Mwalimu Flora Mulatya and her trip to Antipodean ‘Simbaroos’

President William Ruto's wife, Rachel, talks to students at Kenya High School.

President William Ruto's wife, Rachel, talks to students at Kenya High School. She's accompanied by the Principal Florence Mulatya (in blue)

Photo credit: Pool

Teachers were very much on my mind when I got the exciting news that Ms Flora Mulatya, now former Chief Principal of the Kenya High School in Nairobi, had been appointed to the high diplomatic office of Education Attaché at the Kenya High Commission in Australia. I will tell you more presently about this significant development and why it got me beaming with joy. Curiously, however, and rather foolishly, the first memory that came to my mind on hearing of the appointment was the facetious coinage, “simbaroo”.

“Simbaroo”, a fusion of “simba”(lion) and “kangaroo”, is how one of the early Australian High Commissioners to Kenya described himself. He had been born and raised in Kenya before moving “Down Under” with his Australian parents, only to be sent back later as High Commissioner to Kenya. Identifying himself as partly a product of Kenya, with its iconic “simba” and partly a product of Australia with its kangaroos, he jocularly called himself a simbaroo. We also teasingly refer to Australian, or Aussies, and New Zealanders, as “Antipodeans” or people “Down Under” because they live furthest south from the rest of us.

Let us get back to how the teachers leapt back to my mind even before I heard the Ms Mulatya story. I told you I would soon be flying again, and that is just what I was doing in midweek, this time from Kisumu. I had been “incognito-ing” there on a long-delayed visit to my relatives in Kajulu. So, here I am, boarding an early morning Jambojet flight to Nairobi, looking for my seat in the cabin and I hear a strong bass voice calling, “Mwalimu Bukenya.”

Obviously, my incognito had not worked and here I was, caught in the act. As luck and sheer coincidence would have it, my seat, 5B, was right next to the gentleman who had called out to me from 5A. I was quick to ask him his name as soon as I had settled down beside him. “Sunkuli” he said, and I took another sharp look at him. He told me he was related to Leteipa ole Sunkuli, my friend and former student from that super-brainy group of KU scholars that were both a challenge and a joy to teach. Among them were such firebrands as Profs Kimani wa Njogu and James Adera Ogude, Dr Okumba Miruka and the late Karani Kakai.

Charles Sunkuli, however, the man on the plane, was not of that age group, and I had not taught him at university. He, however, remembered me from an in-service workshop I had facilitated for teachers of English many years ago. “It was at the Watakatifu Wote Senta,” he reminded me.

Watakatifu Wote, at the foot of the Ngong Hills, is an impressively well-organised and peaceful retreat and conference centre. But truth to tell, I do not remember anything about running a teachers’ workshop there, or of anything special I might have said or done to make a young man, as Charles Sunkuli must have been then, remember me so readily and clearly nearly thirty years later.

I reflected that, in our commitment to our learners and our passion for our subjects, we teachers sometimes come up with actions and statements that probably impress and impact our students and other observers more impressively than we realise. This commitment and passion, I think, is what partly explains Ms Mulatya’s stunning rise even beyond the pinnacle of her teaching career. Every stage of Mwalimu Mulatya’s CV seems to be characterised by her passionate attachment to her students and her systematic determination to transform mediocrity into excellence.

I told you in a recent chat that it was Ms Mulatya who introduced me to Dr William Ruto in 2015. This was at the Machakos Girls High School, then celebrating its Centenary. Ms Mulatya was Principal there and she had raised the school’s performance to national eminence and top achievement in Machakos County. I believe that then-DP Ruto, the Chief Guest, and the many education officials at the celebrations noted Principal Mulatya’s sterling performance.

Soon after that function, Ms Mulatya was appointed Principal of the Kenya High School. We at Machakos Girls, and especially her beloved students, were understandably sad to see her go. But we were aware and proud that her transfer was a promotion and that it was largely in recognition of her excellent work among us and with us at Machakos. Now it is the Kenya High School regretting her departure for diplomatic work but also rejoicing that her performance at their institution contributed to raising Ms Mulatya’s professional profile.

Apart from the joy of seeing an acquaintance and colleague in the profession elevated to high office (“claiming the winner”), I have three main reasons for applauding Ms Mulatya’s new appointment. She will boost our educational opportunities in Australia. She is a shining example and role model for the Kenyan woman and, especially, the ordinary Kenyan girl child. Thirdly, her appointment is a reaching out, a recognition of all of us teachers, especially the school heads, who do our best to ensure a good education for the country’s children.

Going by her proven brilliant track record, we should feel confident that Ms Mulatya will perform well and deliver to Kenya the many educational benefits available in the Australian and entire Oceanic region. Australia, an English-speaking country, has an impressive higher education system, and many Kenyans and other East Africans have for decades been taking advantage of it. These include my close friends, Prof Angelina Kioko, the linguist, “oraturist” and cultural activist Dr Mshai Mwangola and, from Makerere, cinematographer Dr Cindy Evelyn Magara. From Canberra, Ms Mulatya should be able to not only boost our study opportunities for study in Australia but also ensure the best conditions for those already studying there.

As we congratulate Ms Mulatya on her appointment, we should also wish her all the best in her new vital role. Hongera, Mwalimu, na kila la heri.

Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and [email protected] 


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