Dr David Ole Sankok, 37, lives up to the mantra “disability is not inability.” He has come forth to set the record straight: there is nothing wrong with having a physical limitation. He believes that disabled people do perform well – if not better – at jobs than the able-bodied when empowered. He walks MWAURA MUIGANA down his life path.
Dr. Sankok wears many hats signified by his trademark attire; a green outfit with red, black and white stripes representing the Kenyan flag. He is a peace ambassador and has been preaching peace to Kenyans since the post-election ethnic clashes in 2007.
The green uniform represents the need to conserve the environment otherwise nature will hit back severely. This is exemplified by the flooding havoc witnessed in Nairobi and Narok recently. True to his words, he has so far planted 7,000 seedlings and is not about to stop.
Born to pastoralists-cum-peasant farmers in Narok County, Dr Sankok attended school in compliance with a government directive for compulsory education for all children.
Like most Maasai boys then, he was looking forward to getting circumcised, join moranism and spend his life raiding livestock from other communities. But that changed one night in 1988 when he was 12 years old and in class six at Ole Sengare Primary School.
He contracted pneumonia and was rushed unconscious to a local hospital in Naivasha. The doctor was fast asleep when they arrived at the health centre. Still intoxicated by sleep, he checked the boy’s temperature before administering an injection. Sankok regained consciousness, felt better and was taken back home.
On waking up the following morning, he couldn’t stand on his own. His mother took him back to the doctor. After examination, he advised them to go back home and massage the leg with warm salty water. This therapy failed to yield results and they sought medical attention at the AIC Kijabe Mission Hospital.
After checks, the doctor regretted the injection had interfered with his leg’s nerves causing irreparable damage. He was crippled for life! “Shocking as it was, I dissuaded my parents from suing the doctor arguing that even compensation wouldn’t bring back my leg,” he shares.
He told them that since he wasn’t going to be a moran, football player, or runner, he would tap into his other strongholds: his mouth, hands and brain, and make use of them.
His parents were bewildered by this argument and assumed he was buying time to commit suicide. They took him to a special school in Kajiado and made arrangements that he be monitored round the clock. Two terms later, they realised he wasn’t suicidal and took him back to his former school.
Under the circumstances, he appreciated the need to change his ambition by studying hard. Before disability came knocking, he had been oscillating between the penultimate and last position all through.
“It was time to put my brain into action. I worked hard and in successive terms took position 15, eight, three and finally one. From then on, I maintained first position until I sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and sailed through to join Kericho High School. I continued the same feat, scoring straight A’s in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) and secured admission at the faculty of medicine at the University of Nairobi (UON) in 1998,” he narrates.
Being cognisant of his humble background, he trained in carpentry at Narok Polytechnic before joining university. His plan was to make furniture for sale and become self-reliant in campus and also assist his family.
He also sought a job as an untrained teacher in a local secondary school. He walked into the headmaster’s office on his crutches and placed his result slip and other certificates on the table. The headmaster ignored the certificates and overtly stared at his deformed leg.
“I was enraged and reminded him I wasn’t seeking a job as a football coach or a rugby player and asked him to concentrate on my papers,” says Dr Sankok adding, “I walked out and a seed to lobby for the disabled was planted.”
He henceforth desired to shift the perception on the things a disabled person can’t do to what they can do. He was also aware of the stigma attached to disability especially in his community where babies born with disability are considered a curse and are therefore killed.
He used his oratory gift at every opportunity including chief’s barazas to front the agenda of disabled children. He fervently campaigned against retrogressive practices using his position (the locals esteemed him for his academic success) in the community.
He was particularly concerned with the inhuman practice of chaining and hiding disabled children in the house or in cattle pens. He went to the rescue of such children.
Last year, he rescued Ben Mbusia, a disabled child in Narok County who had been locked up in a goat pen and denied food for 10 years. At the time of rescue he was 16 years and weighed a paltry 11 kgs and was flea infested.
He currently stays at Mama Ngina Children’s Home in Nairobi and is also attending school. Such rescue operations have inspired many parents to bring out their children and get help.
He pushed the agenda for the disabled so effectively that he was appointed a board member of the National Council for Persons with Disability (NCPD) and chairman of finance and administration.
During the review of the Kenya Constitution, he was instrumental in ensuring that matters disability were adequately covered and that the constitution aligned itself to the United Nations Convention for Persons with Disability that protects the rights of disabled people.
