SPENCER LUGALIA: Living with a disability should not define you
Living with a disability should not define you.
Spencer Lagalia is the kind of person who sees life as a puzzle, always exuding confidence that he will see the full picture when he puts all the pieces together. Born with a disability, he has had his fair share of challenges which he says did not deter him from pursuing his goals and wanting more for himself. He talks to DIANA RACHEL MBUGUA about living and doing life with a disability, and being a beneficiary of Kenya Breweries Limited’s (KBL’s) inclusivity agenda, an opportunity that has affirmed to him that disability is not inability.
My crew and I arrived at the Kenya Breweries offices in Ruaraka to interview Spencer Lagalia, and the only brief we had was that he was a person working for the brewing company and Irving with a disability. I did not know what to expect. I called Spencer as soon as we checked through the gate and he told me he would meet us in the lobby. The man who came to meet us did not seem to have any disability but as soon as we shook hands, I disability. realised he had a finger missing on his right hand, and that he was not wearing normal shoes. This got me curious and I was keen to know how he was differently abled.
After following guests protocol at the KBL offices, we identify a place where we could able to walk. do the interview without much distraction Spencer is calm and composed, and I noticed he’s also bold once we get talking.
Spencer is a beneficiary of KBL’s inclusivity agenda dubbed ‘KBL’s Society 2030 Inclusivity and Diversity Agenda. which he says is helping him put pieces of the puzzle that is his life together and he sees a bright future ahead despite his disability.
Spencer was born with a congenital disability where three toes on his right foot and two on his left were missing. He was also born without one finger on his right hand. Congenital disorders can be inherited or caused by environmental factors. Their impact on a child’s health depends on th severity
“Unlike a secondary disability, which could result from an accident, no one chooses to have a primary disability. You are bom with it and you have to live with it.” Spencer says, adding that he has learnt to live with his disability, and having support from individuals and organisations like KBL makes his life easy, although it has not always been smooth sailing.
This kind of disability limits me from walking long distances or standing for long hours. KHL understands my challenges as a differently-abled employee and supports me and other disabled people in the organisation fally,” says Spencer.
Spencer was raised in Gachie town in Kikuyu, Kiambu County. He spent his early childhood there before relocating to Kakamega County with his paternal grandmother. He says his father worked away from home and prefers not to talk about his mother. He started school at Gachie Primary School where he says he received remarkable support from his teachers as a disabled child. They ensured he did not miss his physiotherapy sessions and also had surgical shoes, which are needed by people with his condition to be.
But things changed when he moved to Kakamega “I joined Shikoti Mixed Primary School in Kakamega. Unlike in my previous school where I had a lot of support, I couldn’t get surgical shoes and had to wear sandals going to school, which was a nightmare. My grandmother could not afford the shoes and I had to start the unfamiliar and frustrating journey of looking for new supporters in my new environment,” he says,
After completing the KCPE examinations in 2012, he joined Kakamega High School. His life changed for the better as his teachers were quite supportive. They registered him with the National Council for Persons Living with Disabilities from where he received funding for surgical shoes opportunities in data visualization, and how to use data to forecast for a business such as KBL.,” he explains,
A pair of surgical shoes for persons with disabilities costs around Ksh10,000 compared to a pair of normal school hos that costs between Ksh2,000 and Kah3,000. I went to school with one pair of murgical shoes throughout my high school education, and I have had only two pairs since 2013, he remarks,
After high school, he joined Maseno University in September 2017 for a Bachelor of Arts in History and Religion and Information Technology. He first received financial aid from a relative and applied for a HELB loan to cover his first year of University. He later received a full scholarship from Absa Bank Kenya from his second year until the completion of his undergraduate degree.
“University environment was interesting and I was determined to leave a mark as a person living with a disability. I pioneered the association of persons living with disabilities at the university. We were trying as much as possible to be heard as disabled people are mostly ignored in such institutions. I was proud to have accomplished many of the goals I had set myself by the time I graduated from the university in February 2022,” he narrates.
While he was still pursuing his undergraduate degree, he bagged an internship at the Kenya Capital Markets Authority in November 2021. This internship was for three months but as fate would have it, on his last day at the Kenya Capital Markets Authority, he received a positive response from KBL for an internship he had applied for in 2020. He joined KBL in February 2022.
“I started my internship at KBL. under a Commercial Operations Below-the-Line contract. My contract was supposed to end in June 2022 but I believe because of the value I added to the business, I was retained on a contract basis. I am working towards getting a different contract and hopefully a permanent job.” he says boldly.
A pursuit of a career…
Spencer graduated with a Bachelor’s degree History and Religion and Information Technology. He is open-minded to ploring different opportunities where he Can utilize what he learnt at the university.
“I have utilized my IT knowledge in my role at KBL I am currently looking for opportunities in data visualization, and how to use data to forecast for a business such as KBL.,” he explains,
At 23, Spencer has learned the art of making his own silver lining out of every cloud in his life. He has had his fair share of challenges being differently abled.
“When I joined KBL. I did not have a driving license yet my role in sales required that I make trade visits. I faced many challenges when I was looking for a driving school to enroll in. Many schools told me they did not offer driving lessons to people like me. I eventually found one that gave me lessons and I passed the driving test and I now have an interim license while awaiting the full license,” he narrates
“Now that I can drive, I see new opportunities opening up as I can fully perform the sales job,” he adds.
Spencer says he sometimes faces stigma from people when in social and public places. He chooses to ignore the negative comments or strange looks and understands that there are people who are less informed about differently-abled persons.
KBL’s inclusivity agenda
Spencer is delighted that KBL adheres to the law which requires that both public and private sector employers reserve five per cent of jobs for persons living with disabilities.
The company has always been a champion of diversity and inclusivity since its establishment in 1922. Today they employ over 140 differently-abled people in their value chain and aim to create an environment within the business where every individual feels a sense of belonging and can thrive and contribute to their fullest.
“KBL does more than the law requires as they include persons living with disabilities not only in their business but also in their entire value chain. It is one of the best employers when it comes to inclusivity,” Spencer says:
Spencer is full of praise for the opportunity to work for KBL His role at the organisation encourages him to do more and want more for himself. Since he joined the company in February 2021, he has seen remarkable growth in his career and happy to work at a place that prioritizes inclusion. His personal life has also improved tremendously, For example, he can now afford to buy surgical shoes for himself. He previously relied on funding from the National Council of Persons Living with Disabilities
“Lately they have been reluctant to provide me with shoes so I have had to get my own. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have a job. The government is supposed to provide funding for surgical shoes to those who need them. It is very difficult for those without a source of income to afford them,” he says.
While Spencer is differently-abled, nothing limits him when it comes to pursuing or achieving his dreams. His experience has lessons for persons living with disabilities who may feel limited when it comes to achieving their goals.
“Our principal in high school used to tell us to always keep our eyes on the prize. At times the prize might move from side to side or further away, but as long as you still have that focus, you are able to achieve what you want. I have kept my eyes on the prize and I believe in due time I will be fully rewarded. I would never have imagined working for such a prestigious organisation as KBL. I just put in an internship application and hoped for the best. This is my advice to people living with disabilities. Keep your eyes on the prize and dare to try,” he advises.
Outside his job, Spencer champions the rights of persons living with disabilities to ensure they achieve equity in society. His mantra: “Put your disability aside, do not let it define you. It does not really limit you, but opens you up to opportunities.