From a Herdsboy to a Medic

At the age of 12, Jeremiah Kiplagat had a curious encounter – he fractured his leg while herding cattle and separately fell in love with the nursing career. Owing to the grave injury on his leg, he was admitted for over six months at the Tenwek Mission Hospital, where he developed interest in nursing – thanks to the good care by his nurses, who he grew fondness for.  

“I developed an interest in nursing because the medical staffers who nursed me were such nice people. Even then, I had no slightest idea I would personally end up as a nurse,” says Jeremiah, now 31 years old and the nurse-in-charge at Njerian Dispensary, in Bomet County.

Upon being discharged from the hospital, he could not go back to herding cattle and instead hovered around the hospital premises doing menial jobs having become familiar with the area and staff at Tenwek Mission Hospital. One day a passerby, who had been observing him for some time, inquired from him why he was doing menial work instead of going to school.

“I explained that my mother was a single parent, who could not afford to pay tuition fee for me at school and that I had to fend for myself,” says Jeremiah. The stranger offered to admit him in his privately-owned school and Jeremiah immediately obliged.

In 2001 Jeremiah’s journey to become a nurse began in earnest, when he joined Chebole Mission School. His fees and upkeep were all paid by the passerby who happened to be the headmaster of the school. A couple of months later, teachers realized Jeremiah was too bright for Class 4 and he was promoted to Class 5, which also proved fairly easy for the young lad. Jeremiah finally settled for Class 7, after which he emerged top of his class in the Class 8 national examinations.  

When he eventually got an admission letter to Tenwek High School, he received the news with a mixture of joy and worry – joy because of the opportunity to further his studies and worry because he had no idea from which source to raise tuition fee. He nonetheless reported to his new school.

As fate would have it, the headmaster of the school happened to be one of the people in Tenwek, in whose compound Jeremiah used to do menial jobs, including trimming hedges, before joining primary school.

 “He was shocked to see me because he couldn’t believe I was the same boy who used to do occasional odd jobs in his compound. He admitted me without asking for a single penny and even mobilised teachers to buy me the things I needed to start the school with,” says Jeremiah.

And although Tenwek High School is purely a boarding institution, Jeremiah was the only day scholar at the time having been allowed to operate from outside. This was to enable him venture in part time businesses to supplement the bursary the school was giving him. Upon completing High School, he continued with his business ventures for at least two years before applying for a nursing course.

But even after securing admission, the same old problem of lack of tuition fees returned to haunt Jeremiah. When he was not on a computer searching for scholarships, he was out selling eggs to make ends meet. He somehow managed to raise funds from well-wishers to pay college fee.

He however never gave up on searching the internet for funding: “One day I decided to make an appeal to United States Aid for International Development (USAID) and attached my college fees structure in a letter to the agency”.

After a few weeks, lady luck smiled on him as he received a call from the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) asking him to report to their office in Nairobi. KCDF promptly expressed willingness to support him.

“I was enrolled through the scholarships ‘Window of Opportunity (WOO)’ education programme in 2012 and my fees and upkeep taken care of during my time at nursing school,” says Jeremiah his face beaming with joy.

WOO is gender-based initiative targeting disadvantaged male students with university scholarships for candidates who have performed exceptionally well in their secondary school examination.

But he had not seen it all: “When my college fee was paid, I was on top of the world not knowing the best was yet to come. Mentorship and the life skills training was the best thing that ever happened to me.  If they had paid my school fees only, I would not have been taken through the life skills and I would not have gained confidence,” says Jeremiah. He visited many popular and high places in the course of his studies, where he met important people in the society, and this gave me the confidence to interact and relate with society’s high and mighty.

He remembers his mentor, Maurice Odhiambo, as one person who has shaped his life. “He encouraged me, invited me to his house and counselled me on the need to be disciplined if ever I wanted to make it in life. He gave me hope and that is why we are still in contact to this day.” he says.

As a gesture of appreciation, Jeremiah has, for some years now, been engaged in activities aimed at giving back to society: “I have been mentoring and supporting three girls and two boys through their education. I am like their parent because I attend all school meetings on behalf of their parents and apply for their bursaries too.”

Currently a Board member in two schools, Jeremiah advises people who might find themselves in similar circumstances, to appreciate the fact that everything – including financial and social agony – has an end. “With determination, one can make it, but only by avoiding drugs and alcoholism.”

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