By Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Harrison Mwanzi
How would you react if you found out you won a 500 million dollar lotto jackpot? Especially if you and your family you had been living on less than a dollar a day? That is how I felt when I realized I “won”an American green card.
The Fourth of July evokes different meanings and emotions to all of us. I took a moment today to reflect on what the day means to me, where I came from, where I am today and where I am headed.
I am writing this blog while aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) deployed on Pacific Partnership 2015, during our Papua New Guinea (PNG) stop.
I am motivated to write this after going to the Community Health Engagements (CHEs) in Bougainville, PNG. I relate to the life circumstances of most of the villagers in Bougainville. How can one un-see a sickly mother with a sickly baby standing in the rain and mud with no shoes, waiting for a lucky chance to get healthcare?
I am not supposed to be here. I’m just a kid from a small village in Kenya, and I am now in the great Pacific region teaching and providing healthcare on the world’s largest, floating modern hospital.
I was born in 1981 in a remote village and was raised by my parents who were peasant farmers. When I was young I didn’t know my exact birthdate, so I got to choose my own – July 30! If you were on a CHE in Arawa, PNG, you would notice that some patients did not know their birthdays. That is common in many parts of the world.
Hospitals and healthcare are a luxury in remote rural areas around the world. At age 7, I almost died of leprosy, but was saved by missionaries, providing free immunizations and preventive medicine. Shoes and cars are a luxury. When I was sick with leprosy, we had to hike for miles on bare feet to get to the site where the missionaries were providing healthcare. It is the only time I remember being sick. You cannot afford to get sick in the villages, because there are only local herbs (mwarobaini) to cure you.
My dad could not finish school because it was not affordable. He implored me every day to perform well at school so I could have a better life, not only for myself but for my family. He wished he had the opportunity that I had to have a western education.
I thought I had a second shot at life after getting cured of leprosy and was inspired by the providers who left the comfort of their homes and their countries to heal the world. I vowed that I would also make the world a better place.
I was blessed enough, defied all odds, and by grace, got admission to Moi University in Kenya, where I graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Business Management, majoring in accounting and finance. While at the university, I learned French, took certified public accountant classes,in addition to speaking English, Swahili and Luhya. I thought Kenya had too many local dialects until I found out that PNG has over 800!
I moved from the countryside to Nairobi city after graduating to seek employment in the financial and accounting industry. My cousin, who is a physics professor at the University of Nairobi, offered me accommodations. Initially, it was hard to get a job in the city, especially when you are not accustomed to city life. My cousin is a visiting professor for many global universities, including the U.S. He had spent seven years in Germany while completing his doctorate. He wished he had had the means to send me to any first world country, even if only for a day. He embodied most of the things I looked for in life.
One year quickly passed by after my graduation without a meaningful job. Meanwhile, I applied to universities in the United Kingdom and the U.S., but I also applied for a U.S. green card.
Living in the city for a year unemployed was hard and transformed me from a country boy to a city dweller. Eventually, I was able to get a job in one of the leading banks. I quit that job after I “won” the green card to the U.S. At the time, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. (However, the birth of my daughter has since replaced that feeling.)
When I broke the news to my cousin, he immediately advised me to join the U.S. military as soon as I entered the U.S. He said that U.S. military members command global respect and pride. He also said that being a member of the U.S. military would make me successful and bring pride back to our village back home in Kenya.
Initially, I was a little hesitant to join the military when I arrived in the U.S. I worked in a bank for a year, but my cousin’s words never left my thoughts. Every day, I compared my civilian life with the lives I saw of service members I met every day. Service members’ lifestyle beat civilians every time! I asked a recruiter about a commission as a Naval medical service officer so that I could put my academic background to use. However, it was not possible because I was only a permanent resident, not a U.S. citizen. I was ready to do all it took to be a U.S. citizen. I wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July like any other American.
Everything about America is what I had dreamt of my entire life. Joining the U.S. military would quickly propel and make my dreams come true – dreams to heal the world and make it a better place.
I did not want to waste any more time. I asked my recruiter to sign me up for anything, as long as I was part of this great organization. He proposed that I become ahospital corpsman, which I quickly accepted. On July 30, 2010 I joined the delayed entry program, and swore my allegiance to the president of the United States and the Constitution of the United States of America.
I will forever be grateful for the U.S. and especially on this Independence Day weekend. Thank God for U.S.independence. My family will never have to go through what I went through. I fight tears in my eyes every time I think about the sacrifices made by those who have gone before us, who created the foundation of values, like honor, courage and commitment. I respect those of us who still hold onto these values. We give some every day, but some gave all. This is what makes the U.S. great. This is what made me leave my birth country and make the U.S. my home. No one loves their country as Americans do.
A special thanks goes to the writers of the Constitution who were so smart enough to see 200 years in to the future, without which, I would never have had a chance to be here. I can comfortably say that, having lived in Africa for most of my life, and now in the U.S., I have the best appreciation of what America is to the rest of the world. It is truly the land of free and the home of the brave. I could not be in any better place other than here in the U.S. God bless the USA and happy Fourth of July!