In Summary

  • Dr Faith Odwaro is a Kenyan surgeon who is passionate about social change and is on a journey to promote, educate and advocate for equity in accessing timely and safe surgery for all.
  • Her passion to become a surgeon was inspired by Dr Nicholas Tinega, a senior surgeon she worked with, who challenged her to pursure the career path.

Dr Faith Odwaro is a Kenyan surgeon who is passionate about social change and is on a journey to promote, educate and advocate for equity in accessing timely and safe surgery for all.

Dr Odwaro is a member of the Paul Farmer Program for Global Surgery and Social Change fellow at Harvard Medical School.

She is married to Eddy Nicholas Ombudo Orinda and they have a seven-year-old son - Eddy Junior, fondly referred to as prince.

She has two siblings - Dennis Hosea Odwaro and Wema Amanda, and she describes her mother, Nancy Adisa Odwaro, as the epitome of generosity and strength.

“I am where I am because my family brings out the best of me,” she says.

Dr Odwaro graduated from Odessa National Medical University, Ukraine in 2009.

“On graduating I proceeded for a one-year internship in Kenya and worked as a medical officer at Mbagathi Hospital before moving back to Odessa for general surgery training at the Department of General Surgery & Military Medicine, Odessa National Medical University.”

She returned to Kenya and worked for two years as a senior resident in surgery at Mbagathi Hospital and she now works at Odessa in Ukraine at the department of proctology of the City Hospital No. 10.

“Growing up, I envisioned myself wearing a doctor's coat, a stethoscope hanging on my neck and a patients' file in my hands. When I was 15 years, my father was diagnosed with Leukemia. Taking care of my ailing father in Kenya and Canada motivated me to join in the fight against cancer and being a doctor seemed like the best way to impact health service provision.

Dr Faith Odwaro. PHOTO/COURTESY 

“Unfortunately, my father died, but the desire to do medicine only got stronger. My high school education system could not allow me to join the regular medical school in Kenya. The parallel program was very expensive. Therefore, I explored other options and ended up in Ukraine. It was affordable and Ukraine is now our second home.”

Her passion to become a surgeon was inspired by Dr Nicholas Tinega, a senior surgeon she worked with, who challenged her to pursure the career path.

“Now in retrospect, I do not think I would have enjoyed any other specialty in medicine.”

One of Dr Odwaro’s proudest moments is when she founded The Mazira Foundation.

“The Mazira Foundation is a not-for-profit organization in Vihiga Kenya, that was started to honour my late father, Rev Hosea Mazira Odwaro. My mother was widowed at a young age. I watched her struggle with grief, role change, financial pressure, and the compounding stress. Her health was affected. This influenced me to develop an interest in working with widows.”

She argues that health is a complex problem that demands multi-layered solutions.

“We work with widows to positively influence their health and that of their communities. We have done this through the medical programs (Medical Outreaches, Health Education and the Health Center) and the widows ministry (Grief Recovery Program, Adopt a Widow’s Health And Life Skills Training Centre).”

She says the Grief Recovery Program helps widows to heal from their loss and harsh treatment with The Mazira Foundation focusing on the widows who are vulnerable and underserved who are most affected.

Dr Faith Odwaro. PHOTO/COURTESY 

Some of her achievements include:

• Establishing The Mazira Foundation while in second year of medical school and developing it into a full institution giving hope to the underprivileged in the society by according them preventative medical care.

• Developing a guide on how to conduct effective surgical outreaches: She has organised more than 10 medical outreaches, reaching more than 12,000 patients.

• Raising over Sh20 million towards the foundation’s activities and about Sh47 million for construction of a multi-purpose widows centre in Vihiga for self-sustainability.

• Fundraising for the “Adopt a widow’s health” initiative to provide health insurance to the 300 Solid Rock widows.

• Building and equipping The Mazira Memorial Hospital- Vihiga.

