There is an Ubuntu philosophy, “I am because you are”. It is a phrase that not only connects us, strangers to neighbors to friends to family, but holds us to a certain responsibility to help and support each other. I am Maurice Oketch, born and raised in Mombasa Kenya; I found this philosophy to follow me through not only childhood but creating a successful life in America through the development of a program that brought me back to my home to help full circle. I became the man I am today because of each, lesson, challenge, and person I met along the way. Each step is a blank canvas to paint a new journey and memory and the pieces assemble together to create a gallery of a life lived well found within the tight knit communities of our own creation.
I was raised in a very family oriented home; fourth oldest of six, my parents managed to find a way to assure we were all met with the same attention and needs and they are a large reason for our successes. I began a competitive hockey career at the secondary school H.H. Aga Khan High School, Mombasa for four years then attended Allidina Viscram High School for A-level competition. We were provincial champions and guaranteed national meets where I continued to learn how grow my network of friends. After graduation I began a career with a consulting firm in Nairobi allowing extensive travel through Kenya which led to a position within a year at the Kenya Commercial Bank in Kisumu. At twenty years old it would seem I had made it in life. And after two years at the bank I was faced with a decision that would prove to be more important than I ever could have known at the time. With the decision to pursue higher education, I needed to decide where to study. Saving money the last few years I had always imagined a self-sponsored education in India, Canada, or the United States. I was not alone however and with the support of family and the words of my parents, I eventually decided to find a university in the United States. The phrase that inevitably led to my final decision was one spoken to us every day by my parents, “en gi kifungu or ofungu mar ndege”, which in dholou translates to “greatness is within you.”
The greatness we all have is the key to our success and the greatness of each connects us all. The greatness I learned to see in people at a young age in the village; the importance and value of each friendship, the value of each stranger, the value of each deed paid forward. In 1993, I immigrated to America, where despite initial challenges found a support system quickly to help adjust. Realizing despite the experience I previous, moving to America would mean starting with a blank slate. As a self-sponsored student I was required to take a twelve credit course load while working a full time job to support myself financially. I knew I was not a unique or heroic story though, and thought of those who had done it before me and those who were doing it with me. While not every day was easy I learned valuable lessons on becoming self-sufficient with time, money, and work, but also how to rely and build a supportive community.
The loyal community we built as students provided a wide and diverse networking system and the means to successfully look for jobs. Any job opportunity found went down the phone tree where we would help each practice for interviews, edit resumes, and provide transportation if needed. And we were successful in this, the support and genuine pride and happiness in each other’s accomplishments was the magnitude of our community and made for a smooth transition to life in America.
As the community continued to grow and we gained more traction and power in our careers, the real successes came. In January of 2015, I initiated a free medical surgical mission to Kenya. Partnering with Anekant Community Center of Southern California we worked to develop a program to bring free medical screenings to Kenya. The center had proven success in their medical camps in India, Jamaica, and Anaheim, California, and we felt it was time to continue expanding. Anekant immediately welcomed the initiative and Dr. Nitin Shah, an anesthesiologist, led the development and first camp designated for Kenya. In April 2016, the self-funded team of volunteers traveled to Nakuru and Kisumu and conducted a successful first mission between April 9th and April 16th. The volunteers had to pay for their roundtrip airfare and those in Nakuru were hosted by families who provided transportation, meals, and accommodations, and those in Kisumu stayed in accommodations funded by the county government on the invitation of Her Excellency First Lady Olivia Ranguma.
Our team consisted of both medical and non-medical volunteers, twenty five members total with a range of specialties. Due to the nature of the work volunteers were granted gratis visas from Consular General Maurice Nakitare of the Kenyan consulate in Los Angeles. The team was divided into two factions one placed in Nakuru at the Nakuru Provincial General Hospital and one in Kisumu at the Jaramogi Oginga Oginga Teaching and Referral Hospital, working concurrently until they were switched half way through the mission. The team in total screened 536 patients and operated on 301 patients working in collaboration with local specialists on follow up care for the patients. Listed below are the milestones accomplished by our incredible team:
Urology – Performance of first TURP and DVIU procedures. TURP procedures relieve benign hyperplasia caused by an enlarged prostate. DVIU procedures repair a narrow segment of the urethra. 16 total patients.
Ophthalmology – Alcon donated 200 lenses and supplies. 254 patients operated on and had vision restored.
Orthopedic – Performed basic and extensive surgeries with sophisticated equipment brought by volunteers. 266 patients.
Community impact – Provide free healthcare to those who have little access or the ability to afford it. Educate and work with local specialists for follow up care for patients and share supplies and methods of treatment and prevention to improve local healthcare.
With a successful first mission to Kenya, there is only room for improvement and growth. To take the lessons from my youth and the successes of my emigration to America I have realized the philosophy of the Ubuntu. I am because of the environment I was raised in and the communities I was a part of creating. The greatness I had inside was fostered through the connections I found through the network of family and peers. To share the single most important lesson I have learned, we are the people we spend our time with; their successes and failures ours and the collective responsibility for each other. But rather than simply a responsibility, it is the gift we have as humans to share our spirit and knowledge to create communities on our journeys, an environment where each finds their greatness within and we help each other to become.
Finally, I could not done this without the support of my family-my wife and daughter-who make my life worth every sacrifice. I can count on their support and this is what makes what I do possible.