TALES OF COURAGE: I’m not my disability
An injection to treat a persistent cough and high fever when she was five years old resulted in Jemimah Kutata having a physical disability. But this was also the beginning of a journey as a rights activist.
A day after receiving the injection, Jemimah Kutata was unable to walk and her parents took her back to the hospital.
Doctors advised them to make a parallel bar – a device designed to assist patients with walking following an injury or disability – to aid their child in walking exercises until her leg muscles gain strength. But this did not help her as expected.
Jemimah says she is lucky to be alive because some children who were also treated that week died while others became paralysed, mostly in their legs where the injected was administered.
Jemimah blames the doctors for taking advantage of her parents who believed that she was going to be fine.
“During those years, our parents were not enlightened on issues to do with disabilities. Also, there were no physiotherapists in our rural homes. Nothing much could be done,” she says.
As a child, she did not understand what it meant to live with a disability and the challenges it would pose to her throughout her life.
Later when she was an adult, she met the doctor who administered the injection that led to her condition. Her mother had told her about the doctor but Jemimah chose not to talk about her condition.
“My friends told me to sue him, but I found no purpose in that because it would not make me walk normally again,” Jemimah says.
Today, she walks with the support of two elbow crutches and a calliper on her right leg.
On September 19, 2018, Jemimah, 40, was all smiles when she was feted by Christoffel Blinden Mission (CBM) Kenya at Jacaranda Hotel, Nairobi.
A certificate of Outstanding Service Award was presented to her for advocating for the inclusion and rights of people living with disability in Kenya.
Jemimah was brought up in a humble background and in those days in her Maasai community, a girl was rarely educated.Some disabled children were also left to die in manyattas, she adds.
But she was lucky. She got callipers from a Catholic mission centre in Loitoktok, Kajiado County, and later, when she joined Child Care Centre in the county, she was given modified assistive devices.
“When disability begins at childhood it is more manageable than when you acquire disability in adulthood. Since I started using braces at an early age it was not a challenge and we had some missionaries who were really supporting us with physiotherapy and other exercises,” Jemimah says.
She attended Africa Inland Church (AIC) Girls Primary School in Kajiado – a boarding school – when she was 10, as the long distance made it difficult for her to walk to a day school.
“I missed my parents so much and would only see them during the school visiting and closing days,” she recalls.
She later joined Moi Girls Isinya in Kajiado County and she felt different as she was the only physically challenged girl in the school at the time. She did not attend evening preps, but read in the dormitory instead, because the classrooms were far from the dormitories.
After completing her secondary school, she joined the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK) Coast branch and enrolled in tailoring and dressmaking courses funded by Christoffel Blinden Mission.
Jemimah Kutata, 40. She champions the inclusion of people living with disability. PHOTO | DIANA MUTHEU | NATION MEDIA GROUP
CAREER AND FAMILY
Her vision was to become a designer and she marketed outfits made by people living with disability at Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre.
In 2003, she became the first physically challenged model to hit the catwalk with able-bodied models at the Coast.
She later went back to college and studied Business Administration and was employed by APDK Coast branch as a receptionist. Her hard work won her a promotion and she became the personal assistant to the executive officer.
Jemimah considers herself lucky to be married to a man who truly cares for her. They have three children – a boy, 11, and two girls aged five and three years.
She says she has seen many women with disability being neglected by their families and others thrown out of their homes by their husbands for giving birth to children with disabilities.
As a mother, mobility is her major challenge. When her children are young, she has to entrust a house help with carrying them when going to the clinic for immunization.
“When I want to take my children for outdoor activities, I have to use an Uber or other means, which is very expensive.
“It is the joy of every mother to be able to do good things for her children. I cannot do most things for them when they are very young but when they start walking on their own, it becomes easier for me to enjoy.
“When they get sick I have to engage their father so much. Sometimes his work is very demanding, especially when he has travelled, and it becomes a major challenge,” Jemimah says.
Also, using the ferry has been a challenge but she sometimes needs to use it when she goes to train women living with disability in Kwale County.
ln 2013, she was promoted to be the Microfinance Coordinator managing 71 groups of people living with disability at the Coast.
“Beside my office work, I volunteer to train people living with disability in grassroots areas; mainly on their rights based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Disability Act. Also I train them on self-advocacy; to be able to amplify the voice of women at grassroots level to the national level.”
Jemimah has received many awards. In July 2004, she was awarded in the third annual East Africa Philanthropist and Volunteering Award in recognition of her outstanding service to the community.
In August 2016, she represented Kenya and also attended leadership training in Eugene, Oregon, USA, through Mobility International, an organisation that trains women with disability on leadership.
On December 7, 2016, through CBM Germany, she launched the book Inclusion Counts at the European Parliament.Her work was featured in the book published by CBM and she was the cover model.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission also awarded her a certificate of participation on building resilience against political and ethnic incitement.
The book “Inclusion Counts”. PHOTO | COURTESY
Jemimah is a trainer in disability inclusion. She says disabled women face many challenges and they should be supported.
“I have experienced a challenge in mobility because public transport is not disability friendly…I hope to get partners, donors or well-wishers who can help me get a car so that I can fulfil my dream of reaching more persons living with disability at grassroots areas and changing their lives for better.”
When invited to speak, Jemimah mostly highlights what needs to be changed to ensure that people living with disability feel accepted.
Some retrogressive attitudes need to be changed to ensure everyone’s rights to employment is realised, she adds.
“Women living with disability are devalued, first because of their gender [and] second because of the myths and misconceptions about impairment. There are often far-reaching and mistaken assumptions that women who are disabled do not need to work and their financial security will be provided by their families.”
In addition, she says infrastructure, especially roads and buildings, should be friendly to the disabled.
“Using public transport in Kenya is very difficult. We mostly use motorcycles, which are not always safe. Office meetings can be held in inaccessible places, making it difficult to attend.”
She says that as a country, we still have a long way to go, adding that the National Council for Persons with Disabilities is advocating for the hiring of members.
“It is now becoming mandatory to employ people living with disability and the council is assisting [in this]. Most employers now are changing their attitude, but at a very slow place.”
Jemimah urges employers to consider the rights of people living with disabilities and treat them like other employees.
In addition, she fights against female genital mutilation (FGM). “I have been fighting for girls with disabilities to be taken to boarding schools to escape the knife. Most of them were circumcised since they could not run for their dear lives,” Jemimah says, adding that villagers nicknamed her “learned disabled woman”.
It is her hope that the community will fully appreciate people living with disability and accommodate them.