• Featuring in the award-winning book Passion and Purpose: Black Female Surgeons.

• Joining the prestigious Paul Farmer Program for Global Surgery and Social Change at the Harvard Medical School.

Dr Odwaro delved into why she chose to return and practice medicine in Kenya after studying in Ukraine

“Having studied in a country where family medicine is at the core of primary care, and where everyone has access to the highest level of specialist healthcare, the health disparities in Kenya were glaring. I immediately realised my burning passion.

“Our health system is structured to deal with cases that come to the health facilities, which is sadly a small percentage. Doctors are constantly treating preventable complications, and the referral system hinders timely surgical care. My passion is to change this narrative. That is why I choose to practice in Kenya.”

Dr Faith Odwaro. PHOTO/COURTESY 

She encourages Kenyans who have studied their craft abroad to choose their own path.

“Everyone has their calling and purpose in life. Find your path, but wherever that leads, I encourage everyone to leave their footprint by giving back to our motherland. Never disconnect with the land that has your buried placenta - your roots. It is the least that we can do.”

She shared her inspiration for haring her story in the book Passion and Purpose: Black Female Surgeons.

“Unlike many girls who grow up in settlements and rural set-ups, I was privileged to know and interact with doctors. My parents were away in Canada for my father's treatment, and they left me with the family of Dr Philip and Mrs Eunice Chek, who offered me an opportunity to dream. This book provides young girls with that and much more. This is exactly what inspired me to share my story of resilience and determination.

“I pray and hope that every young girl knows that they are enough. And when they face subtle discrimination by the mere fact that they are women; when society tells them that they can't strike a balance as women in surgery; when the world reminds them about their inefficiencies.… I hope and pray that our stories will affirm that they belong at the big table and that their dreams to become surgeons are valid, even as women.”

Dr Odwaro has a little word of advice on mentorship in one’s career journey.

“My mentorship journey has been a fantastic experience. It is hands-on, and I enjoy watching the transformation, being there for each other and celebrating the achievements. As a mentor, I cannot describe the satisfaction of being a part of my mentee's success, one can only experience it.

Dr Faith Odwaro. PHOTO/COURTESY 

“I like the youthfulness that they rub on me. It is delightful! Mentorship is more effective when the benefits are mutual—otherwise, it's easy for the mentor to burnout. I am an alumnus and a mentor at the Emerging Leaders Foundation. In pursuit of Social Change, I am currently training with master practitioners in Social Innovation Management at Amani Institute.

These are the two most important values that have shaped her life and work:

1. Empathy: It is not possible to influence social change without taking time to understand and share the feelings of the people affected by the issues I am addressing. It calls for selflessness.

2. A teachable attitude: Change starts with me. I have to be the change that I want to see. I have to be intentional to make a difference, to influence and make an impact. I have to be genuine about wanting to change a narrative and say it ‘starts with me’ or ‘it ends with me.

So, how does she perceive herself and how do others view her?

“I am the style and charm of women in surgery! I am passionate about health, leadership and women empowerment. Challenges push me to think big when setting goals. My enterprising spirit, ambition, and compassion get things done with pleasant rewards.

“People describe me as talkative and outgoing. Others think am prudent, overly direct and bold enough to stand alone. Those who closely work with me will tell you that I am intrigued by honesty, passion, creativity and logic. But overall, am cautious and strict.”

Dr Faith Odwaro. PHOTO/COURTESY 

She advices young women to be open to new ideas to progress in life.

“Be willing to learn new ways. Be courageous to unlearn practices that hold you back from achieving your objective. If it doesn't work your way, try the other way!

“Be adventurous. Try out new things, visit new places and experience life while following your dreams. Please don't be too rigid because, after all, it is the people that we meet along this journey of life that make it worth the living!”

And she had these powerful words as her parting shot:

“An unspectacular preparation precedes spectacular achievement - take failures as lessons and inefficiencies as opportunities to learn.”