115km down, 3,885km to go… Now that wheelchair fundraiser Zack Kimotho has completed Phase 1 of his mission, he talks to Carol Gachiengo about exhaust fumes, fatherhood and forgiveness
When I told a friend I’d just spent the afternoon talking to Zack Kimotho, her response was immediate: “Oh, Zack – is he back? How’s he doing?”
It was as though she was enquiring about an old friend – even though they’ve never actually met. Which pretty much sums up how most of us Kenyans think of Zack: as an old friend who is doing amazing things and whom we are all proud to know, even if we don’t know him personally.
Zack – as you all know – is Dr Zachary Kimotho, a veterinary doctor, graduate of the University of Nairobi, and CEO and founder of Zydok-lh Ltd, a company producing animal healthcare products. But he is also the amazing individual who in 2004 survived being shot in a carjacking, and who recently began an epic 4,000km wheelchair expedition to South Africa in order to raise funds to build Kenya’s first Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Centre. Through the Bring Zack Back Home campaign he has become a household name and the embodiment of the quintessential Kenyan we all aspire to be: selfless and inspirational.
No regular day job A journey of hope” is how Zack describes the first phase of his trip to South Africa – his chosen destination because that’s where the nearest such rehabilitation centre is currently located. “But not a journey for the faint-hearted,” he adds.
Each day, Zack hit the road at 8am, rain or shine, and kept going until 4pm, five days a week. Though keeping office hours, this was nothing like a regular ‘job’ – extreme weather conditions, car fumes and selfish drivers all presented great difficulties.
“July was unusually cold and windy,” Zack says, “but when the sun broke out it would get extremely hot.” The situation was worsened by the fact that there were no wheelchair-accessible washrooms along the way in which he could refresh himself.
“The wheelchair I had for the expedition was well adapted for that kind of workload. It is new in the market and was donated by Motivation Kenya,” he continues. But, though he had good equipment, things were still tough: the exhaust fumes from trucks huffing uphill were sickening and, every once in a while, a driver would ignore Zack’s safety crew and pass dangerously close.
Aside from everything else, he missed his family terribly. For Zack, family has always come first. The worst time of his life, he says, was when he was told – while still in hospital following the shooting – that his brother had drowned. The best time of his life, he declares with a contented smile, is every day that he gets to watch his son grow up: “He is a jewel that makes my life shine.”
Ten-year-old Daniel didn’t immediately approve of Zack’s plan to travel by wheelchair to South Africa – in fact, “Forget it, Dad!” was his first response. Zack, a single parent since being widowed in 2003, was keen to ensure that his son understood why he was undertaking such a challenge, and to reassure him that it would be safe. Only with his son’s blessing could Zack’s journey begin. “Preparing psychologically to be away from Daniel was the greatest effort I had to make,” Zack says.
The power of belief So Zack is back – briefly. I met him in Nairobi in late August; after 60 days on the road, he’d progressed 115km towards the Tanzanian border and completed Phase 1 of his mission. He hasn’t yet raised the full Ksh 250 million required to build Kenya’s first Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Centre, but the funds donated so far mean that at least construction can begin.
As we spoke, he was preparing to attend the foundation-stone-laying ceremony in mid-September before beginning Phase 2 of his journey – though, if the additional Ksh 177million is donated in the interim, he won’t need to head off again.
“It’s all for a good cause,” he says, reiterating his intention to keep heading south until all of the money is raised.
A glow from within him lights up his eyes as he speaks of the centre he is working so hard to fund – the 150-person-capacity in-patient block, the out-patient section, the playgrounds, the swimming pool, the serene arboretum brimming with nature that will heal the soul; in his mind’s eye, Zack sees it as though it were already completed. “I’m very grateful for all the generous contributions,” he smiles. “Our dream will come true.”
He seems so positive. I wonder what he would say now to the men who shot him and forever changed his life? Would he forgive them?
“I forgave them a long time ago,” he responds, without hesitation. “I would tell them that what they did was wrong, but I would also extend forgiveness. Because if you keep hate in your heart, it will only destroy you.” However, there are no excuses for criminality or underachievement in Zack’s book. He believes each individual has the capacity to determine their own destiny and forge their own success. “If I can accomplish this in a wheelchair,” he says, “just imagine what an able-bodied person can do.”
Back Zack by buying a unique work of art!
Kenya Yetu commissioned these two evocative paintings of Zack from illustrator and artist Ndeithi Kariuki (ndeithikariukiart.kbo.co.ke).
Now we’re auctioning them to raise funds for the Bring Zack Back Home campaign. This is your chance to buy a piece of exciting, original art for your wall – and help Zack’s fundraising effort. The artist has generously donated an impressive 75% of the successful bid price for each painting which will go to the campaign.
For full details on the auction and how you can make a bid, please visit www.kenyayetu.net and follow the link.
For more information on the Bring Zack Back Home campaign, please visit the official website.