Veronica Mwangi suffered polio as a child, and the disease left her paralysed on both legs and left hand. Through various surgeries, her disability was lessened. The mother-of-two in her 40s was able to get into a career that she loved despite the challenges. Today, despite holding formal employment she has found passion in mentoring street children
“I was born four decades ago at Nakuru’s Bondeni Maternity and according to my parent’s recount, I was a bouncing baby girl that brought joy to their hearts and they cherished holding their bundle of blessing in their hands.
But when I was a year old, my story took a different chapter and my parents’ joy was replaced with worry when I developed a high fever. Being the good parents they are, they rushed me to the Nakuru Provincial General Hospital where a lot of tests were done and nothing could be detected. I was given medication to lower the body temperature, and in order to follow up on my case, I got admitted.
My situation deteriorated as my eyes rolled in their sockets and my body muscles stopped functioning. All hope was lost, with doctors seemingly giving up, and my parents, especially my mother, selecting a spot where I was to be buried.
However, this kind of Simon Makonde story of being born on a Monday and buried on a Sunday was not to be. It happened that the doctors were doing ward rounds and one from Uganda was interested in my case. He managed to diagnose the symptoms as related to polio and after being put on treatment, I regained the use of muscles. But this came at a cost of being left paralysed on both legs and the left hand.
When I was five, I joined Ol’Kalou School for the Disabled in Nyandarua County. The school was like home as well as a hospital as they did all physiotherapy treatments while corrective surgeries were done at North Kinangop Hospital. I underwent five different corrective surgeries. I used to walk with the aid of calipers and clutches on both legs, but today I am aided by only a walking stick.
Transiting to high school marked a different life phase. At Arutani Girls Secondary School in Nakuru County, I realised for the first time that I was disabled. I became the object of curiosity and sympathy. No one would believe I was capable of doing anything! If, for instance, it was during laundry time, the girls would offer themselves to do my laundry yet in primary school I was doing everything by myself. This affected me psychologically and my self-esteem and morale went down, which saw my academic performance plummeting. I made a decision that I had had enough of schooling and resolved not to return unless it was a switch to a different school that was friendly to the physically challenged.
But an elder brother managed to convince me to return to school and it was while in Form Two that I accepted that I was abled differently but I was not so different from other students. I had a functional brain similar to them that can reason, understand, recall and treasure memories.
After high school, my parents saw it fit to start me off in business by opening a shop and it was after operating it for close to three years that a chance that was to change the course of my life presented itself. A friend happened to have done some computer courses and dropped at my shop and presented me with a diskette while enunciating terminologies that sounded Greek to me. She made such an impression that I resolved to join college and study Information Technology. My parents would hear none of it, with their worries being how I was going to manage the long commute.
But a sister-in-law who had seen disabled people succeeding in life allayed their worries while challenging their notions in not believing in my capabilities.
That’s how I found myself at Mwangaza College where I graduated as a Data Entry and an IT diploma holder. It was a testimony to my parents as to my capabilities despite the challenges. They were so proud.
It was during this time that something drew me closer to street children. Many, would stop traffic to allow me to cross the town’s roads in my numerous sojourns. Their kind gestures touched me so much and I asked God what I was to do to help them. Luckily when I got a job with the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru, Social Welfare Programme as an administrative assistant, I would have countless encounters with them, both officially and unofficially.
I mentor them by giving my example of looking beyond my disabilities while encouraging them that they can amount to respectable people in society regardless of whatever their past looks like. It has come with successes as many have left the streets. Some started businesses and are thriving. Others successfully completed education and are currently employed in the public sector or by Non-Governmental Organizations.
I have been mentoring the street children for fourteen years to date. I believe that disability does not equate to inability. It’s sad when many look down at disabled persons with sympathy instead of looking at their capabilities. I can do a lot when given a chance. Even in everyday life, many think I’m more in need of empathy and sympathy.
It’s disheartening to see some men prey on disabled women as a way of taking advantage of them. A few of them pretend to have sympathy with us but in the real fact, they want sexual favours. You can imagine loving a person yet his heart is elsewhere. You open up to them, love them, only to be disappointed at the end.
I have gone through the same love challenges. I’m currently a proud mother of two – a boy and a girl – and all the births were without any complications.
In the future, I want to see a society where buildings are put up with the disabled in mind. Things like erecting ramps in the case are no lifts are important. It can be daunting to receive an invite for an occasion and you wonder how you’re going to scale up all those flights of stairs or have to follow the proceedings from outside such facilities.”