TALES OF COURAGE: How I made it from rural Kisii to Harvard
My journey from Kerongorori SDA Mixed Secondary School to a research scholar at Harvard University’s Global Clinical Scholars Research Training Program is a full testament of how far one can get with the right attitude and determination. I believe obstacles are inevitable, and perhaps necessary, on the path to success.
One of the things I had to deal with early in life was my stuttering. As a child, I had a stutter that made it hard for me to express myself eloquently. It would particularly manifest itself whenever I was afraid, excited or uncertain about something. It was disabling, especially when I needed to assert myself. Many times in school, while playing in the village or during Sunday school classes, I would become tongue-tied, not because I didn’t know how to speak, but rather because I couldn’t get past certain sounds and words. By the time I was in upper primary school, I stuttered so intensely that my peers used to joke that I should become a rapper.
TAUNTED FOR STUTTERING
The more I was taunted, the more intense my desire to overcome this handicap became. My solution was to read out loud from books, magazines and newspapers. I particularly searched for those sounds that were the most problematic for me. “L”, “Th”, “D”, “P” and “J” were notable culprits. I started listening to radio keenly. I also spent a lot of time listening to older people speak and emulating how they articulated words. Though I made impressive progress, vestiges of the stutter still remain. However, the unconventional pauses that characterise my speech make me sound composed. It always amuses me when audiences think I am being deliberate in my speech when I pause in the most unexpected places in my sentences.
WERE YOU AT MANG’U HIGH SCHOOL?
“Job, were you at Mang’u High School?” is a question I am used to hearing from curious strangers. Many of my classmates at Moi University’s School of Medicine assumed I must have studied at Mang’u! Sometimes it is Alliance High School, Starehe Boys Centre or some other “big” school. The fact that I had already overcome the intense vernacular accent, largely subdued the stutter, and performed well in class all contributed to create this impression. In addition, of course academic excellence is not one of the things Kerongorori SDA Mixed Secondary School was known for.
Most people hear about Kerongorori for the first time when our paths cross. By 1998, when I enrolled at Kerongorori, the highest accolade the school had ever achieved was being ranked by the Ministry of Education among the most improved schools in the district. Despite its 11-year history, no student had ever qualified to go to university from this school. At that time, Kerongorori had no library or laboratory. In fact, only half of the classrooms had cemented floors; the rest were raw earth. The setting was so basic that only the Form Four classroom had wooden windows; the rest didn’t have any.
The school was dependent on the meagre fees paid by students. Since the formal staff establishment was completely deficient, the school had to plug the gaps by hiring Form Four leavers as teachers. As a result, most of my teachers were Form Four leavers. It always used to make me wonder. For example, I would be seated in class telling myself, “Job, you have to get an A here to qualify for medical school,” yet the subject teachers had not managed even a B grade in the subjects they were teaching me. Most of the teachers were untrained and not highly motivated.
I remember, on the morning I took my final Chemistry Paper One exam, I was rained on heavily as I ran to school. I arrived 30 minutes late, drenched to the core, yet I still sat for my paper cold, wet and shivering. I still managed to score an A.
For the environment I came from, I was an amazing speaker of English but in this class, my language was laughable. I accepted my challenge, continued reading out loud, and started listening religiously to BBC radio, every day. Of course, I also copied some impressive speakers in medical school. By my third year of medical school, my language had been revolutionised and my pronunciation undergone a complete transformation. Now, it’s almost impossible to identify me with any tribe based on my pronunciation. Because I love the journey, I continue to work on the articulation, vocalisation, and mastery of the spoken word. The lessons I learned have been the foundation of the training I offer to other people in public speaking.
HOW I ENDED UP AT KERONGORORI
My parents were unable to pay my fees even though I had passed my KCPE well enough to earn a place in one of the ‘Big Five’ schools. I enrolled in Form One six months after my peers had joined Form One in various schools across the country. It was not an easy transition for me because I had fantasised about joining a big school for a long time. As a result, when it became clear that I would not make it despite having received the admission letter, I was hurt. By the time I reported at Kerongorori, I was still in pain and denial of losing the opportunity to join one of the best schools in the country. By then, I had knocked on every door I thought of to seek financial help, all to no avail.
My mother was my pillar and number one fan. No matter how bleak things seemed, she stood by my side and helped me dream of a better reality. She exemplified an undying love for learning; that’s one thing I learned from her without ever hearing a lecture from her. She has a neat handwriting, I aspired to write as neatly as she did! She always reminded me, “Remember who you are, a son of God with unlimited possibilities.” Her words spur me on to this day.
Job Mogire ( left) at Harvard University in 2008 during a student exchange programme. He is with his fellow classmates from Moi university Medical class. PHOTO| COURTESY
My father is in the same league; though he had no formal job, there was no limit to the extent he would go to ensure that whatever he could do was done with excellence. He is a man who always gave his all. He taught me the value of excellence without ever having to utter words to it. He was also my first .Mathematics teacher. He taught me the Roman numbers long before they were covered in class. In essence, he taught me to love numbers and to relish calculating things. He also taught me a lot of Latin vocabulary. Unknowingly, he showed me that I could learn anything I wished to learn and have fun doing it. No matter how tough anything I tried may seem, he taught me, I only needed to stick to it long enough!
Though they stood by me through the bleak season, it didn’t take away the reality that I had to make things work. Sometimes things were really tough, especially when my mother was sick for several months and the family’s finances were depleted. Sometimes I feared I could lose my dream, but I never did. Somehow, each new challenge unearthed within me a new resolve to persevere. I kept on pushing, trudging, and rising against every other odd in my way. I walked to neighbouring schools to participate in laboratory experiments. I searched for and borrowed books and papers. I did not spare any effort, because I had sword that my dream of becoming a doctor would not die at Kerongorori.
TOOK CHARGE OF OWN DESTINY
I am glad I didn’t give up. Right from Form One, I became my own teacher in most subjects. I really had no option. To qualify for medical school, I had to score straight A’s in all subjects, even in Chemistry and Biology despite the lack of a laboratory in my school. It would have been easy to blame the school for lack of facilities, or my parents for their poverty, or the government for lack of bursaries for poor but bright students. None of that, however, would have brought me closer to my dream. Lamentations never do.
The independence I gained while teaching myself almost every single subject except history, CRE, and Commerce, has been one of the strengths for which I am grateful. These lessons are the foundation of my message to the world and the reason I started the House of Mastery to help people set high goals, pursue them relentlessly, and achieve personal growth that would prepare them for even bigger goals. I believe in the power of faith augmented by discipline and backed up by unyielding persistence. Whether I am teaching people Public Speaking, Personal Mastery, Personal Branding, or Emotional Intelligence, my message is simple: you have to make the pursuit of the goal a lifestyle, do it every day, whether you feel like it or not, till it becomes part of your identity!
Job Mogire during a public speaking session. PHOTO| COURTESY
My dream had always been to experience life at Harvard University. I knew I would love to study there, but I never knew it would come so soon! Not only am I now formally affiliated to Harvard University as a research scholar; I have also had the opportunity to study in, visit, and tour other amazing institutions such as University of California-San Francisco, University of Bergen (Norway), University of Ghent (Belgium), University of Vienna (Austria), University of Montpellier (France), University of Cape Town (South Africa), Brown University (USA), University of Tromso (Norway) and Queen Margaret University (UK), among numerous others. I have also been blessed to travel to almost all continents of the world.
All this is thanks to my persistence, my family, the teachers who believed in me, the amazing friends I have made along the way, the mentors who have held my hand, the patients and clients I serve as a doctor and coach, and many other people who believed in me. Above all, God has led my path and preserved my life.