Dr Sankok has also helped rescue many albino children who are usually kidnapped and sold in Tanzania and their bodies used for witchcraft purposes. Many of the children have been placed at Joytown Special School and Thika School for the Blind.
Countless albinos who have been given opportunities have gone on to become very successful people. An excellent example is nominated MP Joseph Mwaura who has inspired many parents to take their albino children to school. The campaign has helped reduce stigma associated with albinism.
The voice of the people
Dr Sankok found a good platform to lobby for the disabled people and students in particular when he joined UON in 1998. The gifted orator helped change the perception that disability is inability.
He was elected chairman of Nairobi University Student Association for the Disabled (NUSAD). Soon, he became a voice to reckon with and achieved a first of sorts: he became the first disabled Student Organisation of Nairobi University (SONU) chairman in 2000, the first Maasai student and the first medicine student to hold the position.
“This proved my stand that nothing is impossible in this world. If you’re willing to dream big and pay the price to make it come true, then you can accomplish the seemingly impossible goal,” says the medical doctor.
In the same year and while still the chairman of SONU, he was suspended from the university for 15 years for opposing the introduction of the parallel degree programme in public universities. He was and still is opposed to what he calls commercialisation of public universities.
He says there were attempts to take his life and he ran away to Norway where he pursued a diploma in medical research. Luckily in 2002, he was given a presidential amnesty, returned home and resumed studies at the university where he graduated with a degree in medicine. He is now a surgeon.
Determined to be a role model to persons with disability, he ventured into business with a lot of success. He is currently the chairman of the Narok Central Businesses Association, a position he has held since 2007.
The Sankok Foundation
Three years ago, Dr Sankok founded the Sankok Foundation to help both disabled and able-bodied youths and school children. The foundation sponsors needy children in secondary schools in addition to buying school uniforms for persons with disability and donating books to schools. More than 100 students have benefitted from this programme.
He has networked with friends and organisations to fund this noble cause. He personally pays school fees for 10 needy secondary school students.
He is also passionate about the neglected boy child who has become vulnerable to social ills. He strives to engage the youth in positive activities like sports to keep them from negative influences. For instance, he is the sole sponsor of Ewaso Ngiro Football Club.
“I have also sponsored Narok Boys High School rugby team, the current national high school champions. I’m very proud of the team that is currently competing for the East African championship tournament in Rwanda and I’m hopeful they will emerge as champions,” he says with a tinge of pride.
Finally at the helm
Eleven months ago, Dr Sankok became the youngest chairman of a state corporation after his appointment to head the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD). This provided him with yet another major platform to change perceptions and myths about persons with disability and give them their rights and dignity.
“I’m a living example that persons with disability can go far in life; I’m a father of seven, husband, surgeon, orator and a successful businessman. I probably can do more than most able-bodied persons but the first perception when I meet someone is that I’m crippled,” Dr Sankok says, adding that a disabled person should be referred to as a person abled differently.
He has also successfully campaigned for the government to increase allocation of cash transfer to the disabled to Ksh1.54 billion. This is a slot for the severely handicapped people like the mentally ill who can’t be trained to get a skill or work anywhere.
Their parents, handlers or guardians get a stipend at the end of the month. The government has also agreed to have them enlisted for NHIF free of charge meaning they can be treated for free.
He is also at the forefront of economically empowering disabled persons. He has transformed the council by ensuring there is a county coordinator in each of the 47 counties.
The coordinator registers and assists all disabled persons in accessing grants and education assistance. The council pays school fees for children with disabilities in learning institutions from primary right up to their first degree.
It is noteworthy that a person with disability does not pay taxes and is allowed to import a vehicle duty free. Dr Sankok and his team have managed to educate potential employers that the disabled are usually the best employees since they rarely leave their working stations or desks and job retention among disabled workers is high since they are not very mobile to go job-hunting.
Section 54 of the Kenyan constitution requires persons with disability to be treated with respect and dignity. Dr Sankok has been passionate about changing derogatory references to persons with disability such as kipofu (blind) kiziwi (deaf) kiwete (lame) that are mainly used as references to non-living things.
He also challenges persons with disability to look beyond their condition and tap into their other abilities.
“I inspire them to come out of the self-pity cocoon and step forward confidently with knowledge that they are not lesser human beings,” concludes Dr Sankok.