Edna Kerubo Ngare is a mother of a 6-year old boy. At 33 years old she has 10 years of experience in the medical field. In her first year of medical school at the University of Nairobi, she was diagnosed with cancer. Scary as it was, she decided to continue with her education nonetheless without taking a break against her parents’ and doctor’s wishes. That was in December 2002 and she began her chemotherapy treatment the following year. In October 2003, she finished her chemo treatment and was seemingly fine until December of the same year when she fell ill once more. Breathing became a problem, she was constantly tired and she felt weaker than ever. Going back to hospital, doctors advised for a stronger dose of chemo as she seemed to have relapsed very quickly. In 2004 she began a second round of chemo treatment but in truth, Edna had given up. She had called it quits, and her mind had long gone for a walk in the land of hopelessness and dejection.
For her first round of chemo, Edna had prepared mentally, physically and emotionally. For starters her doctors and parents had asked her to put med school on hold, as we all know how tough medical school can get. However she felt that she needed to keep a healthy mind as well as a daily routine to keep her grounded and school was doing that for her. She also maintained her extra-curricular activities in school. She attended choir practices, she continued with her sports interactions, even though she minimized the intensity and she begun a juicing regime. She learnt about juicing as during that time while working for a group of doctors whose niche was natural medicine; and one of them put her on a juicing regime that included vegetables, fruits and once in a while herbs. She also grew wheatgrass at the back of her house, and every Friday she would cut some of it and include it in her juice mixture. Her daily trip to school included six bottles, four of which were filled with the juices for detox, a practice she carried out religiously all through her first year of chemo treatments. In addition to the natural medicine, before she went for chemo which she did every two weeks; Edna would visit an ayurvedic doctor and would do a steam bath, eucalyptus massages and an Indian treatment. All through her energy was up. As a med student, exams were done every fortnight, and she remembers been given her exams early, which she would sit for and go for chemo afterwards. Looking at her, no one could tell what she was going through, and her hair did not start falling until the tail end of her treatment.
Therefore the second time when she relapsed, she was really affected. She felt she had no more strength left in her to fight again. She abandoned her juicing tradition and any hope she had at all. She diminished. In 2004, she continued with her studies, as her parents made arrangements to take her to India for further treatment. She had stopped her chemo sessions and the medicines she took daily felt more like a burden than a help. One time, when she fainted at the Kenyatta National Hospital, just as the school bus had dropped them for their medical rounds at the hospital, her lecturers advised that she discontinues her classes and focuses on getting well, which she did. However this took a toll on her mental, emotional and physical strength. Edna felt that maybe it was time her life ended, for surely she had given up. When they went to India, and after a myriad of tests, they discovered that she had not relapsed; rather her immunity had gone to a serious low. Her lungs had water, thus displaying cancer like symptoms. She did not have cancer at all! This came as such a relief for Edna. She was able to continue her life, finishing med school to go change the world, one patient at a time. Little did she know that this single episode of her life would propel her to her destiny.
OF INSPIRATION, SWEAT AND TEARS
Edna’s employment years were fraught with complexity. She found herself in various tassels and situations that made her want a career overhaul. She served in the ministry of health for two and a half years, in different counties including Embu, Kiambu and Kajiado. She so much struggled with limited resources and the gruelling inequity in health care provision that she quit when she was unable to handle it anymore. She moved to a private institution thereafter, and while she was serving in her capacity as a medical doctor, she felt there was more she could do. She made an observation that in private hospitals, most patients who come in to the emergency or general hospital suffer from lifestyle diseases that can be easily managed if one began to exercise and eat the right foods. As the systems work differently in a private hospital setting than in a public one, she was unable to advise her patients with the length and depth that she wanted to. She realized there was a gap in the market, a place that talked about your wellness and lifestyle, that eventually will keep you away from hospital doors. Solace Resort, a wellness and healthcare hub in Nairobi, was born. That was in 2013.
Wellness Resort is located at the Weston Health Club on Langata Road, and offers mind healing and stress relief services incorporated in massages and spa services, life coaching and counselling, body treatments, nutrition and menu planning for various lifestyle diseases, corporate wellness, health risk assessments, wellness programs like weight management and post chemotherapy recovery, wellness retreats and events.
