When Petite Mukami completed her undergraduate studies in accounting at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, she envisioned her future in the thriving financial industry, at least for a start, and to appease her parents who had invested heavily in her education.
The dreams of calculating financial statements, balance sheets and developing financial reports in a lucrative company was all her parents had for her.
But this was not the dream the 32-year-old health enthusiast had. She was passionate about playing a crucial role in helping give the dead a decent send-off as a mortician.
Today, Mukami is one of the leading morticians in the country stationed at the Murang'a Sub County hospital with a passion and zeal for the job.
She was among a group of morticians now pushing for recognition of their profession. They claim they have been sidelined by authorities despite the huge role they play in preparing dead bodies for burial.
"My passion lies in this job. I am passionate about being a mortician," she said
Morticians from across the country held their first annual conference at the Tom Mboya Labour College in Kisumu.
Mukami says her journey to becoming a mortician was not a walk in the park.
"One day I decided to visit Chiromo mortuary and that is when I realised that there is a course called mortuary science. I enrolled for the course and as they say, the rest is history."
At first, Mukami had wanted to start learning on the job and requested to be trained as she shadowed a senior mortician at the mortuary. This, however, did not come to be as she was forced to take classes and learn the trade first.
Mukami is among Kenyans who are now trooping into the mortician profession and are working hard to ensure that their work gets the recognition it deserves.
They say they are subjected to stigma and branded names while their profession is also not treated as a priority by the health sector.
"I meet people who are curious of what I do, some are scared while others ask very many questions including if I ever have nightmares," she says.
She however notes that most people who have lost very close relatives see her for who she is.
"When you lose a close relative is when you get to understand how important my work is. Other people ask whether I use drugs to stay normal and at some point, I faced the stigma of people just keeping away from me," she narrates.
She is not alone. Paul Shikanda, a 24-year-old mortician at the Butere funeral home in Kakamega is among the young people who are now shifting to the profession.
Shikanda started working in a mortuary as an intern. Becoming a mortician was not the career his family had envisioned and had instead enrolled him on a business management course.
He, however, opted to pursue a different line and became a mortician.
"I love my job. If I am not at the morgue, I spend time playing football or dancing. Lack of opportunities in the business management field pushed me to a mortuary science course," Shikanda narrates.
He says everyone who is a mortician has a story but shies off from sharing their experiences because of a perception already built around the profession.
"I went through a lot during the first weeks. I had weird dreams. I had a cat in the house, so anytime it pushed anything and it fell down I got very startled. But it all went away after a few weeks," he adds.
He says the talk about drug and substance abuse in the profession is a wrong perception.
Now after several years of operating in isolation, morticians in the country are now pushing for formal recognition of their work through a scheme of service.
During the conference, a number of morticians complained of the poor working conditions they have been subjected to and how they have been treated with contempt by authorities.
Through their association, Morticians and Allied Professionals Association of Kenya (MAPAKe), the group now wants the Ministry of Health to enact their scheme of service.
They argued that for a very long time mortuary services have been treated casually and morticians have not been given the right recognition they deserve.
"That is why we came together to ensure we are recognised. After recognition, we must have a scheme of service. Morticians do not have an entry point anywhere in the health sector," said Elkana Mwinami the chairperson of MAPAKe.
As part of the efforts to ensure that the profession is respected, the association is also pushing for its members to undergo professional training and is planning a crackdown on members violating their practice.
MAPAKe said they are partnering with the University of Nairobi and Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology for the rolling out of the diploma course.
Mwinami said they're pushing to have diploma holders in Mortuary science treated at the same level as any other paramedics with a diploma.