Gideon Kyalo Kimulu’s story is sad and inspiring at the same time. The founder of Goodrich Group of Schools did not have an easy start in life. Being an academic dwarf meant he always came last in a class of 100.
It took him much longer to complete primary school and would be promoted to the next class not because of performance but because he had outgrown the previous class. In an interview with Churchill, he revealed that he stayed in primary school for 14 years.
Here is Gideon Kyalo’s story as told by WoK.
Life in School
Teachers would beat him and call him names. He recalled a teacher spitting into his mouth and told him he would never amount to anything. This broke him especially since while in class three, his mother was the class teacher.
She too did not spare him and at one point gave him a thorough beating that left him nose-bleeding. It took the intervention of other teachers for her to stop.
To try and make him perform well in school, his grandmother took him to the witch doctor. This was behind his father’s back since he was a pastor.
“I was suffering from nothing medical. Till this day, I don’t write or read. I have a computer in my office that I never use. There are people who help me with anything to that effect. I was born this way. Around class seven, my father hired a tutor, which is what helped me more than anything else,“ he said in an interview with The Standard two years ago.
Things would turn for the better when the headmaster (Paul Maingi) caught him trying to break into the store to steal the then famous nyayo milk. Rather than punish him as was the norm, the headmaster talked to him.
He encouraged Gideon Kyalo, telling him he could amount to something if he changed his ways. For a child used to being called the most useless person on earth, the headmaster’s words were music to his ears.
To the dismay of other teachers, the headmaster made him the class monitor. He would go on to become the head boy despite his continued poor performance.
In secondary School, things became even more difficult. He was older than his classmates and could not catch up academically. His teachers saw him as a burden. He changed his name from Titus Kyalo to Gideon Kyalo on his ID and Birth Certificate so it could reflect that of a high school student. He often had to shave his beards at night so he would look like the age of his schoolmates.
Realizing his son would never be academically gifted, his father pushed him to become a pastor after school. This forced him to run away from home.
He endured the two weeks 150km journey from Machakos to Nairobi. He knew his aunt stayed in Wangige but trying to locate her was a problem. He stayed in two different places before bumping into a classmate who took him in.
He employed Kyalo at his butchery and helped him secure a position at a technical college to study Business Administration.
Kenya Polytechnic was yet another hurdle he had to face. The college teachers would mock his handwriting and level of understanding, saying it was like that of a Pre-Unit child. Nonetheless, he knew business was where his heart lay and thus he pushed himself and graduated with a diploma in Business Administration.
In his first job after college, he did so well and became a sales manager. His ability did not lay in books but in convincing people. The company became bankrupt and he became a cleaner earning Sh3900. He would save Sh500. At this time, he stayed in Landi Mawe slums in a small Mabati house infested with bedbugs.
A year later, he became brand manager. He was good at everything except proposals. Hence, he would hire someone and instruct them to write proposals for him. It is these proposals that he presented to the bosses.
The determined entrepreneur would save money with Post Bank and the dream to form a school began to grow. He would ask himself how he could start a global campaign to create awareness on slow learners.
“Disasters like floods or fires kill instantly but slow learning kills you slowly. It eats you up on the inside and frustration, depression and suicide creep in,” Gedion Kyalo said in a past interview.
To earn extra income, he started a kiosk selling tea and mandazi at Railways. The kiosk could only sit seven people but it gave him the extra income.
Goodrich Group of Schools
After saving up enough money, he started a day care center in Kileleshwa at an abandoned building in 2008. At first, he only had three children, one being his child and the other two being children of his domestic workers. The daycare was called Like Mother’s Home. In a year, they had thirty children. He scaled up and started Goodrich Kindergarten where he employed experienced people.
Kyalo paid for his wife to train at an ECDE college to manage it better. She became a force to reckon with and began steering the school to greater heights. Two months down the line, she passed away on the school’s opening day.
As he grieved his wife, a teacher told parents that the school had closed and parents moved their children. By the time he was done laying his wife to rest, he only had seven children.
Despite the challenges, he began an aggressive marketing campaign and Goodrich became a success. He had about 1200 students and employed at least 35 teachers by 2018. The school also had another branch in Embakasi, Imara Daima.
His aim was for the school to cater for individual children and help slow learners. They awarded even those who improved even if they were the last ones in class.
The school also sought to find reasons why a child was not performing and if it had anything to do with their homes. They had academic clinics every term to discuss the challenges of learners with their parents.
Gideon Kyalo insisted that a slow learner was not a failure and that the understanding, inspiration and patience of a teacher could make a difference.
In February 2018, he won the Global Education Supplies and Solution (GESS) Awards for his outstanding contribution to education.
On 1st November 2020, the award winning educator passed away after a short illness at the Nairobi Women Hospital. He was succeeded by his wife Karen Gatabi Kyalo and three children: Geoffrey Maxwell and Daniel. He died at the age of 51.