25-year-old Rachael Nyokabi is no ordinary young woman but one who has battled many adversities in life and stood the test of time.
When you first meet Nyokabi, her enthusiasm for life strikes you quickly; she is buoyant and does things with a precision that is a sight to behold.
Born with severe physical challenges on her limbs Nyokabi has overcome many odds and writes with her mouth and operates a laptop without modifications.
To just prove her prowess, Nyokabi asks for the phone number of one of the newsmen interviewing her, which she calls with ease.
Nyokabi operates her smart phone with admirable accuracy — using her tongue, she carefully scrolls the handset before pressing the numbers without skipping even a single digit.
When she joined Standard one Nyokabi would just listen to teachers without writing on paper.
“I realized I was not helping myself just looking at other pupils write and draw images in exercise books… It was then that l started learning to write using the mouth. I had to learn how to adapt to the world, instead of the world adapting to me,” she says
With time, she perfected writing using her mouth. Nyokabi says teachers and fellow pupils were cooperative and helpful, something that kept her going.
Along with plenty of determination, Nyokabi also has a keen sense of humor. “If I can take a pen and a piece of paper and perform a task that people think you have to have hands for, and do it well, then what excuse do others have for sitting around, or not getting a job or making their lives better?
Nyokabi is stubbornly determined and admits she is attracted to things that people think she cannot do.
“That is my personality,” she says. “I always joke that the best way to get me to do something is to tell me I couldn’t do it, I now make some income by engaging in online transcription, digital marketing, virtual assistance, data entry and management and online writing.
She adds, “When you approach most people looking for a business deal or an assignment while sitting on a wheelchair they immediately conclude you are a beggar, this is a perception am determined to change in my community,”
One thing the 25-year-old who recently graduated with a Diploma in Journalism and aspires to be a news anchor is grateful for is having good people around her. She says her parents and siblings have been her pillar and greatest source of support and encouragement.
She is also elated that well-wishers have been keeping an eye on her progress and singles out Divia Shah Foundation for donating to her a wheelchair and supportive devices.
“My parents are wonderful people and they have molded me into the person I am today. They never gave up on me,” she adds. “They just wanted me to try my hardest to figure something out first. So, they have always taught me to learn how to handle situations,”
The second born in a family of 5 siblings is however unhappy that many talented children living with disabilities are yet to realize their dreams because most parents and guardians keep them indoors for fear of the unknown. “I developed a passion for journalism because I wanted to be a voice for physically and mentally challenged persons who have many untold stories,”
“Locked-up children, know of no other world. What remains of them are blank stares through windows or doors. It’s like they are used to that life in bondage. If you have a child with a disability, don’t hide him/her. Take them to school; they all stand a chance of having a better tomorrow and a memorable career.
What is the secret behind Nyokabi’s resolve to conquer tricky situations? She indicates that whenever faced with a difficult situation or daunting task she always remembers the words her father told her in 2011 when he took her to join Form 1 at Joytown Secondary School in Thika that a person should not be demoralized in life as there are many people who celebrate life without having anything.
Quoting an Australian Christian evangelist and motivational speaker Nicholas James Vujicic popularly known as Nick Vujicic, Nyokabi states “Most people have lost the attitude of gratitude. The greater the struggle the more glorious the triumph,”
Nick, who was born with tetra-amelia, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of arms and legs, is one of the seven individual’s planet-wide who lives with the syndrome.
What are Nyokabi’s inner thoughts? Instead of setting up special schools for the disabled, she feels strongly that the government should institute regulations that abolish such schools and the disabled children sent to regular schools. Special schools, she believes only serve to persist discrimination of people with disabilities by making prejudices and biases powerful.
In addition, she laments that most of public infrastructure, public transport, and government buildings are not disabled-friendly. According to her there has to be a concerted effort to ensure the disabled have access to these places and not feel hampered in any way.
“I don’t mind being disabled. It has helped me impact many people’s lives. It is a stepping stone for the many things I have achieved. It is high time that we accept the disabled as an important component of our society. Despite their handicap, they play an important role in our lives and at the same time, they need our respect, acceptance, and understanding,” Nyokabi points out.
Her sister Maurine Wangui says that it’s amazing how Nyokabi is determined not to be deterred by her state of disability.
Wangui notes, “She has influenced some of us in a positive way. She has demonstrated to us you have to do it. You have to follow your dreams. You’ve got to go after it,”
Wangui is unhappy that very few employers hire disabled people as the latter is considered more a liability than an asset in the organization.
“These fears are completely unfounded. People with physical disabilities have contributed tremendously to organizations they are attached to. In fact, there are many cases of how disabled personalities have done themselves proud by being their own bosses. Their success stories include those on how to run their own business in addition to those who have become teachers and professionals through sheer hard work and determination,”
According to Ms Shah in some areas, most parents are using their children’s disabilities to earn a living.
The society adds Ms Shah should be mindful of people living with disabilities by giving them equal chances in life as this will help them achieve their dreams.
“Nyokabi is a brilliant girl and she’s getting better by the day. All that these children want is inclusivity.
“Parents are using these children to put food on the table. They (children) are picked up as early as 3 am, before being dropped in town. The poor souls are turned into beggars along the streets of Nakuru” observes the Chairperson of Devian Shah Foundation
Ms Shah adds “If you use them to beg, they’ll always know that as the only way to help themselves. How beautiful would it be, though, if you make them realize that they’re also able in other ways!”
By Jane Ngugi and Bernard Kiptoo