In honor of National Nurses Week, we wanted to share this story by our good friend, missionary nurse and nurse educator, Mary E. Hermiz, RN, MSN, EdD. Mary has spent over 30 years of her life serving in long-term medical missions, starting in Papua New Guinea in 1974. She later served as the Dean of the School of Nursing at Tenwek Mission Hospital in Kenya. She now currently serves as Missionary Emeritus with World Gospel Mission. In this story, Mary shares about the humble beginnings of Tenwek’s School of Nursing…
Dr. Steury, the first permanent doctor at Tenwek Hospital, Kenya, had a dream of having an accredited school of nursing. In 1987 this dream became a reality. There was excitement in the air as the first class of 13 students began their studies.
Originally, the school of nursing was located in the walkout basement of Tenwek Hospital. It didn’t take long to realize that being beneath the hospital wasn’t the best situation. During exams, when everyone was quiet in the classroom, it was easy to hear the noises over head from the hospital. The sound of patients walking with crutches was very humorous at times. Loud crying when someone received a poor diagnosis was disconcerting. One day a patient was told he had AIDS. A close relative couldn’t handle the probable death sentence, so he jumped out the window right above the classrooms. He was injured but lived. It was very unsettling to say the least.
One of the biggest stressors was when the sewage pipes that were between floors burst. That mess was very unpleasant. The pipes seemed to burst at least annually in one of our school offices. As the school grew and the above issues became more disruptive I began to look for solutions. I had the ceilings lowered and the space filled with sawdust – only to learn that made the mess of bursting pipes worse.
In 1994, the teachers began to dream of a school not attached to the hospital. Rough sketches were drawn, and Dr. Steury called the architects from Nairobi to come and meet with us. We needed real plans, so we could get a cost estimate to begin raising funds. The estimated cost was $300,000. If God was in our desire for a new school building, we knew the funds would come.
Later in 1994, I returned for Homeland Ministry Assignment. I also began my doctoral studies. One of the first courses I took was Grant Proposal Writing. Thinking I now had this great knowledge, I wrote a proposal. Over the next year, I sent it to 50 organizations which I thought might provide funding. What a shock and disappointment when not one organization responded positively.
In 1996, I joined the hospital in writing a proposal to USAID. The hospital requested funding for two new buildings, and I requested funding for a new school of nursing building. A few months later, we received word that the grant for the hospital had been approved, and the school had received preliminary approval. Shortly thereafter two men from USAID visited the hospital.
After touring the hospital, they asked to meet with me and the CEO, Susan Carter, to discuss the issue with the school. Tenwek Hospital had received funding before from USAID, and the men were quick to tell us that they like giving funds to Tenwek because they get more for their money. But they had an important question for me, “Would the nursing school be willing to accept all students who applied and met our academic qualifications regardless of their religion?” They said we only had to do this for three years, then we could go back to our previous standard. There was no hesitation on my part as I replied, “Thank you for the offer, but no thank you.” They said they understood but just wanted to be sure. Because of US policy, the school proposal was rejected. I wasn’t sad because I knew that if it was God’s will for us to have new facilities, He would bring in the funding.
With this last rejection, I closed the file on this project. This was especially disappointing as the school and hospital had recognized that the general nurse training (2 ½ years) we were currently teaching was not producing nurse managers. The registered nurse course would provide this extra training. Our hope was to begin training registered nurses (3 ½ years) in a new nursing school building. But it obviously wasn’t God’s timing.
In 1998, I received an email from Dr. Steury telling me he had been asked to be the speaker at a missions conference at a church in Palm Desert, California. He was asked to select a project for the conference. He said to me, “Mary, it is time for the school of nursing.” I knew right then that the new school building would be a reality. Yes, I was excited!! We received about $50,000 from the conference! Only $250,000 to go!
It was Easter weekend of the same year, and I was on duty working with students in the hospital. I went to my office to get some papers, and when I did, all of a sudden the sewage pipes burst. I quickly removed everything in the way of the sewage and called the plumbers to come. In a couple of hours things were under control, and it would turn out that this disaster was a blessing in disguise. I was in the process of writing a prayer letter, so I took the opportunity to tell my prayer and financial supporters about the sewage mess. I did not know that a person who received my letter was on the board of a Christian foundation. Within just a few weeks the foundation sent a check for $70,000!
It was time to go back to the organizations that had turned me down to let them know we had $120,000 in hand. At the end of eight months the entire $300,000 was raised! The rest of the funding came from both individuals and organizations. We still needed funds to furnish the school-desks, chairs and teaching aides for both teachers and students. In February 1999, the same church in California invited me to come and speak for their missions conference, and it was there that we raised enough to furnish the school. Truly it was a dream come true.
It has been a delight to teach in such a beautiful facility that truly was a gift from God and all in His timing.