The story of Goldalyn Kakuya is one that many Kenyans can easily recall. In 2017, Goldalyn made headlines when she became the first-ever student with albinism to emerge the best in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations.
It was an inspiring win, not only for Goldalyn and her family, but also for Dr Prabha Choksey, who personally knew the young girl.
Dr Choksey, the founder of Dr Choksey Albinism Foundation, still recounts Goldalyn’s story with a proud smile.
At an event recently held by her foundation, she spoke of meeting Goldalyn for the first time in 2015. Goldalyn’s mother had sought her assistance in paying Goldalyn’s fees. Dr Choksey was greatly impressed with the girl’s school reports.
“She had been in the first position in every class since she started primary school,” says Dr Choksey.
During the event, Dr Choksey handed out school fees cheques to children with albinism. With the assistance of NIC bank (now NCBA bank) she has been helping parents of children with albinism pay school fees for their children since 2011.
The foundation’s history, however, dates back to 2007.
In 2007, Dr Choksey, a practicing ophthalmologist, received several cases of children with albinism at her clinic in the Aga Khan University Hospital. What struck her at the time were the misconceptions about people with albinism. Almost 80 per cent of the parents of children with albinism took their children to special schools since it was commonly believed that every person born with albinism was partially or completely blind.
“I realised that the situation was really bad. Mothers hid their children and, as a result, many of the children had never gone to school. Children with albinism were taught in braille both at the primary and secondary level. Then they would go to university and there was no braille at that level,” says Dr Choksey.
She committed her resources to studying the eyesight conditions of children born with albinism. It was an interesting study, and one that had not been given enough attention in Kenya.
People with albinism are born without melanin pigmentation in their skin, hair and eyes. The lack of melanin pigmentation causes low visual acuity as well as photosensitivity, but the condition rarely causes blindness.
Dr Choksey found out that, with photochromatic lenses and spectacles to correct low visual acuity, many children with albinism could attend regular schools and perform well without the assistance of large-font texts. She decided to start a foundation where she would provide free eye check-ups for children with albinism.
Dr Choksey’s philanthropic spirit was evident to her colleagues, friends and family who came out to help her in cash and in kind. Even when she had no means, she did not turn down any family that sought her assistance. The foundation started out by paying school fees for 15 to 20 children every year. Over time the number grew to 40 children and it was around this time that NCBA bank stepped in to partner with the foundation.
In its 12 years of existence, the foundation has remained true to its motto, ‘Help Ever, Hurt Never.’ It has seen over 1,200 children with albinism receive free eye treatment and obtain school fees funding. Currently, NCBA bank pays school fees for between 60 and 70 children with albinism every year.
The M-Pesa Foundation Academy currently sponsors six children under the foundation.
The doctor says her dream is that these children will grow up to be judged by the content of their character, not by the colour of their skin. For her philanthropic efforts, she has received many awards and recognition from humanitarian organisations locally and internationally.
Past beneficiaries of the foundation attended the event – one of them, Beatrice Ngugi, recited an ode to Dr Choksey in which she termed the assistance she had received an ‘unpayable debt’.
“Sweet mother, mother of mercy, mother of good heart, mother of love, that is who you are… Words are not enough to express my gratitude but this remains my unpayable debt,” she said.
Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi, who also attended the event, termed the doctor her ‘soul sister’ and a pillar of hope for people with albinism. She reminded the children to lend a shoulder to those in need once they become successful adults.
“It is important to pay it forward. When we succeed we have to become an inspiration for others and help others where we can,” she said.