Driving down the escarpment on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway past Limuru, the road opened up to the great escarpment view point. Curio shops eager for tourist stopovers are set up by the cliff displaying bright coloured kikoys all set against the substantial drop of the valley with Mt Longonot at the horizon. Specks of iron sheet roofs shimmer in the dull noon sun and there are several squares and rectangles of browns and greens of people’s shambas spread across the bottom of the valley. In all the years plying to and fro this highway this scene still takes one’s breath away.
We were headed to Kijabe town an hour’s drive from Nairobi, our destination was a small mission station set up by the African Inland Church Missionaries in the late 1800’s. The town’s name is derived from the Maa language meaning “the windy place” proof of this evident in every person we passed swathed in some kind of warm woolly apparel.
AIC Kijabe Hospital is nestled at the edge of the Great Rift Valley escarpment in Lari division of Kiambu district. It is a frontier of sorts of Central and Rift Valley province. Turning off the highway the thin windy road spiraled down through thick forest into the Kijabe Mission Station about 2km from the town.
For the longest time Kijabe Hospital has been a landmark for those seeking affordable treatment from far and wide. It started when a group of missionaries began a medical unit in 1915. It has grown since then and now has inpatient, outpatient, maternity and paediatric sections. The total bed capacity is 249. The hospital sees an average of 300 people daily with a large percentage of the people coming from as far as North Eastern, Somali and Ethiopia.
The mission hospital has hit the headlines over the decades mostly under rather tragic circumstances; some well-known ones date as far back as the pre-colonial days. In March 1953, the few survivors of The Lari Massacre sought treatment at the hospital after the brutal attack by the Mau Mau who accused them and their Chief Luka of being British collaborators. Black and white haunting images of those who survived, eyes full of fear and with bandaged broken and slashed bodies at the hospital beds sent shockwaves the world over of the growing rebellion of the Mau Mau and their plight for freedom. The 80’s and 90’s were notorious times for traffic accidents along Kenyan roads and this brought them thousands of casualties. In more recent times, they received the injured from the Nairobi bomb blast tragedy in 1998 and their care and compassion brought them recognition from the then Head of State.
During the post electoral crisis earlier this year, Kijabe Hospital sent medical teams to various camps including Naivasha, Kirathimo and Nakuru. While in attendance they were able to attend to not less than 800 people in each camp. About 60 of them each month since then still need clinic checks and the hospital accommodates their medical needs. This kind of help has strained the hospital financially having incurred costs of about Kshs. 1.6M. The surgery and treatment of the 4 children from the Kiambaa church burn is over Kshs.900,000 and growing.
“At Kijabe, we do not just mend or fix ailments; we also preach and provide hope and compassion to the patients. We do not turn anyone away; our priority is not money but their welfare physical and spiritual. Our compassion must be the reason we have patients coming from far and wide.” said Mr. Julius Marete the hospital’s Executive Director.
Walking past the full waiting room the sick sat calmly each bearing their pain and waiting for their turn to be attended.
Bethany Kids, the pediatrics ward of the hospital deals with the more common pathological diseases but are also equipped to deal with complicated procedures or conditions.
Some of the special conditions they deal with include:
- spina bifida – a birth defect where an incomplete closure of the nureul tube results in an incompletely formed spinal cord.
- hydrocephalus – where the child has an accumulation of fluid in the brain causing an enlargement of the head.
- cleft lip
- club feet
- hypospadias – a birth defect of the urethra in male children involving an abnormally placed urinary tract opening
- ambiguous genetalia – a condition where one has more than one sex organ
Specialists from all over the world give their time to perform these operations mostly at no cost to give these children a new lease of life. They limit the pain and rehabilitate children.
While at the children’s ward we stopped by to see some special patients Mercy 14, Mary 16, Jedidah 4 and Anthony 11. The children were victims of the recent post electoral violence barely surviving a church fire in Kiambaa a small village in Eldoret at the height of the violence. They had fled from their homes after they were attacked and property gutted following the announcement of the presidential poll results.
Strangers to each other before the fire, a friendship forged amid the twist of tragic fate. A Good Samaritan risked driving them through the then dangerous Eldoret- Nairobi highway after spending sometime without much medical attention at an Eldoret hospital.
“These children are very special to us and are such a success story. We are so proud of them. When they first came their burns were festered due to lack of proper medical attention. Even after skin grafting and several reconstructive surgeries they hardly suffered any infection. They were so positive and brave and now you see them around the hospital smiling and looking much better. Some of these things have nothing to do with us but more to do with the hand of God.” says Joshua Omolo an anesthetist at the hospital.
We found some young volunteers going through school-work with the children from books donated by well wishers.
“When nobody visits them, sometimes we walk into their room to find them all quiet thinking most likely of their dark future. The constant question on their lips is where to go from here.” said Sister Brenda Gathenya the Nurse-in-Charge, Pediatrics.
Mercy’s mother, Margaret Nyambura was a nursery school teacher before and had to leave work to raise her children; her husband was a farmer and the breadwinner. The children are terrified at the thought of returning to where they once knew as home and their harvest and home was all set ablaze.
Mary’s and Jedidah’s (the little one was in the local Kijabe mission nursery school at the time we visited as she has recovered) mother, Serah Wanjiku Kariuki was a farmer before the post electoral violence. Her children are too traumatized to go back and she is looking for a way to resettle elsewhere with a duka perhaps so as to support the young ones.
Anthony’s mother, Peninah Wangui Mbuthia is a skilled tailor and is wondering how to start her life again. They lost everything in the attacks. She is mostly sad because she lost her cherahani which earned them their daily bread”.
In the meantime, they are all thankful for at the very least they escaped with their lives. Just barely.
The hospital also has HIV clinic that cares for just under 5,000 patients. In the height of the violence the operations were disrupted but they were able to reach a large number of their patients who required life-saving ART medication by using their community health workers, volunteers and staff members.
“Among our patients we can take you to the doorsteps of 98% of them. We have regular follow up programs from the hospital and have 27 sites throughout the country for people to receive care and viral management.” said Fredrik Kimemia, Senior Programme Officer in the HIV/AIDS clinic programme.
For many, Kijabe hospital is an oasis of compassion and as we walk away, our hearts are warmed by the hope we see in the eyes of the people walking up and down the corridors of the hospital.
As so says Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Indeed AIC Kijabe hospital is living up to this by standing out as a Kenyan Shujaa at hand when needed most to replenish drained life and hope of our nation, generation after generation.