School of Nursing graduates plan a return to Kenya
Five years later, the couple have made good on their commitment. They graduated the School of Nursing on Dec. 14 and already are helping establish a health clinic and Neema Hospital in Kenya.
Hottensiah grew up in an underdeveloped rural community in the Rift Valley Province, west of Nairobi. She lived with her parents, eight sisters and three brothers.
“We were quite poor,” she said, adding that her family had to walk two hours to get to the nearest clinic.
While most men toiled on farms, her father was employed as a clerical worker by British governmental officials. He eventually returned to school and later was able to get a job as an entomology technician at a research lab.
Hottensiah said her father valued education and broke tradition when he decided to send his daughters to school.
To get to her elementary school, Hottensiah had to walk one hour. To go to high school, she had to pass a national exam and then leave home to live in a missionary boarding school. It was at the boarding school where she realized a better life was possible.
“One of my motivations was the poverty I saw around me and the dream of a way to break it,” she said.
Hottensiah had to take another national exam to qualify for college. The names of those passing the test were published in a newspaper. She remembers walking two hours to buy a newspaper to find out if she was among those who could continue their schooling.
“I remember crying when my name was there,” she said.
She attended Kenyatta University in Nairobi from 1988 to 1991 and majored in education arts.
“The girls were told, ‘You can’t do sciences.’ You could be a teacher or nurse,” she said.
Hottensiah worked as a high school teacher and used her salary to help her father pay for her siblings’ schooling. Later, she worked for Compassion International, a Christian child advocacy ministry, to ensure children living in the slums of Nairobi were attending school.
Hottensiah and Ephantus married in 1997 and lived in Nakuru, where Ephantus was born. Nakuru, known for the flamingos and pelicans that flock to a nearby lake, is the capital of the Rift Valley Province. His family had eight children.
Ephantus’ father grew up in Kenya when it was a British colony. At that time, native Kenyans couldn’t attend school and were hired mainly to work menial jobs, such as a cook or housekeeper.
But like Hottensiah’s father, he also valued education. So, he took evening and summer classes and eventually was hired as the city’s accountant and chief internal auditor.
Ephantus said he went to elementary and junior high schools, where his Irish missionary teachers taught him English and about different cultures and opportunities within his reach.
He left home to attend a secondary-level boarding school in central Kenya, about 20 minutes from his home, where he met British missionaries and a biology teacher with the Peace Corps. He next enrolled at Egerton University in Njoro, where a teacher from Nebraska taught him agronomy.
“So I had an opportunity to interact with foreigners,” he said.
Ephantus graduated in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and was hired to teach at a high school in a rural community.
“I learned about the hardship of the rural people and farmers, and how the weather made them so vulnerable,” he said. “I still had a nagging desire to come to America, and realized I did not have much of a future in teaching high school. I wanted to do something meaningful to help those around (me). America was the land of opportunity.”
Hottensiah said it was also a dream of her father that someday his children would be able to live in the United States.
After a while, Ephantus stopped teaching and established a computer business. He bought used computers from USAID, an independent federal agency that supports economic growth overseas, and then upgraded and sold them. He also served as a computer consultant.
He and Hottensiah tried to obtain U.S. visas three or four times before they learned in 1998 they could have their names placed in a lottery that would allow 50,000 people to gain green cards and legal entrance into the United States.
The luck of the draw was on their side, and in August 1999 they landed in the United States and came to Lawrence, where one of Hottensiah’s sisters was a graduate student at the University of Kansas.
“It was a cultural shock, and we realized we had to think in a hurry what we wanted to do here,” Hottensiah said. “It had to be something that could be helpful to us, but also helpful for our people and make a change.”
Ephantus was hired by Cottonwood Inc., an agency serving those with developmental disabilities. Hottensiah got a job as a housekeeper in a nursing home, and by 2002 she had finished the requirements to be a certified nurse’s aide, certified medication aide, home health aide and licensed practical nurse.
After they returned from their visit to Kenya in 2003, Hottensiah decided to apply to Baker University School of Nursing. When Ephantus saw the application form, he decided to fill one out, too. Both of them were accepted.
Juggling jobs, nursing school and parenting of their two daughters, ages 4 and 6, wasn’t easy.
“But it was fulfilling,” Hottensiah said.
The couple took out student loans and received scholarships from the Stormont-Vail Foundation and help with child care and gas from Heartland Works, Inc.
During their first year at the School of Nursing, Hottensiah and Ephantus contacted a community near Nairobi to see if its residents were interested in establishing a one-day health fair there. They were.
In June 2007, more than 900 people were treated at the health fair; 500 of those people were screened for HIV/AIDS. Some of the pregnant women who stood in line had never seen a doctor; others had never seen a dentist or had immunizations.
“We realized the need is so huge,” Ephantus said.
“We said, ‘Now, we are right. We need not one day, but we need something that they can come to continuously,’ Hottensiah said.
In the next five years, the couple hopes to build five clinics and finish Neema Hospital to offer immunizations, prenatal care, screenings for HIV/AIDS and treatment of typhoid fever. They also want to drill boreholes so residents can have running water and water-borne diseases can be prevented.
Hottensiah and Ephantus said Baker University nursing students have donated items to send to the clinics in Kenya, and the couple is working toward establishing a medical outreach trip to Kenya for the university’s nursing students in 2010.
The couple said they plan to return to Kenya in the summer of 2009. In the meantime, they will continue to work to pay off their student loans, keep their skills honed and take the national nursing board exams.
Hottensiah said she hopes her success will inspire girls in Kenya to get an education and let them know “they can be whatever they want to be.”
“I hope I can be an example to them,” she said.
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