, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 16 – With his white cane in hand, John Onderi leaves his home in Soweto Ngumo slum, on a three kilometer journey to his workplace.
At the bus stop everybody seems to know him and today he is lucky to have bus fare. This means that he can use the public transport instead of walking to work.
John was not born blind; he lost sight progressively in his adulthood.
“I was not aware that my eyes were getting weak. I started by not seeing small handwriting, then big handwriting and eventually I started getting headaches and pain in my eyes,” John narrates how he became blind.
Coming from a very humble background, John tells us that he mostly walks to Kenyatta Market where he has set up a small business as a cobbler and shoe shiner.
He has been here for the last seven years.
“At first people were ignoring and asking me, how can you repair shoes or polish shoes without seeing, you are just cheating us!” John remembers how people initially thought he was faking blindness.
“Then I told them, this is the letter I have (from the Kenya Society for the Blind), this is the white cane I have then slowly by slowly through my experience they came to agree that I can shine and repair shoes,” he added.
He says the little money he collects from his business goes towards buying food, paying house rent and supporting his two children.
John started developing visual complications in 1986 while he was undertaking a course in welding. And despite seeking treatment in various hospitals, he says he became totally blind in 1996 at the age of 24.
“I was used to seeing the beauty of the country but when I missed it I became stressed,” he says.
“Friends ran away and even my girlfriend at the time ran away. I remained with my mother, later on she died. I became so bitter but I got used and later I realised there is life after becoming blind,” John narrates.
John was referred to the Kenya Society for the Blind where he learnt to accept his new status and also settled to train in shoe making.
“Good teachers at Machakos Technical (Training Institute) trained and also advised me never to lose hope. They told me there is a time coming when I will enjoy my life if I take the training seriously. They are the ones who gave me a very big hope for this life that I am enjoying,” he says.
John is qualified in welding and also as a cobbler.
“I didn’t get trained on welding for long but where I got very superior training is this shoe making. I have trained from grade three, grade two, grade one but I missed to qualify the marks for grade one because of manual sewing machine and designing, whereby a blind person cannot design,” he proudly talks about his qualifications.
“So I missed narrowly to score for grade one but I have grade two as a qualified ‘fundi’,” he adds.