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THREE YEARS IN PROBOX

Principal sleeps in car to help deaf pupils at night

Housing a shambles; most teachers use allowance to rent flats in town

In Summary

•The institution lacks staff houses, most live away from their pupils. 

•Ngetich says he opted to sleep in his car to cater for the deaf children's night emergencies. He's been doing it for three years.

Baringo Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich stretches out on his bed on Frday, December 3.
BEDROOM: Baringo Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich stretches out on his bed on Frday, December 3.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO

For three years, Stephen Ng'etich, the principal of a school for hearing-impaired pupils, has been sleeping in his Probox car at night in case the children need him.

Ng’etich, 48, has not known a warm bed since he was transferred to Ochii School for the Deaf in 2018. He never complains. 

The housing for his 10 teachers is a shambles sometimes visited by snakes. All but a few teachers use their house and transport allowance to rent apartments in town in Baringo Central.

The others endure the quarters because they too want to be close to the 104 children.

The school has no car and if there's a health emergency Ng'etich takes children to hospital over rough roads quite a distance away.

“I have converted this small Probox car into my own bedroom since there is no habitable staff housing,” he told the Star.

Ng'etich has dedicated his life to helping the hearing-impaired.

Before being transferred to Ochii school, he was the founding principal of Kedowa School for the Hearing Impaired in Kericho county, established  in 2001.

During World Disability Day on Friday last week, Ng'ech was thronged by happy boys and girls who surrounded their jovial, laughing principal.

He baked a cake and shared it with the public to celebrate his 25th anniversary of service to the hearing-impaired child.

Baringo Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich opens his car on Friday, December 3..
WELCOME TO MY HOME: Baringo Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich opens his car on Friday, December 3..
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO

Ng’etich took us to his car parked outside the administration block.

“After a long day of communicating in sign language, interacting and taking my children through lessons, I retire to my car to sleep," he said. Fortunately, he can fold he seats flat so he can lie down comfortably.

He pointed out his plaid blanket and pillow. Every morning he folds them and puts them in his office.

He cut short his speech to guide pupils through a sign-language greeting to welcome guests. They sang and prayed. then Ng'etich ushered visitors to his office.

He explained that at one time the school was integrated with neighbouring Ochii regularly primary school. The two separated in 2014.

“When we became an independent institution, all staff housing remained with the teachers of he regular school, leaving me and my 10 staff to struggle," Ng'etich said.  

He said he was assigned a small structure within the regular school compound but he couldn’t live there because the it lacked lacked electricity and a communications network.

“Not forgetting our core mandate is caring for children with special needs, we must remember they call for attention and close monitoring," the principal said.

“But despite the challenges. I will never get tired, my passion to serve the children with special needs lives forever” Ng’etich said.

He was backed by the school board chairman Joseph Koech and teachers Wesley Barchok, Irene Keter and Rodah Sang.

“In fact, as teachers we are forced to team up and share rented rickety structures outside the school compound. Sometimes we fear being bitten by poisonous snakes, Keter said.

But she saod they are not comfortable as teachers staying a far distance from their special needs charges. That would keep them from helping the children at night and attending to emergencies.

Chairman Koech said infrastructure is a major challenge "because the majority of teachers come from far away but lack favourable accommodation here"

He said a shortage of classrooms and lack of a library mean they must ask the government for financial support.

However, not everyone is impressed by the principal

Ochii special school Principal Stephen Ng’etich interacts with deaf pupils during world disability day observations on Friday.
BELOVED PRINCIPAL: Ochii special school Principal Stephen Ng’etich interacts with deaf pupils during world disability day observations on Friday.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO

Sacho-Tenges curriculum support officer Linus Kasekem who attended the function, disagreed with Ng’etich about the lack of staff housing. He said he and with his staff were enjoying handsome house allowances in their payslips by the Teachers Service Commission.

“There is no way he can be complaining of a place to put up yet he has got a house and commuter allowance. They can as well rent houses in a nearby town to be commuting every day,” Kasekem said.

He threatened to serve Ng'etich, the school head, with an interdiction letter once the media highlighted his plight, saying he can’t embarrass the government, his employer.

“In fact he is violating the school rules where heads are not authorised to address the media, so you can as well do your part as journalists as we prepare the exit of the principal,” he said.

He said he had proposed Ng’etich for a presidential award but the media highlight might turn to spoil the prestigious offer.

An official who accompanied Kasekem was also heard saying the principal might have been affected emotionally while teaching and interacting for so many years with challenged children.

But Ng’etich said the real situation is the one everyone can see on the ground.

"I don't fear addressing it as the sitting principal. What should I be doing here then?" he asked.

In 2010 Ng'etich had a rare opportunity to address a global conference in Paris about the plight of the deaf child of Kedowa, Kenya, and Africa and how to create space for the child to access education.

During the congress, he was awarded a 'burning' award as an ambassador for the deaf child of Kenyan and the African continent.

Under his leadership, Baringo’s Ochii School for the deaf now has 104 pupils and plans are at advanced stage to soon put up a special secondary school to serve seven counties in North rift.

After completing his studies at Iregi teachers college in 1997, Ng’etich attended the Kenya Institute of Special Education and completed his studies in 2001.

He then completed his three-year degree in special education at Kenya Methodist University in 2019.

He is currently completing his master's degree. His thesis is the challenges facing children who seek their right to education.

(Edited by V. Graham)

Baringo Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich welcomes visitors during World Disability Day observations on Friday.
SPECIAL SCHOOL: Baringo Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich welcomes visitors during World Disability Day observations on Friday.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO
Victors join Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich (centre) to cut anniversary cake during world disability day observation on Friday, December 3.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: Victors join Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich (centre) to cut anniversary cake during world disability day observation on Friday, December 3.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO
Baringo Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich displays the bedding he spreads to sleep in his car and collects every morning to keep in his office.
MY BED: Baringo Ochii Special School Principal Stephen Ng’etich displays the bedding he spreads to sleep in his car and collects every morning to keep in his office.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO
Principal Stephen Ng’etich Ochii and board chairman Joseph Koech during World Disability Day Observations on Friday.
HONOURED: Principal Stephen Ng’etich Ochii and board chairman Joseph Koech during World Disability Day Observations on Friday.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO
Sign post showing direction of Ochii Special Primary in Baringo Central.
THIS WAY: Sign post showing direction of Ochii Special Primary in Baringo Central.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO