Last week we lost yet another pioneer educator. Edward Kairu Kinya was born around 1920 in Kariine, Gikui Village, Kangema, Murang’a District, to the late Kinya and Wanjiku.
He spent his early childhood herding goats but was also given to mischief with his friend, the late Runo. In one incident, while attending ndunyu (market) with his mother, he helped himself unilaterally to a kaihuri (small calabash used for serving food) from a Kamba woman. Unfortunately for him, when they got home, the calabash was discovered and he was severely caned. Thus, from an early age, he learnt the importance of integrity, a virtue that was to be central in his adult life.
Kairu started his education at Iyego, Githunguri Primary School — which was run by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) — at the age of 12.
In a twist of fate, he was soon expelled after participating in a Kikuyu rite of passage known as guciarwo na mburi, which the missionaries considered to be pagan.
Following this incident, his brother Gatembu invited him to Nairobi. Kairu was sent to a school kwa banji (Burns) that was situated on the present grounds of Parliament. He lived on Government Road with his brother where he slept under the staircase at the rear of a shop.
Life in Nairobi proved to be tough for the young Kairu and he often held brief for his brother at Mitchell Cotts where he was a messenger.
After some intervention and denouncing of “pagan” rites, he was readmitted to Githunguri Primary School where he sat and passed his Common Entrance Exam, proceeding to Kahuhia Intermediate School. It was at Kahuhia that Kairu was baptised, marking the beginning of his deeply Christian life.
Completing his primary school in the middle of World War II, he was recruited to join troops going to serve in Burma via Uganda but just as he was boarding a lorry, he was singled out on account of his command of the English and Kiswahili languages and assigned to Jeanne’s School in Kabete in 1944.
At Jeanne’s, he translated Kiswahili to the colonial officers and English to natives while undertaking a teacher training course. It was here that he met his bosom buddy James Gathuri.
He also attended to soldiers who had been wounded in the war at the hospital near Prince of Wales School (now Nairobi School).
As he neared the end of his stay at Jeanne’s School, a beautiful girl attending school in present day Mary Leakey Girls School caught his eye and he promised his friend Gathuri that he would one day marry her.
Leaving Jeanne’s School at the end of 1948, he joined CMS as a teacher in 1949 and was immediately assigned to establish Thika Technical School.
In 1951 he was assigned to Embu District where he started Kamuiri School in Kirinyaga.
While teaching at Kigari Teachers College in 1952, he kept his promise and married Priscilla Wanjiru, the girl he had met at Kabete.
Although Priscilla’s father, Wambari, of Kijabe Mission, was not impressed by this apparent mucenji from metumi he later confessed that he would have made a terrible mistake if he had not given his daughter to Kairu. They were blessed with six children.
During the State of Emergency, a senior headman, Muteti, from Ukambani was posted to Murang’a and he brutalised the local people. Kairu took it upon himself to personally complain to the Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, and Muteti was transferred.
Rising to the level of supervisor at CMS schools, Kairu’s name became synonymous with discipline and integrity.
Just before Independence, he resigned from CMS and tried his hand in politics, winning the election as the first chairman of Murang’a County Council.
After serving one term he joined the civil service as supervisor of schools in Murang’a. As supervisor se served with distinction and his observance of discipline raised the standard of education in the district.
LAW AND TRANSPARENCY
In 1965, the British government awarded him a scholarship to pursue a school administration course at Birmingham University in England.
After successfully completing the course, he was promoted to education officer on his return to Kenya in 1966, serving in Murang’a, Meru and Kiambu.
Concomitantly, he served on the National Water Services Board where he was known to be a stickler for the law and transparency even where members of his family were involved.
Kairu retired from government in 1978 upon reaching retirement age.
Once again, he tried his hand at politics, being elected councillor for Iyego Location where he served for one term. Thereafter, he was elected as chairman of Iyego Coffee Co-operative Society, a post he retained for many years.
He was a pioneer coffee farmer in Murang’a District having planted his first seedlings in 1959 after the ban on Africans planting coffee was lifted three years earlier.
He encouraged many farmers to grow coffee and adopt modern farming techniques. Kairu and his wife Priscilla introduced dairy farming in Iyego with grade cows that had incredible yields compared to the local cows.
He had a long and illustrious career from the early 1950s as a layman in the Anglican Church from providing tabuta (translation) services to serving in the Synod of Mount Kenya Central which covered the greater Murang’a region, retiring in the mid-1990s.
He was instrumental in building the church at Githunguri in the early 1960s and when his elder brother Gatembu could no longer walk to Githunguri, they both donated land to build ACK Kiawairegi Church.
He was revered within his community and many still referred to him as “mwalimu” up to his last days.
Kairu left us on the morning of Tuesday August 6 after a short illness. He was a part of an endangered species of men who have served the country and their families with integrity and selfless devotion.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.