Jane Kubai’s life is a study of the power of dreams. Not even a troubled childhood and difficult adulthood stopped her from reaching her dreams. In Kenya, Jane was nominated by Amref Health Africa for her dutifulness at the height of Covid-19 infections in the county last year.
But how did a security guard end up as a Covid-19 warrior?
She would use her tea and lunch breaks to create awareness about the pandemic, which entailed informing the patients on the importance of wearing a mask, sanitising and keeping social distance and ways the vaccine is spread.
At the time, she doubled as a security guard, a frontline health worker and a student. In her duty roster as a security guard at the Consolata Mathari Hospital in Nyeri County, she would spare time to educate patients at the outpatient department on the need to protect themselves against contracting the virus by following the laid out guidelines by the Ministry of Health as well as addressing the misconception of the vaccine.
During her short breaks, she would take time from her official guard at the hospital’s main gate and head to the outpatient department and talk to patients about coronavirus.
And for this reason, she has been feted among the World’s Heroine of Health 2021 by a global organisation sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Foundation and The United Nations Foundation.
The Beyond Applause Health Heroine of Health 2021 honours women in the frontline of the Covid-19 response- women who have taken on the challenge to life-saving healthcare while advocating for gender and health equality.
“When I heard of the health worker training on Covid-19, I asked to join because I have always been passionate about health education.”
They accepted without hesitation. A doctor, John Miranda, who operates at the facility, selected her for the training citing her passion for health education.
They underwent a six-month training to equip them with the right information regarding the virus. Amref Health Africa in Kenya was offering the training through a programme sponsored by the European Union.
Jane worked as a security guard at the mission hospital for three years, and during this time, she would also serve as a surgeon assistant in the theatre during the night procedures.
“Nights are commonly busy for surgeons; I would sometimes leave my son sleeping at home, which is within the hospital precincts, to come work at night. It was fulfilling,” she says. Her duties include preparing the operating room before the surgeon arrives to attend to the patient, sterilising the operating equipment and preparing the patient for surgery. To some extent, she would help clean and feed the patients and help them to the lavatory.
After enrolling on the facility’s Sr Leonela Consolata Medical College for a certificate in perioperative theatre technology as a part-time student in 2019, she would use half her salary to finance her education as she worked other menial jobs for her upkeep and support of her child and siblings.
Kagwiria started a kitchen garden to cut on her expenditure and created a day-care centre where she would charge Sh100 per child as a top-up to her salary, which helped her stay in class.
Born in Mutuati village in Igembe North, Meru County, Jane was forced to run away from her parents’ home when she was about to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage in the sequel at the age of 11.
This was a traditional practice that her age mates then had to undergo, and since she knew the consequences, she opted to escape and seek refuge in a church.
Her action put her at loggerheads with her father, who discontinued her education and could therefore not return home.
“I could not convince the community that I was disinterested in that practice, and so I sought shelter in a local church within the county where I met a priest and explained my predicaments back at home.”
“By the time I was 13, I told the priest that I wanted to go back to school. I went back to Class Six and finished my Class Eight in 2008, where. I scored 348 marks.”
The priest offered to pay for her education until she completed her O levels in 2013.
“But when I was in Form Three, the priest informed me that he had run out of money. This forced me to drop out of school once again.”
As she depended solely on the mercy of well-wishers and help from the church, she went back to her former shelter and continued working as a house girl.
“I have undergone a gruelling journey with my education, but I have always been determined. I believe it is my determination that keeps opening doors for me.”
Luckily, she did complete her high school education through the help of the then principal of Muthambi girls, who called her back to school without asking her for money. She scored a C- in her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Examinations (KSCE) .
One day, as she was strolling along Meru town streets, she stumbled upon a group of youth queuing for an employment opportunity with a security company. She secured a slot after six months of training and was employed to earn Sh4, 500 monthly.
“This was a good head start for me… not what I would have preferred, but I knew I could work with the opportunity life had presented me since I had no other option.”
Soon after, she fell pregnant and was retrenched in the fifth month. She was forced to think of other income-generating ventures she could work with to fend for herself and her unborn child.
She resorted to open a day-care centre where she would take care of her former colleagues’ and neighbours’ children and at a fee.
Shortly after she gave birth, a vacancy opened up at the hospital where she worked as security guard in Meru. The management called her back, leading her to her first encounter with theatre operations and interaction with surgeons.
“I have always had an interest in the theatre… to care for patients at their weakest, especially after they have undergone surgery.”
The 27-year-old had shown a lot of interest in health education; she underwent basic life support training where she was taught how to resuscitate patients, attend to them in the wards by feeding and cleaning them.
“After helping in the theatre for a while, I was reinstated as a guard, and after five months, there was a retrenchment, and I was affected.”
In January 2018, she applied for the security guard position at the Mathari Hospital, and she secured a slot; and a year later, she was back in the corridors of the theatre.
She mostly used her lunch breaks to attend to patients at the wards.
While here, she also decided it was time to back her thrill for theatre operations up with some formal education. She approached the college’s principal explaining her desire to join the class.
Always on call
“She was intrigued, wondering how a security guard wanted to go back and study… she agreed, and I completed my certificate this year.”
Working as a guard is strenuous as there are no off days, and they are always on call, but she made special arrangements with the hospital management to be allowed one day off to attend classes.
“Most of the studies are practical lessons and so I needed to be physically present in the lecture rooms. The hospital gave me Wednesdays off to attend classes.”
Throughout the course year, Jane offered that lecturers would send her notes that she would flip through using her phone during her short breaks at work, and her classmates would also assist her with her studies.
“During the two years and a half year course, I topped my class after the examinations, and I couldn’t be happier.”
After finishing her certificate in April, she hoped that she would get a job at the mission hospital, going with the fact she already had the experience within the facility, but she was reinstated at the gate as a security guard.
“I could not refuse the offer since I had financed my education with loans that needed to be repaid within a stated period,” she says, adding that she applied for the job but was consecutively told there was no vacancy.
With her experience in the theatre and armed with doctors recommendations, she decided to leave the hospital and seek greener pastures.
But before she did so, Jane says she was under so much pressure from banks and shylocks she owed money that she contemplated committing suicide.
“This would have been the greatest mistake of my life given I have no one to leave my child with, and I am the beacon of hope for a number of my siblings,” she says, adding that the circumstances struck a chord in her that propelled her to tender her resignation.
In her new role as a theatre technologist, she is mandated to ensure and maintain the operating room is ready, clean and sterilise surgical instruments, assisting in bringing patients to the operating room, among other key functions.
Her ingrown interest in theatre, she offered, was because she loves to care for patients after undergoing operations, but her inspiration was drawn from her son’s excitement whenever she wears the white coats.
“My story will be an inspiration to my seven-year-old son who wants to be a doctor.”
Currently, Jane works at a Nakuru hospital and hopes to enrol for her diploma in perioperative theatre technology and later a bachelor’s degree.
After receiving the award virtually on October 5, Jane said she did not want it to end with just a certificate and a trophy; rather, she wanted to inspire more girls to dare dream and pursue what they desire in life.
“I want to be a committed health worker in the theatre. I have guarded gates for a while now. I want to guard patients.”
Her biggest challenge is the lack of money to fund her education and the lack of connections that would help her secure a well-paying job.