In KUALA LUMPUR: For Eric Kimathi Buantai, a 31-year-old from Meru County, Malaysia is home away from home.
Not only does Buantai speak fluent Bahasa Melayu (the local Malaysian dialect), he is married to a local girl and they have two children. He says: “I considered it unnecessary to think of girls 10,000km away back home in Kenya, while the ones I interacted with here were just as good if not better in character.
My wife, Haryati Buantai, is a mathematics lecturer at the Universiti Teknology Mara where I also work at the Faculty of Pharmacy as a medical researcher on field diabetics.
Mr Buantai is currently a PhD student at Universiti Putra Malaysia Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences where he is specialising in stem cells and diabetes. I ran into Buantai at the Shangri La Hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur where he had come to try his luck at meeting Kenyans during a global conference (Global Peace Convention) I was attending as a delegate in the Malaysian capital. He awed me with his ability to combine his studies and research job with volunteer work at the Kenyan embassy, assisting with logistics whenever called upon.
“Besides, I serve various Malaysian universities as an official recruiting agent for students from the East and Central African region,” he said. “Working in conjunction with the embassy, I have brought delegations of Malaysian investors to Kenya where they toured the Kenya Meat Commission at Athi River and the Camel Milk Processing Factory in Nanyuki,” he says.
“The tours not only helped open up Kenyan markets for Malaysian goods, but yielded offers from the Halal Department of the Ministry of Livestock for meat imports from Kenya. Market Kenya He praised Ambassador Samori Ang’wa Okwiya and Second Secretary Paul Mutha for coming up with the idea of involving Kenyans in the diaspora to market the country.
“It is cheaper and more efficient because people in the diaspora know their host countries better. “Take me, for instance. I am better placed to market Kenya in Malaysia as a tourist destination than a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official dispatched from Nairobi, because I can convince them in their own language and I know them well.
My local touch puts me in a unique position to know what we can offer besides coffee and tea,” he said. When I asked him if he will return to Kenya after finishing his studies, Buantai with a chuckle said: “Oh, yes, if a job in my area of specialisation is available and the offer attractive. Home is always best.”
Buantai said his children speak both Meru and Kiswahili as well as Bahasa Melayu. He revealed that he has been teaching them at home. “They speak Meru and Kiswahili. I personally teach them these languages at home. They also speak Bahasa Melayu and of course, English,” he said. “I am a strong believer in language as an important element of culture. Distance from home is not a hindrance. I fail to understand the rationale of parents in Kenya bringing up children who cannot speak the languages of their roots as happens these days in urban centres,” he adds.
The first born of two boys and one girl, Buantai went to Meru School and after sitting his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, briefly worked in the family business.
“A course at the Kenya Institute of Management secured me a job with the German Deutsche Gesellschaft Fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit where I was attached to the Ministry of Health Anti-Female Genital Mutilation campaign in Meru North and Tharaka Nithi districts. He reveals his ambition was to pursue further education in the health sector preferably in the United States of America, but costs and logistics proved prohibitive for his single mother.
Brazil abassador His father, James Buantai, perished in a road accident in Meru in 1996. “The Malaysia opening came in 2006 courtesy of my first cousin, Amb Kirimi Kaberia, who presently serves as Kenya’s ambassador to Brazil. I enrolled as an undergraduate student at Universiti Selangor (Selangor University) otherwise known as Unisel for a degree in biotechnology and life sciences focusing on pharmaceuticals.
I graduated in 2010.” For his Masters degree, he joined Universiti Putra Malaysia Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences to do research on stem cells and their effect on type two diabetes that is common in human beings. Research involves isolating stem cells from the blood in human umbilical cord upon which the cells are differentiated for the production of insulin. Buantai revealed that he met his wife Haryati at the university where they were both students.
“I had just completed my first degree in 2010. She was a student at the same university and our friendship blossomed. Fortunately for me, my wife hails from an enlightened family. Her father, who is a professor at the University of Malaysia, had no problem. He quickly blessed our marriage. Buantai’s daughters Aliya and Katrina are aged seven and two.