It’s a lazy Tuesday afternoon and I am going through my Facebook timeline. A post shared by Dennis Itumbi, the Director of Digital Communication in the Office of the President of the Republic of Kenya, catches my attention. It’s about a young man appealing for help to clear his hospital bill and I am tempted to pass it off as one of the numerous financial appeals that flock social media nowadays. But something in the post piques my interest and I read on.

The young man in question is Morris Gakuru Kanyi who is asking people to buy his tree seedlings so as to enable him offset a Ksh 200,000 hospital bill. Ingenious, right? I decide to call him for an interview. He picks the call enthusiastically, probably thinking it’s one of the people who want to order for the seedlings. I explain my business to him and he agrees to an interview.

On the D-day, we set off to the picturesque Kijabe town where AIC Kijabe Hospital is situated. We thank our lucky stars for the sun is out shining with no indication that it was going to rain. Trust me, you don’t want to be in Kijabe when it’s raining since the road downhill is in a bad state. The bumpy ride takes us to the seemingly sleepy town. From the outset, it’s appears nothing is going on but when you enter into the hospital’s compound, you quickly discard the thought. It’s a beehive of activity.

We later learnt that the hospital plays host to thousands of patients from across Kenya. It’s easy to pick out Morris from the tens of people loitering in the compound. He is in a wheelchair and his legs have been bandaged with special metal devices protruding visibly. His face lights up when he recognises us, and a fellow patient helps him up the ramp.

While I expected him to be gloomy bearing his present circumstance, Morris is the complete opposite. He is in a jovial mood as he ushers us into a restaurant where the interview takes place. Within no time, it feels as if we have known each other for a very long time. But such is his nature.

A difficult childhood

Admittedly, Morris had a very difficult childhood. His parents separated when he was very young and his mother took him and his sibling to live with their maternal grandparents in Embu County. Life was not easy since his grandparents were also in custody of Morris’ cousins hence their hands were full. Nonetheless, they took in Morris and his brother with the love that only comes from grandparents.

“My grandfather was a mason and to pay our school fees, he offered his services to the school with no pay. My mother was not in a position to take care of us and so we depended on grandpa entirely. Life must have taken a toll on him and he passed on in 1997. I was then in class four,” Morris explains.

Hence they struggled through primary school and since he was naturally intelligent, he passed his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) with flying colours, attracting invites from several performing secondary schools. But he couldn’t join any of the schools as his grandmother and mother could not afford the school fees.

He thus joined a local day school. But even here, school fees was still a challenge and he spent more days out of school than in school. It was only a matter of time before he threw in the towel and in form two, he dropped out of school.

This notwithstanding, Morris speaks fluent English and when I expressed my observation, he was quick to respond: “I was a very bright student. Despite missing school so many times, I managed to be ahead of the pack. Were it not for the school fees challenge, I wouldn’t be here now.”

Beating the odds

And why was he in hospital? Morris is a victim of a gang attack and it would be noteworthy to mention why a gang of thieves would be interested in a form two drop out. See, after dropping out of school, Morris engaged in casual labour but his desire to succeed in life saw him work his tail off. Soon enough, his hard work paid off and he began doing menial jobs in local schools such as clearing the compounds and repairing one or two things.

“Allow me to blow my trumpet, I am one person who is very hardworking and when I undertake a project, I do it with all my heart. I started with one school and before long, most schools in the area started seeking my services. In due time, I felt I needed to move to something else and I started supplying tissue papers to shops within the county,” says Morris adding that the tissue paper business did so well that he even bought a motorcycle to help him with the supplies.

Morris says that by 10am, he would be done with the deliveries and with more time in his hands, he delved into farming and more specifically, planting tree seedlings at his grandmother’s farm and other farms he had rented. The gods were smiling on him and business was good.

Morris’ willpower is overt from the way he speaks and how he generally carries himself. There is a certain aura of confidence that surrounds him that makes you hang onto his every word and this explains why the current Manyatta constituency Member of Parliament sought his services in the run up to the 2013 national elections, a job that he did very well. When elections were over, and his candidate having clinched the seat, he got a job with the County government and with his business running on the side, his bank account was looking up.

