Parents at times overstretch the limits of their children in an attempt to bring the best out of them. This can be detrimental as Bethuel Mbugua, who was labelled a ‘genius’ by his teachers and a whiz kid by the media, found out. He was not left to grow up as a normal child as he tossed around schools to give lectures about human anatomy.
Here is the story of Bethuel Mbugua as told by WoK.
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He was born in 1978 but it was not until he was six years that he became a sensation. They relocated to central from Kipsigis when he was two and a half years old. Recounting his childhood, Bethuel wrote:
We relocated to the central province to be amongst our Kikuyu people as soon as I turned two and a half years old. My father wanted me to grow up in an environment that would nurture my customs and traditions. Not too long after we settled down, my father and mother separated. My father took care of me from the time I was two and half years old until I moved to the Unites States at the age of twelve. My relationship with my mother fell apart when we moved to a different part of the country.
His mastery of human anatomy left his teachers and schoolmates at Rorie Primary in Londiani in awe. He made headlines when he snuck past the then President Daniel arap security detail during a public fundraising in attempt to get his attention. His father was desperate for his son to get an education abroad and who better to make that dream possible if not the president. In his own words “they relocated several times until we moved closer to Nairobi with hopes that by some miracle an opportunity would arise”.
He was tossed from different schools where he thrilled everyone with his mastery of different branches of science. His father, Paul Mwaura, meanwhile followed him all along with a donation tin as reported by the Standard.
“My father (with very little formal education himself) took me out of school to tutor me in biology. He took me to the Kenyatta National Hospital libraries where he taught me how to take notes, memorize what I had written or what he had written, and then repeat the information back to him”, shared Betheul.
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“One day to see how much I had retained, he had me lecture about the brain and heart in front of students at a local primary school. We then began to visit more primary schools to repeat the same lecture. Finally, these visits included high schools and national universities”, he added.
Enrolled in High School
The then seven year old class six pupil was enrolled to Ol Kalou Secondary school as a form four against the advice of Chief inspector of schools Tom Sitima. He would drop out after he became a distraction to the school since everyone wanted to stay around him and ask him questions.
By the time he was turning 10 years old, he had delivered about 500 lectures across various universities. He even lectured with former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere at Dar es Salaam University where another former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi was a student in 1988. Mbugua was 9 years old at the time.
His dad, who was a cobbler, was advised to take Mbugua to the school of the gifted but he did not have the means. He went on to receive a scholarship to Hunter School in New York but first an IQ test had to be conducted. Dr David Kabithe, a psychiatrist, stated in his report that Mbugua was not a genius but just an above average ‘actor who couldn’t differentiate Hamburg from hamburger!’ he lost the scholarship.
Moving to the United States
Prof Lenore Blum from America who had come to Kenya to attend a Pan African Mathematics conference at KICC heard his story and decided to take a chance on him. She sponsored Mbugua to join Mirman School for Gifted Children in Los Angeles.
The twelve year old had a difficult time adjusting to life in the US and fell to bullies due to his accent coupled with the fact that he was weak in mathematics and English.
“I was homesick. It hit me that I was not good in English and Mathematics since I was always out of school. I was bullied because of my accent. It was horrible. I longed to come back home. I just wanted to be normal. I started questioning whether the decisions that were made for me when I was young were right,” he told the Standard.
Back home, his dad wrote letters reminding him that the whole family depended on him. The more his father reminded him that he needed to excel in studies, the more the gap between them widened. He repeated seventh grade twice and in October 1991 he moved to Harvard Westlake School. While in High school, the only thing he was happy about was being far from Kenya.
He wanted to stay away from his folks who were always giving him pressure and taking him to interviews to talk about how he is going to become a doctor. He went on to join Macalister College in Minnesota where he changed courses thrice. He would later earn a biochemistry degree, Kofi Anan’s alma mater.
Returning to Kenya
He returned to Kenya in 2003 after spending 13 years in the United States of America.
“I came back with only 300 dollars and I had to look for a job. It was a very stressful time,” he said.
He landed a job as a Manager of Information and records in an international organization based in Nairobi. Despite getting a good job, his relationship with his dad never changed. He died in 2017 but Mbugua told the Standard that he is not bitter.
“My father did what he thought was best for me at the time; his only mistake was not knowing when to stop. My father’s mistakes have made me a better father of two children. Even though they perform well in school, I have never pushed them to a point where they feel anything less would land them in trouble,” he explained.