INNER SIGHT

How blind primary school teacher gives vision to students

Teacher Kamau prepares his lesson plans every day and teaches about five or six classes, each taking 35 minutes

In Summary

• Kamau became blind in 2002 after undergoing four surgeries between 1996 and 2000 

Kamau Mbugua during a session with standard eight candidates at Gitiba Primary School in Karen End on Monday
DISABILITY, NOT INABILITY Kamau Mbugua during a session with standard eight candidates at Gitiba Primary School in Karen End on Monday
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

When Kamau Mbugua opened his eyes on the morning of Moi Day 2002, everything was still dark, leaving him confused. 

"I was in class seven and it was on October 10, so the school had given us a holiday. I woke up a little late, at about 8am, and when I opened my eyes, everything was dark," he said. 

"I didn't know what was going on. I was taken to Kenyatta Hospital by the headteacher and the doctors confirmed I was blind."

 
 

Seventeen years later, Kamau has been teaching at the same school he was enrolled to before losing his sight. 

The social studies, science and religious education teacher was employed by the school in 2012, and is currently class teacher to this year's candidates. 

He has undergone training at a teachers' training college in Homa Bay and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in education from Kenyatta University. 

He gets to Gitiba Primary School, located at Karen End (Karinde), by 7am every morning, and goes into a class without a teacher and conducts a lesson. 

"I am thankful because I am also a class teacher in standard eight. I have been with them since they were in class four, so I know them very well. In fact, there is no class eight student who can speak and I don't know," he said. 

His lessons are filled with life skills because he advises us and has motivated us to be ready for the national exam 
Candidate

HELPING HAND

Before Kamau goes into class for a lesson, his assistant, Shelmith Wangu, helps him prepare notes for that particular lesson. 

"She reads the content I am supposed to teach that day, and I write in braille before conducting the lesson," he said. 

 

Additionally, the assistant helps to write the blackboard and mark books. He pays her from a disability allowance provided by the government. 

During an interview with the Star, the class is on their feet as soon as he gets in class and in unison respond to his afternoon greeting.

He interacts with them for a couple of minutes, encouraging them to keep studying for the benefit of their futures, calling a few by name. 

"I try my best to know the names of my pupils so I am able to maintain the class. When you call a child by their name, then they know you know exactly what you are doing," he said.

Science, religious studies and social studies teacher Kamau Mbugua displays the braille he uses to prepare lessons at Gitiba Primary School on Monday
LEADING WITHOUT SIGHT: Science, religious studies and social studies teacher Kamau Mbugua displays the braille he uses to prepare lessons at Gitiba Primary School on Monday
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

A typical day for him entails five to six lessons, each taking about 35 minutes. 

Teaching three subjects from class four to class eight, he does not have enough time to rest since he is always preparing for the next class. 

"I have to keep Shelmith on her toes so we know when the next class is, and start preparing the lesson plans. This will also sometimes make me late for class because the plan is not ready," he said. 

He has to make lesson plans every day for every lesson because braille papers quickly lose the dots, making previous notes hard to use. 

Braille is a series of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by people who are blind or whose eyesight is not sufficient for reading printed material.

It is a tactile writing system used by the blind and the visually impaired. It is traditionally written with embossed paper and is not universal. 

Kamau, therefore, incurs extra expenses monthly since he has to use braille paper every day.  

"The school does not cater to the braille papers because there is no budget for them. I buy them in a rim at a cost, depending on how much you have. But they are not less than Sh500," he said. 

He uses a rim for about a month. 

ON LOSING SIGHT 

When he was younger, Kamau had some eye complications and had undergone four operations, two in each eye, to try and treat his condition.

The operations occurred between 1996 and 2000 at Kikuyu Hospital. Instead of getting better, his eyesight continued decreasing, but he did not lose sight immediately. 

"By the time I was in class six, my sight had completely decreased, to the point where I could not read the blackboard or even books. The teachers recommended I be taken to Thika School for the Blind," he said. 

When he was enrolled in Thika, he immediately began learning braille and was allowed to begin classes with other students. 

However, one morning in 2002, he woke up and everything was dark. When his parents were told, he says they were not shocked to find out about his condition. 

