No mountain too high: Whidbey student from Kenya is a study in determination

He came to this country without English. He learned it. He had no degree.He earned two.

He came to this country without English.

He learned it.

He had no degree.

He earned two.

Now he’s working on the third one in nursing.

He is Pius Mbithi, a Kenyan well on his way to receiving his bachelor of science degree in nursing at the University of Washington at Bothell.

He supports his mother and eight younger siblings in Kenya. He also cares for his American-sponsor “mom,” Kay Haw of Langley, with whom he resides.

“I’ve worked out a plan to graduate early to get the degree in March 2011,” Mbithi said.

It wouldn’t normally be a problem for the excellent student, who has wowed all of his teachers, including Mary Baroni, a nursing professor and the director of the nursing department on the Bothell campus.

“More than one teacher has told me that Pius is one of the most resilient and persistent people they’ve ever met,” said Baroni.

“And he’s a good enough student to double up his workload and finish in March.”

Indeed, Mbithi is a dean’s list student with a 3.97 grade-point average, and ambition that won’t quit. In seven years, he has passed ESL requirements, earned an associate’s degree in nursing, acquired his nursing certificate and an associate’s degree in science.

But he needs about $9,000 more to finish the next degree, and he no longer has a work visa. He intends, ultimately, to earn a master’s degree in nursing in five years or so.

If he can manage to finish his bachelor’s degree expediently, Mbithi will be on the way toward his dream of building a clinic in his home village, where he hopes to offer immunizations against easily prevented diseases such as malaria. Normally, he said, the people of his village must walk miles and miles to attain simple healthcare, so they usually go without it.

“Where I come from, people die from simple diseases,” Mbithi said.

At one point, Mbithi had saved enough money to build the clinic, thanks to a friend who bought him the land he needed on which to build. But tragedy struck when an earthquake hit in 2001.

That was followed by the aftermath of 9/11, which wiped out his father’s private safari taxi business. Mbithi found himself supporting all 10 other members of his family, but was hindered when his work permit expired and he could no longer work in the United States. He was forced to deplete his savings, and the hardship was made worse when his father died.

“I had a great relationship with my father,” Mbithi said. “He was always saying, ‘Education is the only way out of the Third World.’ As I grew older, education became my passion.”

Now he is driven to make sure he sends all of his siblings to college, and is currently paying the college tuition for two of his sisters, while making sure the younger ones get everything they need for school.

In short, he honors the man who inspired his dream by working as hard as he possibly can.

It was his father who first introduced Haw and her husband to the enchantment of Kenya by way of a taxi ride. They became friends, and the Haws began a longtime friendship with the family.

The young Pius would write to Haw regularly, and by the time he was ready to graduate from high school, she had made arrangements for him to study in the United States. The two have been close ever since.

Haw, now widowed, is daunted by the mountain of obstacles that Pius has handled with boundless grace.

“In the meantime, he’s taking very good care of me, bless his heart,” said Haw, who is battling kidney failure.

“I’m in stage four renal failure, and he says to me, ‘You will never have to worry, Mama, you will never have to worry.’ Because he cares, he really, really cares and he’s an excellent nurse,” Haw added.

Baroni agreed that Mbithi is a truly amazing person.

“I’m an administrator, so I’m pretty tough, but I was almost in tears with his story. It’s incredibly compelling, and I was very moved,” Baroni said. “I think he is the exactly the kind of young man we need in nursing.”

Mbithi accepts the compliments graciously, but shows a distinct calm and determined focus on the task at hand, qualities that would be gratifying at the side of any sickbed.

“My goal is reachable by remaining focused and taking one step at a time,” Mbithi said.

Mbithi welcomes donations made payable to Pius Mbithi, 4964 Fire Weed Place, Langley, WA, 98260. He can also be reached at 360-544-5896 or 360-420-7711.