamed in her memory. Moi immediately granted the wish, and after due procedures, Kiamunyi Primary became Mercy Njeri Primary.

With time, a shopping centre grew around the school and became know as Mercy Njeri.

An upcoming secondary school in the town has also adopted the name.

To date, Mercy's father still can't believe that the school and shopping centre located about 500 metres from his home bears his daughter's name.

He never imagined the death of his daughter could give life to a town, much less draw him close to the man who tried to save the girl's life.

Indeed, his association with the former President even resulted in a number of local politicians seeking his help to meet Moi.

Although they lost a daughter, the family remains grateful to the former head of State.

“My daughter's suffering connected me to President Moi whom I had never met before that. Most people held me in high regard as a result. I am so grateful for his assistance. I owe him a lot,” says Waiharo.

As a way of giving back to the school, Waiharo’s family has renovated two classrooms and equipped them with desks.

The family is also exploring the idea of building and stocking a library at the school.

“I am humbled to have a school named after my daughter. This is a great honour, and is the reason why I am working closely with the school to improve the quality of education for learners,” says Mercy's father.

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