BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE
Special to Simerg
This is a revealing story with pictures of Kundan Paatni (nee Shah), a dedicated nurse who qualified from the Aga Khan School of Nursing and served at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi in the 1960’s. Kundan’s story is appropriate in light of the 2015 Aga Khan University, East Africa, Convocation which is being held in Dar-es-Salaam (February 24, 2015), Kampala (February 26) and Nairobi (March 2). The convocation will be presided over by the Patron and Chancellor of the University, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan.
Kundanben Pattni recalled her days at the Aga Khan Nursing School Programme in the 1960s by sharing with me photos from her archives. Kundan has been running The Woman’s Shop at Sarit Centre for many years, and many a rare item has been found here – from needles to yarns, fabrics to high quality scissors, her shop is a draftsmanship paradise.
Kundanben was born and raised in Mombasa. She is an alumnae of the Coast Girls High School. Her parents lived in Mombasa. At the end of her high school she would have liked to go to England to further her career. As all caring parents, her father did not want her to leave the country. England was just too far away. Luck was on the ambitious girl’s side. Her parents moved to Nairobi. Here she had the opportunity to pursue a career of nursing at the Aga Khan Hospital, under the administration of Mr. McBride.
The Aga Khan Hospital, now Aga Khan University Hospital (AKU) boasted a state of the art School for Nursing. The graduates were proud of their great success, as well as proud of the ethics and compassion with which they were endowed.
Kundanben recalls with pride the smart uniforms they had and the wonderful residence where they had a room to themselves, or a shared room. The training was excellent and very thorough. There was excellent food that even catered to vegetarians. They had access to good reading material. They generally lived under healthy rules which included retiring at ten, when it was “lights out.”
Over the weekend they could visit home. They had a well grounded ethos — the discipline of hard work, compassion and dedication to the cause of nursing. For, she said, “nursing was a calling.” It has been a profession that has never paid well.
From the team, she specially recalled Benie, a deeply compassionate person. The matron was an exemplary role model. Those were days of true dedication to patient care, it was not just a job.
She reminisced, recalling names of Kamar Verjee (nee Nathani), Mariam Gangji who passed on recently, Nurjehan Nanji who is successfully running her own Homes and Health Care facilities in Canada which cater for Alzheimer’s patients.
When Kundan found the love of her life, her concerned parents almost moved her out of Nursing School, but the matron intervened and Kundanben was able to complete her nursing career.
Kundanben recalls the visit of His Highness the Aga Khan to the Hospital in 1960s. She says:
“We were allocated different floors for this very special visit. The Aga Khan was to be accompanied by none other than our President, Jomo Kenyatta. Two such dignitaries at the same time accompanied by Mr.McBride, our administrator, was indeed very special. We were posted on various floors so that we could escort the VIPs through the wards.
“To my overwhelming surprise the lift door opened on to the fifth floor where I was in charge. There they were, the Aga Khan and the President. I was honoured and awed. I felt like the luckiest person on earth. I met all the dignitaries and escorted them through the impeccable ward of which we were so proud.
“We were also present at the opening ceremony of the new building, at the graduation ceremony, and the opportunity to take a group photo with dignitaries. It made all of us feel proud and an important part of the Aga Khan Hospital. What memorable days those were!
“Once when I was on duty on the physiotherapy room, the heavy rains flooded the room. We were not deterred. We picked up the hems of our uniforms and waded through the water. After all we were on duty. We were a diligent and dedicated lot.”
These are some of the fond memories of doing a job with an institution with high standards. There was no place for mediocrity. Kundanben did marry the love of her life, and has a happy family. When she and her husband moved to Zambia she was easily able to work as a nursing sister in a hospital. Their move to Arusha enabled her to work at the Arthur Davidson Children’s Hospital. It was a huge hospital.
Later in life Kundanben, spent time at the Aga Khan University and the M. P. Shah hospital where she was in charge of the intensive care unit.
Date posted: Saturday, February 14, 2015.
Last updated: Saturday, February 21, 2015.
Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee.
About the writer: Shariffa Keshavjee is a philanthropist and an entrepreneur with an objective to help women empower themselves. Raised in Kisumu, she considers herself a “pakaa” Kenyan. She is now based in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. Her other interest is in visual arts where she delights in painting on wood, silk and porcelain using water colours, oils and acrylics. She also likes writing, especially for children, and bird watching.
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Links to a selection of articles by Shariffa Keshavjee on simerg and simergphotos:
- Bagamoyo’s Historic Ismaili Jamatkhana Through Pictures, Poetry and Prose
- Inferno of Alamut
- The Jamatkhana in Toronto — “A Seed of Faith Planted…” by Shariffa Keshavjee
- My Fascination with the Once “Exotic” World of Paan