Like many of us, Martin Kimani used to take for granted his ability to see and never gave it much thought. It was when things took a diabolical turn a decade ago and he lost his eyesight that he understood its significance. The transition to a dark world was anything but smooth. However, when he finally settled, he reached out to those living with disability to help them rise above it. Kimani narrates to HENRY KAHARA about the incident that took his sight, his journey to acceptance, and finding his purpose and never looking back.
September 6, 2007 began like any other day for Martin Kimani. He went to work as usual but as he was going on with his day-to-day activities, a client who owed him money struck his face with a metal bar causing him to instantly lose his sight. For a man whose star was steadily rising, the turn of events could not have come at a worse time. He was young, his business was breaking even and there was so much to look forward to in life. Coming to terms with his new status was not easy either but when he did, he realised that one can lack eyesight but still have a vision. It is this vision that gave him hope to live again.
“In my childhood, I always dreamt of being a businessman just like my father who was a revered businessman in my hometown. He owned a famous pub and restaurant at Kandara in Murang’a County. After completing form four, I helped him to run the business for a year but I later realised I needed to stand on my own. I moved to Nairobi in search of green pastures,” he says. But life in the big city was not easy as he had anticipated and this saw him shelf his form four certificates, roll up his sleeves and venture into the juakali sector.
“Since I had a secondary certificate, I thought I would get a good job in town, which would in turn help me get capital to start my own business. I was banking on the good grades I scored in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education to help me secure a decent job. How wrong I was!” he quips.
Life in Nairobi
Kimani started off his life in Nairobi by selling potatoes at a market in Kawangware. But it didn’t take long before he got another job as a house agent in Umoja Estate where he sold, rented and managed properties. After a year, he realised that his salary was not matching his job. This saw him start his own property agency – Kim Agents. Since he already knew the nuts and bolts of the job and was passionate about it, it didn’t take long before it picked. The business grew in leaps and bounds that he had to employ two people to help him manage it.
With the good fortune, he built a permanent double-storey house for his parents back at home. But the unfortunate incident on September 6, 2007 would reverse the strides he had made thus far.
“It was my role to deal with rogue tenants who defaulted on their loans. As is the norm, I went to one such tenant who had declined to pay his rent for some months. We talked and he agreed to pay. I waited outside as he went inside the house to ostensibly fetch money. But that is the last thing I remember as I would later find myself in a hospital bed,” says the father of two.
Kimani says he was later told that the young man struck him with a metal bar on his face and he fell down unconscious. “The man struck me and ran away, leaving me for the dead. Luckily, a Good Samaritan took me to Kenyatta National Hospital where I stayed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for a whole month only to wake up in a world of darkness. I had gone blind,” recalls the 37-year-old.
Understandably, Kimani went into denial. “It was hard for me but I thought it was only for a period of time. I became depressed when the doctor broke the news that I will never have my sight again. Never in my life had I imagined myself blind. I rejected the doctor’s report and even insulted him,” he says.
For the next couple of months, Kimani lived in denial and sunk deeper into depression but the fact was his sight was gone and he had no option but to adapt to his new life, something he was unwilling to do. “I more than once tried to commit suicide because I couldn’t imagine how life would be like without my eyesight. I had a very young family to take care of and big dreams to achieve,” he notes adding that at the time, his first-born was only six months old. He recalls that it was so difficult then to have a positive outlook on life but he is grateful that despite everything, his family stood with him.
Although his perpetrator was apprehended, not much was done. He was taken to court and released on Ksh 30,000 bond. Kimani chose not to pursue the case any further since the hospital bills had depleted his savings. He also chose to forgive him so as to set his heart free and move on with his life.
Keeping hope alive
After the incident, Kimani decided to go back to the village with his family but before he made good his decision, one of his clients who was disabled learnt about his fate and referred him to Machakos Technical Training Institute for the Blind. He had anticipated life to be easy here with people at his beck and call, but that was not the case. He had to fend for himself. Everyone was assigned duties, their condition notwithstanding. It was also here that he learnt there were direr cases than his.
“My self-worth, which had taken a dip, began rising and I thanked God for the gift of life. With my situation, I would help other students do some tasks and I discerned that it wasn’t all gloom and doom for me. I learnt how to use a white cane, braille, and got counselling which made me accept myself,” he notes.
As he was leaving the institution, he had a question lingering in his mind. How could he be of help to people living with disability, especially those whose self-esteem has been compromised and thus lacked vision and hope?
See, after wallowing in hopelessness for awhile, Kimani concluded that losing hope in life is a greater tragedy than losing sight, echoing the words of the renowned pastor and motivational speaker the late Dr Myles Munroe who said that the greatest tragedy in life is not death but a life without purpose. It is here that Kimani found his vision and purpose: to restore hope among people living with disabilities.
To set the ball rolling, in January 2009, he registered a non-governmental organisation – Society For People Living With Disability, which he uses as a vehicle to fight the stereotype that disability is inability.
“I want to instill self-worth in the lives of people living with disability and get rid of the stereotype that people living with disabilities can only rely on handouts,” he says. Leading by example, he opened a computer school in his hometown – Kandara in Murang’a County – to supplement his income.
He is greatly saddened by how some parents with children living with disability treat them. “It’s unfortunate that some guardians still lock their disabled children in their houses for fear of stigmatisation, ultimately denying them basic things like education. It is every child’s right to get access to education. As a society, we have to accept and celebrate persons living with disabilities since they are human beings just like the rest of the population. They deserve to be given opportunities that will help them maximise their potential,” he says in reference to an unfortunate incidence where a parent burnt his four children to death in Murang’a County in 2014 due to their disabilities. He urges the government to take stiff measures against such acts in order to stop the trend.
Government to play its role
He notes that the government also needs to open up more schools to cater for children living with disabilities in addition to lowering the cost of equipment that people with disabilities rely on such as braille, wheelchairs and white canes among others.
Kimani urges both the national and county governments to be committed in implementing the public procurement and disposal act that stipulates 30 per cent of all public procurement be set aside for youth, women and persons with disabilities. “I have been at the forefront fighting for jobs and tenders for people living with disabilities. Although we are yet to see this happening at the grassroots, we are hopeful that our job will bear fruits soon,” he notes adding, “There are some slight improvements in the war against stereotypes and stigma to people living with disabilities but we are still far from eliminating them fully.”
To drive home his agenda, Kimani usually does door to door visits speaking to people living with disability where he encourages them not to sit idle but to do something as this will not only give them a purpose in life, but also help change peoples’ perception about disability. He admits that the journey has not been easy but worth every effort since he is changing destinies. He sites lack of funds, stigma and lack of goodwill from people in leadership positions as some of challenges he faces. Nonetheless, he soldiers on hoping to change the mindset of people living with disabilities and the society, one person at a time.
“I would like to tell everyone that anyone can be disabled hence they need to treat disabled people as they would want to be treated in case they became disabled,” he concludes.