While growing up, George Kairo’s life and that of his three siblings was like that of any destitute child.
They would go for days without food, wore tattered clothes, and since their mother could not afford it, they did not go to school.
“I envied my age mates going to school, and wondered what it would feel like to wear a uniform as well,” he says.
That was almost 20 years ago, now, the 26-year-old is waiting to get a licence to practise as a medical doctor, in just eight months. However, were it not for a generous stranger who he now calls “dad” Kairo might never have stepped into a classroom.
Here is his touching story.
George Kairo was born in 1988 in Timboroa, Uasin Gishu, in the Rift Valley. He and his family lived with their maternal grandparents. One morning in 1992, he says he recalls, albeit not vividly, neighbours coming to warn them that their area would be attacked the following day. That very evening, Kairo saw thick smoke some distance away. Ethnic clashes that would see scores of families displaced had begun.
A few hours later, one of his uncles was dead, shot with an arrow through his neck. His mother immediately packed a few of their belongings, and together with others, escaped through the Burnt Forest, occasionally hitchhiking, until they reached Eldoret town.
Eldoret holds bitter-sweet memories for Kairo – It is here that he knew the real meaning of poverty, and here that he met Charles Mulli and his wife Esther, the generous couple that rescued him and his siblings from the streets and gave them a home, unconditional love, and one of the best gifts that you can give a child – education.
When they got to Eldoret, they settled in Yamumbi slums, even though they lived in fear, since the clashes had spilled over to the area. Many are the times they would lock their rented house and spend the night in the cold, for fear that it would be burnt down as they slept.
Their mother, who had never held a steady job, would try to avoid the landlord by moving from one area to another. And then the worst happened. His mother fell sick later that year, and would spend most of her time in bed, complaining of a stomach ache. Being the last born, Kairo was severely affected by her poor health, especially since unlike his older siblings, he relied on her for almost everything. Also, watching her go through the day in pain caused his a lot of anguish.
“My elder siblings, two boys and a girl, would wake up and go to the streets, looking for discarded polythene bags, which they washed and sold to vegetable vendors – the money supplemented what mum made from washing laundry,” he says.
Taught to aim for excellence, Kairo gives his all when attending to a patient.
They would order Kairo to stay at home to keep their mother company, an order he sometimes defied.
“When I got too hungry, I would walk to town too, to beg for food, though sometimes neighbours would intervene and give us some.”
For two years, his siblings, Ng’ang’a, Waithera, and Kariuki, wandered the streets of Eldoret town for survival.
One day, in 1994, Kairo’s brothers failed to return home in the evening. Worried, his mother began a frantic search for them, fearing the worst.
After five days of searching, and almost giving up on finding them, someone told her that she had seen two boys matching her sons’ descriptions getting into a van that belonged to a well-known childrens’ home in the area.
Kairo, his mother, and sister, immediately made their way to the home, known as called Mully Children’s Family, MCF.
To their relief, his brothers were there, safe and sound, and looking much better than they had when they left home. It turned out that Mulli and his wife, successful business people, took in destitute children every year, giving them a stable home, food, and an education, three basic needs that many of them had been deprived of almost all their lives.
Since the institution was established 25 years ago, over 8,000 children have called this place home.
Kairo says that after talking to his mother, and establishing that indeed, she was not able to adequately take care of them, it was agreed that the two boys would live at the home.
“I missed them, but it was obvious, even to me, that they had a much better life – they went to school, had enough food and even watched television!”
To his joy, Mulli told their mother that he was willing to accommodate him and his sister as well, though his mother was reluctant to let them go.
“She pointed out that we were still young – however, she allowed us to attend school, located within the home’s compound.”
In mid-1995, Kairo and Waithera moved to MCF permanently, after their mother’s health deteriorated, and she was admitted in hospital.
“He (Mulli) took me to visit mum in hospital – she begged him to look after us, and asked him to encourage us to work hard in school…”
Later that year, his mother passed away, and yes, Mulli kept his promise.
Later, that year, Mulli, moved “his” children to a bigger piece of land he had bought in Ndalani, Machakos, since the small land in Eldoret could no longer house them all.
It is from this new home that Kairo says he began to thrive, and believe that he belonged, and that he had a bright future.
