When Goldalyn Kakuya, the top student of the 2017 KCPE exam, was asked in a recent television interview whom she looked up to, her answer was quick and accurate – Dr Prahba Choksey, an Ophthalmologist based at Aga Khan Hospital Nairobi.
Although Goldalyn did not divulge much about her relationship with Dr Choksey, it was clear that this little-known doctor had played a significant role in Goldalyn’s success.
On Wednesday, when the two – Goldalyn and Dr Choksey – met at the NIC Bank headquarters in Nairobi, the joy and pride was palpable, it was a special kind of reunion.
Goldalyn and her parents walked into Dr Choksey’s office in 2015 because they had heard of this good doctor who offered free eye check-up and glasses to children and adults with albinism.
The two immediately struck a rapport and it was not long before Goldalyn’s mother, Matilda Tanga, pulled Dr Choksey aside.
“She told me that they needed support for Goldalyn’s education. They had two other children before Goldalyn and needed assistance with her school fees,” says Dr Choksey
Goldalyn’s mother showed Dr Choksey the girl’s report forms and told the doctor that Goldalyn had never become second in class in her entire school life.
Dr Choksey was immediately impressed and that day, Goldalyn and her parents left that office with a cheque of Sh40,000. Several other cheques have followed to partly pay for Goldalyn’s primary school education.
So, how did a doctor who offers free eye check-up for children with albinism end up offering scholarships to needy children?
Born in Parbhani, India, 65 years ago, Dr Choksey is the daughter of a doctor who instilled in her that humanitarian spirit.
She studied ophthalmology in India and lectured at the government medical college in Aurangabad. In 1987, she packed her bags and left for Kenya and was employed at Kenyatta National Hospital as a medical officer on a salary of Sh5,000.
She also taught at the University of Nairobi, with a good number of Kenyan ophthalmologists passing through her hands, before settling at Aga Khan Hospital.
Her first contact with children with albinism was in 2007 when one of her patients, Mrs Stella Kiguta- Nganga, brought in her son with albinism for an eye check-up.
“Of all the things about persons with albinism, the eyes are the most peculiar. Because they lack pigmentation, many people with albinism will squint in the sun and so people assume that they are blind, which is not true,” says Dr Choksey.
Her interaction with that child stirred something in her and sparked intense interest in albinism and eye-care.
Dr Choksey would then immerse herself in deep reading around albinism, spending copious amounts of time poring through journal articles, research reports and textbooks on the condition.
Her next patient with albinism was CK Nyambura, who surprised Dr Choksey by her strong eyesight and the fact that she could even drive without wearing glasses.
Dr Choksey would then team up with some women with albinism – Josephine Wangechi, Anne Mbui, Grace Nzomo and Florence Mithika – to reach out to more children and adults with albinism for free eye care.
“I was surprised that nine out of 10 persons with albinism that I interacted with could see much better than many people cared to know,” says Dr Choksey. “People focus on the skin, but the real disability is in the eyes. If they see an eye specialist at the beginning then they would not have any problem.”
When it was clear that Dr Choksey was passionate about children with albinism she was joined by High Court judge Mumbi Ngugi, who assisted her in reaching out to children with albinism.
Mr Zul Nimji, also a philanthropist, heard of her story and offered to pay for the glasses for children she treated.
It was her interaction with children with albinism that Dr Choksey became exposed to the myths and assumptions about albinism.
She read horror stories of people trading persons with albinism for thousands of dollars because it was believed that their bodies possessed magical healing powers.
She also realised that people with albinism were grossly misunderstood, stigmatised and disadvantaged. She also interacted with many from poor backgrounds who were kicked out of school due to lack of school fees.
So far, in the last 10 years, Dr Choksey has seen more than 1,000 persons with albinism, with 800 being children.
In 2011, it became clear that most of the children she was seeing were from poor backgrounds struggling to raise school fees.
She would rally her friends to help out once in a while, until she started her foundation, Dr Choksey Albinism Foundation to assist children from poor backgrounds.
In 2015, NIC Bank heard of her efforts and channelled funds to assist her foundation.
It was at this exact time when Goldalyn walked into her office, as if by divine appointment, and became a beneficiary of the partial scholarship.
“I saw something in Golda. She is very talented,” says the doctor.
So when news arrived that one of 'her children’ has topped this year’s KCPE exam, Dr Choksey was overjoyed.
“I feel so proud of her…it is almost like the pride of a mother.”