“Life was good. My business was doing well, my job allowed me to take loans to support my business and I had a beautiful wife to boot. What more could I ask for?” he explains.

Misfortune strikes

But on January 27 this year, something happened that totally changed the course of his life. He accompanied a friend, whose dad was in a critical condition in one of the hospitals in Nairobi.

“I updated my Facebook status that I was in Nairobi. Where I come from, when a businessman goes to Nairobi, it is assumed that he has gone to withdraw money and it seems my Facebook status reached the wrong people,” he explains wistfully.

He returned to his house in Embu at around 10pm. His wife then told him that she is expected at her parents’ home at 5am the following day and thus requested Morris to wake up at 4am so that he could escort her. Since his wife’s home was not far from where they were living, he suggested that he takes her home that same night so that he could get enough rest before going to work the following day. His wife obliged. A move that Morris says saved his wife’s life.

On coming back to the house, he hit the sack only to be woken up hours later with the sound of someone breaking his bedroom door. Before he could even recollect what was going on, the intruders had gained access to his room and were demanding money.

“I only had Ksh 20,000 with me. I gave them together with my phone but they were not satisfied. They were two of them and they started hitting me with a crowbar and an axe. I was screaming for help but none came. I used my hand to protect my head,” he explains showing me the scars on his hands and his fingers that were disfigured.

Not one to take a challenge lying down, he fought back and he managed to overpower them. The thieves then ran outside and he followed them to ensure that they were really gone. Wrong move. He had just stepped from the frying pan into the fire. Outside, they were more thieves who had taken places in each of the house in the compound to ensure no one came to his rescue.

“When I stepped out, I realised that the two thieves were not alone. They all ganged up on me, piercing every part of my body with the crowbars. They missed my backbone by the skin of a tooth. They used the axe to break my knees. These guys really tortured me. I decided to play dead and it paid off. One of them said I was dead and they ran away. After a few minutes and confirming that they were really gone, I called out to my neighbours assuring them that the thieves had gone,” he explains of his ordeal.

He was rushed to Embu Level 5 Hospital bleeding profusely. Thereafter, he was taken to Chogoria Hospital. Four months later and after six surgeries to reconstruct his bones, Morris was discharged from hospital. Whilst in hospital, Morris’ bone had an infection that hampered his recovery. But the hospital bill was piling and his family saw it wise for him to receive treatment for the infection whilst at home.

The infection did not respond to treatment and he was referred to AIC Kijabe Hospital for further treatment. The hospital required a deposit of Ksh 80,000. He only had Ksh 30,000 and he rallied his friends who managed to raise the balance. On Friday October 16, 2015, he was admitted at AIC Kijabe Hospital for a bone transfer surgery. This saw him undergo another five surgeries to enable him regain the use of his limbs.

On October 31, he decided to go check his hospital bill and was shocked to realise it stood at almost Ksh 300,000. Luckily, the deposit he had paid and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) would pay part of the bill and hence he was to look for Ksh 200,000.

“The infection is still viral but the reason I am getting discharged is because the bill is so high and if I continue to stay here, I may not be able to offset it. I spent a big part of that Saturday October 31, thinking of how to clear the bill. Then an idea struck me; I have almost 7,500 tree seedlings in my nursery. If I could get 200 people to take 10 seedlings at Ksh 100 each, I would be able to offset the hospital bill without calling for another harambee,” Morris explains.

And so he wrote on his Facebook page that he was about to be discharged from hospital and needed Ksh 200,000. He appealed to his friends to buy his seedlings. His post was shared widely on social media and soon, people were calling to order for the seedlings and he managed to raise the money.

“I am grateful to God and to my family and friends who have stood by me these trying times,” he says in conclusion. As an afterthought, his eyes gleaming with determination, he adds that he is going to walk soon. And I believed him. As we part ways, his wife and friend arrive to pick him so that they could clear with the hospital and go home.

lily@parents.co.ke