Kind priest gave me wings to fly


Orphaned at an early age, DR MOHAMMED ABDILLE, 36, was forced to learn survival tactics as a child. He has risen above many odds, and is now a molecular parastoligist and one of the few lecturers from North Eastern at Egerton University. He spoke to BONIFACE ONGERI

What does your work as a molecular parasitologist entail?

As the head researcher of molecular parasitology at Egerton University,  I seek preventive measures against parasitic diseases in particular tryponosomiasis and leishmaniasis that cause kalazar and malaria. The information gained in the study is useful in finding essential drugs or vaccines. The two parasites and their diseases are in the category of neglected diseases, which affects millions of people in the sub Saharan Africa. Parasitology is the study of parasites, their hosts, and the relationship between them.

Soon you will be appointed an associate professor, you have risen the ranks at a young age. Tell us more.

Through sheer hard work and focus, I have fulfilled all requirements for the post, which is accumulating at least three years as a senior lecturer, widely published in peer review international journals and supervising post graduate, masters and PhD students. I have also produced conference papers.

Besides lecturing, what other role do you have?

I am the chairman of the department of human pathology at the university where I oversee human resource management and non-administrative issues necessary for the university council and senate where I am also a member.

I was also a research scientist at the Central Food Technological Research Institute in India, and a lead supervisor for masters and bachelors students in school of Medicine at the China Agricultural University. I am also an honorary lecturer at China Agricultural University.

Tell us about your experience growing up.

I had a difficult childhood because I was orphaned at an early age. My father, who was the sole breadwinner, died when I was only six years old, and my mother passed on shortly after. From then on, life became unbearable for my siblings and I. My elder sister Kuresha and elder brother Hussein took the responsibility of looking after us by working in people’s farms and shops.

That must have been difficult, how did you manage your schooling?

It was a life of struggle. I owe my success to one Father Joseph. In 1984, when I was a young boy of primary school age, there was a deadly famine that hit Mandera and we had no food for days in our house.  One day, I walked for so long in search of food and I found myself at Mandera Boys Town Primary School for orphans and handicapped. I was hungry, in tatters and desperate. Father Joseph, who was in charge of the school met me at the gate in my deplorable state and was moved by my plight. He took me in and I was enrolled at the school. From then on, he because my guardian and ensured I completed my studies up to university.

Tell us about your educational background.

I went to India in 1996 after landing an Indian Government scholarship for my exemplary work. There, I did a Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical and Medical Tropical disease and an MSc in Biotechnology at the Mysore University.

I also have an MSc in Tropical Medicine from University of Edinburg, Scotland and a PhD in preventive medicine, molecular parasitic diseases, from China Agricultural University.

I also have a post-graduate studies in public health management from the India Institute of Sciences and a post-doctorate studies in research of tropical diseases, University of Basel, Switzerland.

While studying for my PhD, I was appointed lecturer and a researcher at Beijing Medical School and China Agricultural University.

 In January, I was appointed associate professor by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Why did you avoid Kenyan universities?

I did because the Kenyan government was forcing anyone from North Eastern who attained the university entrance marks to only take a Bachelor of Education course, yet I was interested in the sciences.

How come there are not many university lecturers from your native North Eastern?

Education in North Eastern has, for long, been placed bottom in the list of priorities, and that often plays against us because not many expect a Somali to be a lecturer. As one of the youngest faculty member and the youngest foreign faculty, students and staff often mistake me for one of them.

What are you doing to promote education in the region?

I strive to inspire hundreds in Wajir, Mandera and Garissa counties where I am a mentor in many of the schools. My mission is to change the attitude of the locals towards education. My mantra is hard work and commitment will pay no matter how long it takes. North Eastern has so much potential, ,yet to be tapped.

Tell us a little about the grants you have handled in the research work.

In 2003, I was awarded and successfully managed $55,000 (Sh4.6 million) grant by MSF-Belgium for the evaluation of malaria parasites resistance to the anti-malarial drugs against plasmodium falicpurum in Southern Sudan. In the same year, I was also awarded $68,000 (Sh5.7million) for carrying out drug discovery project against African sleeping sickness at the University of Dundee, Scotland. I was also  awarded $69, 000 (Sh5.8 million) by the Chinese government towards finding vaccine against sleeping sickness.

You have also been involved in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Tell us about that.

While a PhD student in China, I was elected Kenyan student president. So when the games came, I was at a strategic position to mobilise fans from Kenya to cheer our athletes.

The project was in collaboration with our Kenyan Embassy in Beijing. Being fluent in Chinese and conversant with Chinese culture and knowing Beijing city well, I had the opportunity to make our athletes feel at home. I believe Kenya Olympic team bagged highest number of medals in history.