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February 23, 2019

' I rose above insurmountable odds despite having multiple disabilities'

Kaju's graduation
Kaju's graduation

Mathew Karungu Kamuyu has cerebral palsy and consequently multiple disabilities. For instance, Kamuyu is very spastic hence can’t efficiently perform quite a number of tasks due to lack of muscle and movement control. He is unable to cope in most situations where other people with disabilities do. He painstakingly walks with the aid of crutches. His communication is muffled as a result of brain damage. However, with backing from his very supportive family, the young man has fought gallantly all the way from a young age to overcome both medical and educational challenges to stand up and be counted. That there are no schools specifically for people with multiple disabilities hasn’t cowed him. He has looked beyond the challenges to live up to his life’s dreams.

On December 1984, Angelica Wangari went through a lengthy and difficult labour at the Nairobi Hospital. Eventually doctors had to make a decision when it was apparent both the lives of mother and baby were in danger. They opted to save the life of the mother and pulled out the baby. However, baby Mathew Karungu Kamuyu also survived but with severe injuries. He didn’t cry as babies do immediately after birth and only managed it three days later while preserved in an incubator. Doctors diagnosed him with Cerebral Palsy (CP).

One of the challenges of CP children is that they have multiple disabilities. His mother was beside herself with denial. Eventually she resolved this was a baby like any other and wasn’t going to hide him from the public eye. The first step was to fully commit him to therapy from a very young age. The second step was to give him as much exposure and interaction with family and society as possible. She already had a daughter and later another girl after Kamuyu and everywhere the family went, Kamuyu was the star. They attended church, picnics, wedding ceremonies and other occasions together. Changing diapers on a grown up child in public wasn’t a big deal for her.

Consequently, in spite of his severe disabilities that required care and nursing round the clock, Kamuyu got exposed from a very young age, a plus that eventually helped him to realise what he wished to pursue in life. However, the challenges ahead, mainly medical and educational, were enormous. For instance, Kamuyu is very slow in learning, has mobility and communication limitations due to brain damage. Unfortunately, schools that cater for children with multiple disabilities are non-existent or few and far between. This is the dilemma his mum was faced with right from the word go. She couldn’t enroll him in an institution for the mentally or physically handicapped. However, she was determined to give her son the best.

Initially he was enrolled in a school near their home in Muchatha in Banana in Kiambu country but he couldn’t fit. He was enrolled in several other schools but still could not fit because of combination of challenges.

Finally, the head teacher at the Tree Side Special School in Kasarani, Nairobi, referred him to Joy Town School in Thika in 1993. This time he was walking on all fours and that too with utmost difficulties. Joy Town, a normal school for they physically handicapped children, offered some hope of accessing walking and other mobility aids. This helped a lot as with time he managed to step on the ground with the tips of his fingers. Buoyed by this development, his mother organised for an operation at the Kikuyu PCEA Hospital in Thogoto, in 1994. On recovery, he could step on the ground with the aid of crutches.

Meanwhile, at Joy Town, he could not cope in the normal school and was placed in the special school section. Through determination, he gained milestones mentally and his teachers were convinced he could learn. He was transferred to the formal primary section and started class one at the age of 11. Appreciating that Kamuyu was a very slow learner and very spastic hence could not write clearly and at the right pace, his mother introduced him to a typewriter to be able to keep up pace. By the time he got to secondary school he was fully computer literate and up to now he is very passionate about IT.

As fate would have it, his legs started bending backwards and his knees receding, diminishing hopes of any health gains achieved so far. This necessitated a second operation at Kikuyu PCEA Hospital to try and correct the problem.

He still grappled with many medical issues and his mother was on the lookout for any scientific innovation that would help her son get mobility and a good education. In 1995, after three years at Joy Town, he was transferred to the Catholic Church-sponsored Ol Kalou Disabled Children’s Home, a special school for the physically handicapped that has good medical facilities.

Kamuyu immediately developed a right side hip problem that rendered his limited mobility a herculean task. The leg was in danger of becoming immobile. It required keen observation for doctors to come up with a plan to salvage it. The problem was so severe that he had to repeat class seven after missing many lessons.

At the beginning of 2004, when he was a Kenya Certificate of Primary Education candidate, he underwent a major surgery involving the entire right leg running up to the chest as the problem was found to have extended further up. For some reason, he remained fully aware throughout the lengthy and difficult surgery at a Kinangop hospital. He was hospitalised for two days then taken to school for recuperation under the school nursing programme. He was bed-ridden for almost one year. He couldn’t even go home during school holidays because he required an ambulance for any travel due to his condition.

“I was not only literally confined but strapped to the wheelchair that had potty facilities for six months during which period I could not as much as turn my body. The right leg was fully secured in a cast and completely immobile. I remained in the school’s sick bay for the entire year in the sitting position and developed bedsores. In spite of the pain I remained focused on my education and managed to attend only a few lessons in class. I studied when I wasn’t in pain and in spite of everything scored 246 out of a possible 500 points in KCPE,” Kamuyu relives one of the most unforgettable moments in his life.

Wangari reasoned that her son had been away in boarding school since 1993 and decided it was time to live with the family for that necessary social bond.

“After class eight, the challenge was getting a secondary school that would accept a child with multiple disabilities. There was none but after a lot of window-shopping, in 2005 she settled for Parklands based Kestrel Manor, a school for special needs children including slow-learners.

The school operates under the IGCE programme where I studied up to fourth form and graduated in 2007. "Computer literacy came in handy for me and I enjoyed the school experience. I was determined to pursue university education well aware there wasn’t a single local university specifically catering for special needs students,” Kamuyu said..

Wangari, a qualified accountant, wasn’t just about to cut short her son’s university dream. A friend, Eva Naputuni Nyoike, introduced her to Dalc, a digital and advisory learning centre with many campuses. Kamuyu was enrolled at the Hurlingham campus of the IT-based institution. His computer literacy came in handy because he couldn’t manage to attend lectures daily due his condition. He attended lectures at least three times in a week. He did the rest of the class work at home and sent by email to his lecturers.

He progressed from the standard diploma in business management in the first year, an advanced diploma in business management in the second year, a diploma in entrepreneurship and remote business management in the third year before graduating with a Bachelors in entrepreneurship and remote business management from the Business School of Costa Rica. He graduated in August 2013. Since then he has been searching for a good job and in the meantime works as a computer teacher and business administrator at the Acorn Special Tutorials on Muhuri Road in Dagoretti, Nairobi. This is a programme for special needs children and adults. You can reach him via email, [email protected]



About Kamuyu

He loves swimming, watching movies, playing computer games and is fascinated by everything to do with vehicles.

He is a member of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities.

He bathes and clothes himself but can’t handle tasks such as cooking.

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