Meet a Kenyan heroine of health: ‘I want to be an ambassador for the voiceless’

When she was 11 years old, Jane Kubai ran away from home after she learned that her father was planning to have her undergo female genital mutilation and then get married.

Later, Kubai developed a passion for medicine while working as a hospital security guard in Kenya’s Nyeri country. A guard by day, and a mother of one, Kubai took theatre technician classes at night — sometimes giving up sleep so that she could watch hours-long surgeries being performed in the operating room.

Now a theatre technologist, Kubai, 27, says her father has changed his views on child marriage. At an interview at her new hospital in Nakuru, Kubai tells SciDev.Net that she has her sights set on becoming a surgeon.

You were recently named a heroine of health by the Women in Global Health network, for your personal perseverance and your efforts to educate communities and patients on how to prevent the spread of Covid-19. How did you feel about being awarded that title?

It has been a long journey. It was an amazing thing to happen to me. I had not imagined that one day I could be called a heroine. I thank God for everything. The award has been like a candle that has been lit in my life. I will not keep that candle under the table: instead I will make it shine in my life and also in the lives of young girls in our country. I will make sure that as I continue getting more educated I will become an ambassador for the voiceless in the world.

Could you walk me briefly through your life journey?

I come from Meru county in Kenya. I ran away from home when I was 11 years old. In my community when you reached the age of 10 to 12, you get circumcised — FGM [female genital mutilation] — then you get married. It’s a forced marriage. When my father and mother explained to me about the FGM procedure that was going to be done, I decided to disappear.

I wanted to get an education, I wanted to go back to school so that I could have a future. I met a priest, who took me to his sister’s house where I worked as a maid. I later met another priest who paid my school fees, which enabled me to finish my primary school.  He also paid part of my secondary school fees. After secondary school, I got a job as a security guard at a hospital. I was dealing with patients at the hospital gate. This inspired me to join medical college, so that instead of guarding the gates I can be guarding the patients on the operating table.

Did you ever return home?

I went back to my home after 10 years and told them I was alive. My parents begged for forgiveness and were sorry about trying to force me to undergo FGM and also get married at an early age. My younger sisters did not undergo FGM, because my father was scared that they might run away too, just as I did. My father now advises other families in the village against FGM and early marriage.

What are your aspirations for your medical career?

I aspire to continue with my studies and do the diploma. Maybe a good Samaritan somewhere will be able to support me to do the diploma. Then I plan to do a degree, then a master’s in theatre technology. One day in the future, I will pursue my dream of becoming a surgeon.

What would be your advice to young women who might be keen to work in surgery?

I’ve never given up in my life, I just hoped that one day I would be somebody. I would advise them to face the challenge and come out to the medical field. For those who will be interested in working in the operating theatre, I encourage them to pay keen attention to the patients and assist the surgeons to enable them to save the patient’s life. I would also advise them not to give up when they face many challenges. If I have made it, why not them? I encourage them that one day their dreams will come true.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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Michael Kaloki
Michael Kaloki is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya

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