ICTVILLE

This youthful reverend has a unique story to tell

Posted In NEWS - By admin on Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 With No Comments »
Rev. Dawn Gikandi of Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) at PCEA Juja township church

Rev. Dawn Gikandi of Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) at PCEA Juja township church

This young church minister’s walk to the pulpit has been anything but smooth. Indeed, the story of Reverend Dawn Gikandi, 31, who was ordained into the Presbyterian Church of East Africa early this month, is a rich tapestry that has been woven since October 12, 1982 — the day her mother defied doctors’ advice to abort her.

Her mother, Purity Gikandi, was five months pregnant when she was hit by a car. She was rushed to the Uasin Gishu Memorial Hospital in Eldoret, where doctors, after conducting several tests, informed her that they could not detect the foetal heartbeat. This meant only one thing, that the baby had not survived the accident.

But just as Dawn’s mother was being wheeled to theatre for that necessary operation, the surgeons were called away to attend to a more urgent case and she was wheeled back to the ward.

An hour later, Purity, a school teacher, began to feel some familiar movement in her belly. She immediately called a nearby nurse, who casually told the first-time mother that she must have been imagining it.

What is that movement?

But Purity, who had been devastated when doctors announced that she had lost her baby, was convinced that she had not imagined the signs of life within her.

“We argued for a while and at some point, the frustrated nurse told me to just accept that my baby was dead,” says Purity.

Undeterred, she challenged the nurse to do a test; after all, she argued, it would not take much time, and it would give her peace of mind.

The nurse reluctantly did the test, which revealed that Purity was right. She was elated, and wanted to let the whole world know that her baby was alive, but the doctors did not celebrate with her.

Says Dawn, “They were sure I would be born with severe disabilities — mental and physical, and gave Mum a list of possible ones, such as being born in a vegetative state, spinal deformity, and inability to walk.”

Instead of risking all these, they advised Purity to abort the child, pointing out that she could always get another one.

But Purity insisted on keeping her baby, that there must have been a reason she had survived the accident. However, the doctors were convinced that she was making a monumental mistake and when her husband, Michael Gikandi, arrived at the hospital, they laid down their findings and impressed on him the need to abort the baby. To their surprise, he said: “I will go with whatever decision my wife has made.”

A MIRACLE

On 30 January, 1983, Purity went into labour and gave birth to a baby girl, whom she and her husband named Dawn. She was a weak child and her milestones were slow and painful. She needed help in doing just about everything.

Dawn’s parents, who say they never regretted the decision to keep her, were convinced that she would never walk. But when she turned six years, a miracle happened. Long after all hope that she would ever walk was lost, she took her first step.

Her mother told us, “We had come to terms with the fact that she would be reliant on us for the rest of her life.”

Buoyed by the accomplishment, they did not miss a day of physiotherapy, even thought it was expensive and time-consuming. House helps came and went, daunted by the task of taking care of Dawn, and at some point, her mother stopped working to take care of her.

Getting her a school was difficult because normal schools refused to admit her while schools for the disabled were reluctant to take her, pointing out that she was not totally disabled and would, therefore, perform better in an integrated school.

After moving from one school to another, Dawn eventually sat her KCPE at Thika Road Academy in Kahawa Sukari, Nairobi, scoring an impressive 513 marks out of 700 and earning a place at St Francis Girls High School, Mangu. However, she had to leave, since the facilities at the school were not disability-friendly.

Even though the Ministry of Education gave her a letter allowing her to join any public school suitable for her, it did not make it easier for her parents to get her one. School after school rejected her the moment they realised that she was physically challenged — even after offering her a place in absentia.

“In one school, they told me to go to the school that first selected me and ask them to make it habitable for me… It was very, very painful,” Dawn says.

Eventually, she was admitted to State House Girls High School.

“It was a tough four years. At some point, I suffered some kind of depression. There were just too many challenges, especially since I was unable to keep up with the pace of my classmates.”

She adds, “I wished I could go to a school that recognised my shortcomings, but my parents were convinced that a normal school would challenge me to reach my full potential. I am grateful that they made that decision, although back then, I resented it.”

Looking back, Dawn is convinced that the challenges she went through would have been easier to handle if her mind was not clouded with self-pity.

“My classmates were the best of people — they accepted me and did not give me a hard time. If I were to go back to high school today, I would have an easier time, enjoy it, and perform much better.”

SELF-ASSURED

Today, Dawn is nothing like the uncertain teenager she was — she is confident, assertive, and comfortable with who she is.

Dawn, who has muscular dystrophy — a condition where the muscles become weak over time and which doctors attribute to her in utero accident, walks with the help of a cane, but besides this, she is no different from the next person. She can use her hands and no longer needs help to perform normal tasks like bathing.

“I can also cook, but since I don’t enjoy it, I mainly eat fruits when I am at home — they are less work,” she jokes.

Dawn did not become a pastor by accident.

“When I was a child, I remember once telling my parents that I wanted to be a pastor when I grew up. Much later, I convinced myself that constantly dealing with people was not my cup of tea, and so instead of studying theology, I decided to study mathematics,” she says.

After high school, therefore, she joined Keriri Women’s University, only to drop out a year later and join St Paul’s University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity four years later.
She says she blossomed and found her purpose after high school when she got involved with the youth leadership in her church.

“I remember we would all struggle about matters of faith; for instance, why would a good God let bad things happen? ‘Why would’ questions came up all the time, yet we did not have fulfilling answers.

“My initial inspiration to study theology was: I have enough questions from myself and I have enough questions from them; why not study and at least be more informed even though I may never know everything that they want to know? Part of the reason I studied theology, therefore, was to be able to answer these young people in an honest way, in a sound manner.”

Well, she is doing that now. On 6 April this year, Dawn was ordained a reverend by the Very Reverend Dr Jesse Kamau. The fact that she is the first woman with a disability to earn this title was greeted with elation by the theological community.

Though Dawn is currently based at PCEA Juja township, she will soon move to the church in Bahati in the eastern outskirts of Nairobi.

A day in the life of a reverend is a busy one and is never the same.

Depending on what day of the week it is, Dawn holds sessions with members of the congregation who are in need of counselling in various areas of their lives, especially marriage — she studied marital counselling at university. She also visits the sick in hospital, makes home visits, conducts district prayers, attends funerals to condole with the bereaved, and officiates weddings. “Wherever I am needed, I go,” she says.

Dawn, who has a house help to assist with everyday tasks, is single. When we ask her whether marriage is on the cards, she refers us to a chapter she wrote in a book by women ministers titled: “If You Have No Voice Just Sing”, in which she says: “Most people don’t understand that I want to be single and in church. I have got all sorts of comments like, ‘What if you fall in love?’ In theory, the church takes single women seriously, being female, married or not, differently abled or not, you are disadvantaged in a way.”

She continues, “We should teach that singlehood is good…Single people are whole. God created them. Let them serve in that capacity. I am convinced that it is possible to be single, faithful, and have a good moral standing.”

-Nation

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