When Diana Jebet Yatich, 29, lost her sense of sight at the age of five, it didn’t sink in how this would affect her life. Two-and-a-half decades later, it is clear that she was determined from the start not to let disability define her life. Today Diana is a human resource officer at Safaricom Limited and firmly believes that people living with disability should be allowed to live life on their own terms. She narrates her inspiring story to HENRY KAHARA.
A quick look at Diana Yatich in the midst of friends may not hint to you that she is visually impaired. However, a white cane that she uses to move around gives her off.
Diana is jovial, outgoing and easy to get along with. She also detests being given special treatment because of her disability. It is this independent mindedness that has seen her lead a normal life.
Born in Nakuru County almost three decades ago, Diana was a happy-go-lucky child who revelled in the trappings of childhood. At the age of five, however, she was struck by an illness whose treatment affected her eyesight.
“I fell sick with severe malaria when I was five years old. I was taken to hospital and the doctor gave me an overdose of medicine that took away my eyesight,” recalls Diana.
At first, it was hard for her parents to realise she had lost her sense of sight and in some instances she would be punished for not heeding to instructions.
“I still remember very well how one day my mum sent me to collect some money she had placed on the table but I couldn’t find it. She gave me a thorough beating as my younger sister traced the money with ease. My mum thought I was being naughty,” Diana recounts adding that the problem started with one eye.
When her parents noted that all was not well, they took her to hospital for checkup and it’s here that their worst fears were confirmed. Their daughter had gone blind.
“Family friends and relatives would visit us and some would be too overcome with grief over my condition that they broke down. Being of a tender age, I didn’t understand the impact it would have in my life, so I wasn’t very bothered,” says Diana.
This didn’t stop her life as she continued playing with other children as usual albeit with mishaps. “Sometimes I would hit a wall and fall down but would still stand up and continue playing. Not even my parents’ advise to be cautious would make me stay indoors,” she says.
Diana notes that there was a dilemma on the school she would attend but a neighbour who had a blind child helped her parents to make a decision. She got enrolled at Menengai Primary School.
“The school had started an integrated programme, which allowed students with special needs to study alongside abled students. I was among the pioneers,” she says.
At the time, integrated schools and those for children living with disability were not common hence parents would take their children to schools miles away. The stigma of people living with disability was also very high and some parents locked their children at home.
She was lucky because her family was very supportive of her and was willing to go an extra mile to ensure she got an education.
“I sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2000. I proceeded to Moi Girls School, Nairobi, which is also an integrated school,” she says.
Life in school was good and her needs as a visually impaired student were met. She went through high school without much ado and sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2004. She thereafter worked as a volunteer at Hope for Blind in Nakuru for two years.
“I first applied for a course in human resource at Kenyatta University but upon reporting, the management shifted the classes from the main campus to Parklands Campus.
Students with disability could only study at the main campus because provisions had been made to cater for their needs. I was requested to change the course but I was not ready for the move. Instead, I withdrew from the university and went back home,” she narrates.
Her parents then enrolled her at Machakos Teachers Training College but Diana was not for it. Her heart was somewhere else and although she reported at the institution, she didn’t stay for long. She packed and left after a month and not even the school administration’s effort to have a counsellor talk to her bore fruit. She had made up her mind.
“I respect teachers and even the profession but teaching was not in me. I wanted something more challenging. A profession, which would make me move out of my comfort zone,” she points out.
She spent sometime at home, as she tried to figure out her next move. “I had made up my mind not to let any person impose any course on me due to my situation. I don’t believe in limits and that’s why I don’t encourage people with disability to wait for handouts. We should be in control of our lives despite our conditions,” she notes.
She finally settled on literature and media studies with Moi University being her university of choice. It’s here, together with other students living with disability, that she started Moi University Students with Disability Organisation (MUSDO). The organisation is an umbrella under which students in the university with various disabilities find shelter.
“At one time, we mobilised the whole institution for a campaign dubbed Hujafa Haujaumbika (If you are still alive you are still being created). The campaign, aimed at sensitising the university community on the presence of people living with disability in the institution, was received positively,” she explains.
The campaign proved successful as they caught the eyes of the university’s administration who paid more attention to their needs. It was at this time that the university’s library was equipped with machines to help blind students read on their own.
“I was a literature student and I didn’t feel comfortable having another student read for me a whole novel. I love being independent and I hated the fact that I was becoming a bother. We talked with the people in charge and today visually impaired students can read on their own in the library as the books have been voiced,” explains Diana.
Life after university…
After four years at the institution, Diana was glad to have left her mark. “I am happy for the contribution I made at Moi University. I wonder how students with disability lived in the institution before, as most adjustments were made during the period we were in the campus,” she says adding,
“After graduating, I stayed for some time without a job. I became desperate since most of my friends who I grew up with were already in employment.”
However, she got wind of a vacancy at Safaricom Limited and she did not hesitate to apply. She was shortlisted and a series of interviews later, she landed the job.
She is currently working at the human resource department at Safaricom Limited, enabling her to practice her first career choice.
“I love working with Safaricom Limited because my employer doesn’t treat me differently because of my disability,” she says.
She notes that although she didn’t train in human resource, she quickly learnt the ropes and she is happy with her work. Diana urges parents with children with disability to stop treating them differently since they too have potential and they can achieve their goals.
“Everybody can do something if given a chance to pursue their dreams. Let’s stop controlling the lives of people living with disability. The fact that God has given them breath is a sign that they too have a purpose and they should be given a free rein to follow that purpose,” she concludes.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the narrator’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safaricom Limited)