A TRIBUTE TO TEACHERS
This article is a tribute to all the men and women who, having scaled the heights in their chosen careers and excelled at what they do, have the bigness of heart to get back into the classroom and share what they know with the younger generation: TEACHERS, university professors in particular.
In the Swahili-speaking world, the word “mwalimu” carries two meanings. Some people are teachers by occupation. Some other people, having been teachers at some point in their lives, so inspire their charges that “mwalimu” becomes an honorary title for the rest of their lives. Upon this title is conferred unmatched prestige and reverence, and it is reserved for exceptional people whose charges go on to become leaders in their own right. Such a man was Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the founding president of the independent republic of Tanzania.
At a more personal level, my uncle Mwalimu Kiamba was born, lived and died a “mwalimu”. The eldest of four children, he parented and educated his siblings from a very early age. For him, the role of teacher was inseparable from that of parent. He started school at the age of fifteen, and became a teacher the following year: assisting new students to assimilate what he had learnt the previous year. Born in 1928, Mwalimu Kiamba traversed pre-independence Kenya in search of an education; moving from one school to the next when he qualified to move to a higher level. Eventually he sat for his A-levels at the age of forty-seven, and went on to become the founding principal of many primary and secondary schools that have since become centres of academic excellence in Machakos District.
Even as he was being taught and was teaching others, Mwalimu Kiamba adopted many nieces and nephews with selfless zeal: feeding, clothing and educating them along with his own eight children. And as these graduated and joined the ranks of the civil service as teachers, doctors, lawyers and accountants, his generosity was extended further a field: to the village, the province, and eventually the whole country. There is no doubt in my mind that had Mwalimu Kiamba been born in post-independence Kenya, he would have become a full professor. In a life-time of teaching, pastoring, counselling and mentoring, he touched the lives of countless Kenyans.
And they showed up in their thousands to bid him farewell in April 2008: unbidden and undeterred by an adverse security situation (post-election violence). It seemed as if the whole country was mourning with us. And mixed in with the grief, was a universal regret that future generations of Kenyans would not have the privilege of knowing such a great leader. Over and above the loss and grief, however, there was an outpouring of love so phenomenal that I can only describe it as a spiritual experience.
And so it is that Mwalimu Kiamba remains for me, in death as he was in life, the embodiment of what a leader should be. In his memory I salute all the “Walimu” out there. To those men and women whose selflessness inspires people in their formative years and lays the foundation for them to become leaders later in life, hongera!
© Esther Mbithi 2008
Published in the Carleton University Magazine, Fall 2008