If I Can Help Somebody

“Professor Thairu is a man after Medical Science’s own heart. He is the Galileo of the 21st century. He probably could be better. He is the brain behind the formation of a medical research center in our country.” Dr. Naftali Agata read an introductory for Professor Kihumbu Thairu.

I had never heard of Professor Thairu. I was quick to type, ‘Kihumbu Thairu’ without the title ‘Professor’ on the google search engine. This was deliberate to prove two things; that he was the Galileo of the 21st century and that google would automatically add the preceding title of ‘Professor’ to his name.

In an elaborate answer, google search engine displayed, ‘Did you mean Professor Kihumbu Thairu?’

At the age of 28, Professor Thairu had a Doctor of Philosophy in Neurophysiology. I thought about my age and the Bachelor’s Degree I had in a briefcase at the topmost chamber of my closet. I established that I would have been a disgrace had I been Professor Thairu’s son. The titles before his name look like this, ‘MB, ChB (EA); Ph.D. (Lon); FRCP (Glasg); FRSM (Lon)’. These titles are usually in ascending order of one’s academic, professional and honorary achievements. It dawned on me that he went for his Ph.D. after doing his medicine and surgery undergraduate. Only the equivalents of Galileo would bypass doing a master’s degree and head straight for a doctor of philosophy in Neurophysiology.

As of 2018, there were 700 PhDs in Kenya. Regressing mathematically, assuming all factors remain constant, as at the time Professor Thairu was awarded his Ph.D., there were about 13 Ph.D. holders in Kenya. When we decide to include variables such as literacy levels and the financial ability of Kenyans to acquire higher education, we would end up with probably 2 or 3 or none. As I was about to look up the meaning of FRCP and FRSM (among the titles of Professor Thairu), I was interrupted by the thunderous claps that were welcoming the Chief Guest to address the congregants who constituted a vast of medical research scientists and the highest number of Kenyan Ph.D. holders in one sitting.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my single most pleasure and honor to be here today.” Professor Thairu began with a tone of overwhelming joy in his voice. He rolled his eyes in a funny way that amused me. He is the first male I have seen roll his eyes like that.

“When I hear that Kenya Medical Research Institute was ranked the best Research Institute in Africa by Scimago Lab in conjunction with Elsevier, a technologically-based company offering innovative solutions to improve the Scientific Visibility and Online Reputation in the world, I feel like crying.” He continued. The congregation burst out into laughter. “I cannot, however, cry as the community in which I come from does not permit me to do so publicly.” Another hearty laughter ensued and I had liked Professor Thairu already for approving and walking on the bro-code rule of not crying publicly.

“In the year 1971, I came back to Kenya enthusiastic about the immense knowledge I had acquired. It was in my dream to have a medical research center in Kenya as it was in the States with the likes of John Hopkins. Everybody pessimistically looked at me with the look of ‘what are you talking about’. I walked to the then Minister of Education and explained to him the dream I had and that I needed his support both administratively and politically. After a tussle, he agreed and we were given two rooms at the Ministry of Health buildings. One was my office and the other was the office of the four staff under me.” It sounded funny as the institute had 4,000 employees and so everyone couldn’t help but laugh and wonder the role of the four staff then.

“We began the process of searching for donor funding to enable growth of the medical research center in Kenya. Everybody turned us down with the assertion that there were many existent research centers elsewhere in the world where we would obtain data from and study on. ‘What an absurd way of thinking’, I thought. Finally, the Japanese agreed to fund the medical research center which has grown since.” A round of thunderous claps filled the chandelier-lit room. I thought the Japanese were very good people at that point.

Japanese Scientist

“You do not have to undergo a study period of 29 years like I did to afford basic health care or decent housing in Muthaiga or clean water or better yet sufficient nutritious food.” This was a part of his talk that I thought to be profound. He emphasized the essential amenities and services and needs that every single human ought to have access to.

“Sub-Saharan Africa should not be faced with the hurdle of eliminating neglected tropical diseases like Cholera. We have the know-how just like in the first world countries. John Snow, a physician and a leader in the development of anesthesia and medical hygiene traced the source of a cholera outbreak in the sewers of Soho, London in 1854. Cholera wasn’t in Kenya at the time. It is unheard of today in the US. Let us implement what we know fellow scholars.” I, being seated in the congregation was referred to as a scholar by Professor. I felt proud.

“In the year 1930, a gentleman by the name Frank Huitt was tasked by the Queen of England to come to Kenya’s Kisumu city and ensure the elimination of malaria. In a year, Kisumu was malaria-free. I have a publication here that states how and I will submit it to your institute. ” I felt empowered. I desired to have a read of what Frank Huitt did back then.

“In the year 1982, a study was conducted in Nyeri on the levels of hygiene there versus in England and Whales. Nyeri town was cleaner than England and Whales. WASH technique (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) is simple and implementable.”

Professor Thairu engaged us in a talk for about forty-five minutes and it seemed he still had more to say but wisdom dictated that he ended the talk. I have never listened to such an intriguing, enlightening, exhorting and emphatic talk in my life.

After his last sentence, he sang a song by Mahalia Jackson whose lyrics I penned down:

If I can help somebody, as I travel along

If I can help somebody, with a word or a song

If I can help somebody, from doing wrong

No, my living shall not be in vain

No, my living shall not be in vain

No, my living shall not be in vain

If I can help somebody, as I’m singing the song

You know, my living shall not be in vain

A standing ovation was inevitable. It almost clocked the 12-minute mark of Charlie Chaplin’s longest standing ovation back in the day.

If I could help somebody, my living would not be in vain.