“We could all see that this man who had adopted us was struggling to take care of us – at one point, he almost sold his truck to buy us food, yet when he talked to us, he would tell us about all the great things he would do one day…he encouraged me to dream big,” says Kairo.
With someone to encourage him, he worked hard in and out of school. Like the rest, he was in class during the day, and in the evening, depending on the timetable, he would work in the school’s farm, go for choir practise, or participate in outdoor games, such as karate and acrobatics.
Charles Mulli, the founder of Mully Children’s Family, is the father Kairo never had. Mulli grew up in poverty, and begged for survival.
“I enjoyed debating and singing in the choir, especially since it allowed interaction with other students outside the home,” he says.
He also developed a love for reading, thanks to magazines, books and newspapers that Mulli regularly bought them.
Kairo scored 388 marks out of 500 in his KCPE examinations in 2002, and since Mulli could not afford to pay for the schools that he and other good performers had been admitted to, they continued with their secondary school education in MCF secondary school.
When he did his KCSE in 2006, he scored an A-minus, earning enough points to be admitted to study Agriculture in one of the public universities. He was upset; he had always yearned to be a doctor.
Desperate to achieve his dream, Kairo approached Mulli, who agreed to pay for a parallel degree programme in medicine at the University of Nairobi. In 2008, alongside two others, Kairo joined the university.
By this time, he had seen the dreams Mulli often talked about materialise – one of these was a mechanised farm, producing French beans and tomatoes for export, an enterprise that supported the children, who were in their thousands by 2007.
When he joined the University of Nairobi in 2008, Kairo put his all into his studies, careful not to let his guardians down.
“Whenever I gave him my transcripts, he would be more excited than I was,” Kairo says with a smile, adding that Mulli ensured that he regularly visited him and the other students from MCF who were admitted at the institution.
When he could not, he sent his wife, or one of the staff.
Kairo graduated last year, and was posted in Murang’a District Hospital for the mandatory one year internship, awaiting his licence. When he is not working, this young man visits schools, where he shares his story, in the hope that it will inspire a child with a similar background to reach for the seemingly impossible, and dream big. In future, he hopes that he can do even more, besides offering encouragement. He explains that while he is not keen to establish a home such as MCF, he will do his bit to ensure that needy children go to school, and have access to books like he did.
At work, he gives his all, just like he was taught to by his adoptive father.
“I make sure I do my job thoroughly and diligently – should I lose a patient, I would want their relatives to know that I did all that I could to save his or her life.”
His siblings too have a happy story to tell.
Kairo’s sister, Waithera, who studied in London on scholarship, is married with two children, and has since returned to the country, and is a finance officer with an organisation in Naivasha. His elder brother, Ng’ang’a, is a marketer, while Kariuki is a banker.
Mulli: “This is what motivated me.”
By now, you must be wondering what motivated 65-year-old Charles Mulli and his wife to take in children that were obviously giving them sleepless nights, as they wondered where the food to feed them would come from the next day.
It turns out that Mulli has a lot in common with the children he took under his wing. His parents were poor, and could barely feed them.
When he was six-years-old, he was sent to live with equally poor relatives, forcing him to beg for his upkeep. When he turned 17, old enough to believe that a better life existed out there, he left his home in Kangundo in Ukambani, and made his way to Nairobi.
He first worked as a gardener, then as a clerk in a German-owned construction company, before becoming an independent entrepreneur, and registering a transport company which did well. In 1989,he sold part of his property and set up MCF, Eldoret, which gave birth to the main branch in Ndalani, another in Yatta, and another two at the coast.
Save for the two centres at the coast, the other MCF centers have dormitories and schools within the compound, with fully operational laboratories.
The home’s oldest children are in various professions, and are based in Kenya and abroad.
What makes these homes unique is that they are fully supported by the couple, large scale farmers who export their produce to the European Union.
Mulli and Esther, who have six children, say that if you want children to thrive and become successful and independent adults, it is not enough to give them the bare minimum,
“We give them more than shelter, food, and basic education – we encourage them to think big, and look beyond primary and secondary school; a superior education means a brighter future, and also means that you’re more empowered to take charge of your lives, and uplift those around you,” Says Mulli.