LONGONOT, Kenya, Sept 27 – You have heard the saying ‘disability is not inability’. Some may take this as a cliché but when you see a group of blind students reach the peak of one of Kenya’s best known mountains- Longonot, reality sinks home.
With only a walking stick and a friend guide by their side, the students bravely start a journey that will take them to the crest of this mountain.
Phoebe Odadi, a form three student lost her sight at the tender age of three. This, she says, was after she developed complications from measles, a highly contagious viral disease, which mainly affects children.
Although she could not see the beautiful v-shaped valleys on the sides of the mountain, the bushy forest, the stunning views of the Great Rift Valley and the mountain’s huge crater, this did not stop Phoebe from reaching the top.
“It’s a struggle, cumbersome, but I made it and the reason is to learn that in life we have to struggle and to be focused in everything we do. You have to work hard in everything to get whatever you want in your life,” she says.
Stanley Mutuma is a third year law student at Nairobi University’s Parklands Campus.
To him, despite his visual challenge, it was simply gratifying to reach the top of the mountain. He describes the experience as a mental and physical challenge.
“The gradient of coming up was tough. Some parts were quite steep so you feel your muscles aching but reaching the top is fantastic” he explains excitedly.
“I came with my friends so it wasn’t that hard but it was quite a challenge,” he adds.
For Elizabeth Lokoli, a form one student, climbing the mountain was to show that even as a visually impaired person, you can still do what others can do.
“It was easy for me to come up because I have climbed the small hills in my village,” she says.
Elizabeth wants to be a Lecturer or a Secondary school teacher in future.
What this group of heroic students doesn’t know is that they were the motivation for Capital Fm crew that was on a clean up exercise of the mountain the same day as part of the Green Generation campaign that aims to plant 10 million trees by 2010.
Some of those in the team were on the verge of giving up half way through but seeing the determination of these visually impaired students kept them going.
“When you are going up the mountain and you find people who are visually impaired doing it better than you, it gives you a reason for once to sit back and think about it and say surely if these people can do it then we can also do it,” remarks Capital group General Manager, Cyrus Kamau.
“You know the funny thing is that we were climbing up with people who are visually impaired and all of them overtook the Capital Fm crew and we said it is for a good cause and if they can do it we can do it too,” says Eve De Souza, a Capital Fm Senior Presenter.
Soulo of the popular Hits not Homework show adds, “I was about to give up halfway until I met this blind kid going up and he could not see where he was going but in his heart he knew he has to make it to the top and I looked and asked myself, if he can make it why should I stop?”
Kenya Paralympics gold medalist Henry Wanyoike was also part of the team.
“There is no way coming up so you had to find the way although I had my “eyes” Joseph who was guiding me so well but sometimes I had to use my hands to climb and other times I fell down so it was not so easy but I also made it and it was a lot of great experience,” Wanyoike says.
He adds that his reason of taking part in mountain climbing was to support and motivate the other visually impaired people and the Kenya Society for the Blind because “they are the first people I met when I was in much need.”
Wanyoike’s story is one that can move many to tears. After having good eyesight for 21 years, he suffered a stroke which led to partial blindness in 1995 but completely lost his sight over the next few years.
Juliana Kibasu, Director Kenya Society for the Blind says the mountain climbing is part of a fund raising activity to support 4,000 children in 57 districts with visual impairment attend school.
“Our main target was Sh2 million and we have different types of engagements like the corporate, medium, gold, silver, bronze and each of them has a financial target,” she says.
Individuals can also support the initiative in their own small way.
Mbuthi Gathenji who is the chairperson says the event also helps the children understand and appreciate their condition.
“We realise that although there is free education, this one aspect of assistive equipment is not always available and we have quite a big burden we are talking about 13,000 students who need help and we have already so far been able to put about 2,000 in the key programme,” he says.