"They had previously been told there was a possibility I would go blind. The doctors and my parents never told me. My parents were, therefore, expecting it so I was the one with the problem, not them," he said. 

Kamau adds his stay at Thika School for the Blind made things easier because he had stayed with the visually impaired. 

Before losing his sight, other students were depending on him to walk them around the school but now, he needed them to do the same for him. 

"The change was really huge for me and at home, I lost a lot of friends because they could not understand what had happened. I maybe talk to two people from my past now," he said. 

The teacher decided to start a new life because things had shifted, and now he had to depend on people for everything.

"It was so hard because explaining myself to people and telling them I was blind at first was so hard for me. I had to learn how to accept myself," he said.  

Sometimes when he is alone, he sits and wonders if people still look the same as the last time he saw them. 

"I ask myself if they still look like that and sometimes I begin to imagine how they might look like. I live using my imagination but I wish I could see colour," he said. 

However, he encourages other people living with disability to learn how to help themselves by first accepting their situation. 

He said if someone waits for the world to take care of them, they will only end up with depression. 

SOCIAL LIFE

Kamau loves socialising, reading novels, travelling and exploring, and his favourite sport is football. 

He explains that he is able to travel and watch football with friends, who explain to him the picture of what is happening.

"I also listen to the radio when watching football because they are very descriptive and help you paint a picture of what is going on," he said. 

He adds, however, that there are some things which are simply not explainable. 

"Sometimes I am with the boys and they see something in a beautiful lady and tell me they wish I could see it because it is hard to explain," he said. 

The football fan is married to his high school girlfriend and has three children. She first got pregnant in 2007, but they lost contact. 

"She got pregnant in high school and after we became older, I looked for her and my child and married her. We have two more children together," he said.

He lives and works in Karinde (Karen End), and it is not hard to manoeuvre because he has the mental image of the area. 

"It is simpler here because I can remember how this place looks like. It gets difficult when you go to a new area and you don't know the geography," he said. 

He is doing everything he can to ensure his students pass their examinations. 

"We are targeting a mean mark of 260 with the KCPE exam close to a month away," he said. 

Kamau Mbugua walks with his assistant Shelmith Wangu at Gitiba Primary School
GUIDE THE WAY: Kamau Mbugua walks with his assistant Shelmith Wangu at Gitiba Primary School
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO
He is one of the best teachers we have because he does his things in a unique way  
Teacher Evans Githinji

CHALLENGES IN CLASS

One of the personal challenges for the teacher is that he is unable to read what he assigns his students, whether notes or homework.

"Sometimes you feel there is something you want to write and you know Shelmith is not in my head that she knows what I want all the time. There are things sometimes I feel that I want to do but can't," he said. 

"Sometimes that makes me feel that I am not doing what I am supposed to do at 100 per cent."

Moving from one area of the school to another is also difficult because the school is not disability-friendly. 

"There are farrows, holes in the ground and when it rains there is a lot of mud and water all over," he said. 

In terms of children, however, most of them are supportive, they tell him when others are misbehaving.

"Sometimes, however, they do not say because they are intimidated by mean children. So he does not always know who the culprit is," he said.

Though not often, sometimes he has to teach without his assistant.  

"Sometimes when she is held up like marking exams, I have to go into the classes alone," he said. 

Teacher Evans Githinji, his colleague, describes him as a good and unique teacher. 

"He is one of the best teachers we have because he does his things in a unique way, and any time other teachers go to his classes, he will notice, and that is something very unique, and even in case you are passing by, he will know it is you," he said. 

"When he is in class, he is able to notice a particular side of the class is not participating based on how the students answer questions."

Githinji adds that even in the cases where he does not have a guide, he does not miss his lessons. 

"He will walk alone within the compound, he will go down where we have the steps and ditches and manage to get to class," he said. 

One of his candidates says his teaching methods make it easier for them to understand his lessons.

"He uses real-life examples so we are able to relate that to what we are learning," she said. 

"His lessons are also filled with life skills because he advises us and has motivated us to be ready for the national exam."

His most remarkable student is a boy who came from upcountry and could not read or write well. 

"There is a boy who is currently in class eight and he used to score below 200. As we speak now, he gets up to 340 marks, which motivates me. For the many years I have taught here, he has taught me the most," he said.