When she began the business she had initially called it ‘Springs Wellness’ and they were located along Yaya Centre. During the initial six months, she met partners who were interested in her vision and married into it. Her vision was to set up wellness resorts. Having partners on board, and with the much needed financing, she rebranded to Solace Resorts Wellness Centre. When it comes to wellness the experts believe that 60% of your healing is in your environment; from the colour of the room, to the lighting, to the ambience. And when it comes to lifestyle they think that 60% of your healing is in your mind. As Edna was out to set up a wellness and lifestyle centre, it was crucial that she got both right. She and her partners felt it would be better to partner with the hotel industry since the hotel already has a relaxed atmosphere. Wellness is also about working together, and is different from the conventional medicine, where a doctor is your authority and gives you orders. Whereas that works and has its place, wellness is more of a collaboration between patient and doctor. The two work hand in hand to motivate the patient to take charge for themselves.
Edna found a nice, quiet serene resort in Watamu, Mombasa, and set up shop. For a year, they were doing really well. They had wellness programs for women, teens, children, which were a major attraction for the tourists in Watamu, who also came into her resort, adding to her client base. She was in her second year of business when insecurity gripped the Coast, adversely affecting the economic stability. Business went under and closed. Travel bans were issued and the tourist who had largely occupied the region left. The Kenyan Government at the same time also issued a leasing ban, terming that the occupancy tenancy had expired. Foreigners who owned business down at the Coast left and sold their property to locals at a very cheap rate. Unfortunately for Edna, her partners were American, and when their country released a travel ban, they pulled out. She was forced to close shop before the solace resort dream was actualized and back to Nairobi she came. Dejected but not defeated, Edna decided to instead set up health hubs in Nairobi. Even though she had hit a snag, she was determined to keep trying. That is how she opened her first health hub at the Weston Hotel.
Being an Seventh Day Adventist, her faith played a big role in her decision to start her business. Incorporated in their belief is a three pronged messages, where the first one states, “Your body and your health are the most important things.” This premise inspired Edna to set up the wellness centre. She also believes that during the time she was in med school battling cancer, she was aware that there were some things that she did that helped her healing process. This made her cognizant of the fact that natural medicine still has its place in healing and health. That is why for her wellness centres, she offers what she calls ‘integrated solutions’, where she combines the conventional and natural medicines. Her team comprises of three doctors, one nutritionist, two massage specialists, one physiotherapist and four psychologists as she has come to discover that some of the health issues people develop are a result of deep psychological problems that eventually lead to health complications that can be avoided and treated. “It is very crucial to get the right team,” Edna reiterates, alluding to the fact that she may have had her share with errant employees in her setting up days. I ask what challenges she has faced in setting up and establishing her company and capital takes the cake. The capital required for starting a wellness centre is intensive if not daunting. Finding and forming the right partnerships, also seemed to be a challenge. Some of the partners who came on board were out to change her initial vision, and she was careful to look out for that, so it took a while to have the right people on board. Penetration into the Kenyan market was another huge challenge. Given that most people go to a hospital when things are really dire, having people buy into her wellness program has been quite the uphill task to say the least.
For marketing she has capitalised on social media and all it has to offer to market her brand. In addition to that, she does interviews and talks. Sometimes she uses mainstream media as the need calls for it. On days when she feels like giving up, when business is so slow, Edna usually has her team of encouragers who she calls her inner circle. To unwind, Edna loves to watch movies and travel to new places within and out of town. Edna is also very passionate about children and women, and has found herself developing programs geared more to the woman and her health and wellness state. She holds half yearly retreats dubbed ‘Ladies on the Go Retreat’, an all-woman health and wellness program that involves nutrition assessment, swimming and all things wellness; boosting the women’s overall self-esteem. In addition to that, she holds quarterly health and wellness talks for women.
As she prepares to receive a client in the next one hour, Edna leaves me with the following words; “There should be purpose in what you venture into, for that is what will keep you waking up especially on the low days and seasons of your business. Choose your networks wisely, for we all need other eagles to fly with and to help us soar higher.” And she added almost too quickly, “Growth is painful, but necessary. God should always be your guide.” Like her good student that I am, I’m passing the wise words over to you.
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