The first cry by a newborn baby usually signals a successful delivery. But to Martha Munjuri, it was a cause of worry as she suddenly realized that she could not see her crying baby.
“I could hear people talk and my baby cry but I could not see them. I had been in the labor ward for some days. On this particular day at around 5.00 pm the pain became unbearable and I was rushed to the theater to deliver through cesarean section. I woke the following day in a dark world,” she says.
The doctor would then inform her that she had lost her sight to retinal periphlebitis (Eales disease) a rare medical condition characterized by sudden loss of vision, recurring eye blood vessel hemorrhages and oozing of clear thick fluid from inside the eyeball.
“I had lost my sight; it took me more than a week to come to terms with my new world,” she says.
Even as relatives and friends urged her to sue the doctor for negligence, Martha a primary school teacher had thousands of worries running through her mind.
How would she care for the child that she could not even see? Who would take care of her other children back at home? For one she could not sleep with her newborn in the same bed for fear that she could hurt him.
As her maternity leave drew to an end, an insistent question kept nagging her mind. Did this blindness mean that she had to lose her job as a teacher?
Her doctor advised her to inform her employers the Teachers Service Commission of the new developments in her health condition. She wrote a letter praying and hoping it would not get her sacked.
To her delight, the Teachers Service Commission communicated back informing her that she could continue with her work like any other teacher the only difference was that she was now recognized as a person with disability.
A month later she was back at school determined to continue earning a living to support her young family.
That was 22 years ago. Today Mrs Munjuri, as her pupils call her is still going strong. Though her condition has deteriorated to a point she cannot see the feint pencil handwriting of her pupils, she still reports to school every working day.
Mrs. Munjuri has since acquired an assistant teacher who is recognized by teachers service commission as a reader. She assists her in reading, writing of class schemes and marking of pupils homework .
But her journey has not always been smooth. While her family, her employer and her pupils have come to accept her condition, the biggest challenge she says comes from stigmatization by some members of her community who think she should give up work.
“I have had people confront me, asking why I have not resigned from teaching. To them, I should be having a bowl on my hand in one of the street corners begging. What they don’t understand is that we are capable of doing what they can or even better with minimal support,” she explains.
“Many are the times I would hit my toes on stones on the way or slide on the muddy ground during the rainy season. This attracted a lot of stares from people who would mock me. I have since mastered the road; I now know where a certain trench is and how to avoid it. I rarely fall now,” she narrates.
“Teaching is in me, it is my passion. I wake up and come here to nurture the dreams of these children. I want to train them to become lawyers, teachers, pilots and engineers of this world like I have done to others who have passed through me,” she adds.
Her fellow teacher, Jane Kobia describes her as a person who is dedicated to her work.
“Mrs Munjuri is one person who is passionate in her teaching. She does almost everything that we fellow teachers do or even better. She motivates and challenges me with her hard work,” Jane says.
Mrs Munjuri says she would not have been able to come this far without her family’s support.
“My family has been very supportive especially my husband who did not neglect me even after I lost my sight. He still loves me the way he loved me when I had sight.
Her husband Mr Leonard Munjuri describes her as a person who is hardworking and who has never let her condition define her.
“My wife has never let her condition stop her from being a good wife and a mother. She still does her household chores; cooking and cleaning just like everyone else. No single day have I heard her say she can’t do something because she is blind. She is the best mother to our children and a wife to me. I thank God for my wife,” says Leonard Munjuri her husband of 31 years.
Her 22 year old son Eric Munjuri who was born when she got blind is now a fourth year student at Kenya Methodist University. The young man is full of praises for his mum.
“My mum is my heroine. She has overcome many challenges to support my father in bringing us up. Though my mum is blind even if I was given another chance to select another mother, I would still pick my mum,” says Eric.
Martha urges other disabled people not to let their condition define them, “To my fellow disabled people rather than begging, work with what God has given you .Disability is not inability. I believe no matter what disability one has, you still have a skill in you that you can use to earn something. In fact the government has a lot of support programs for persons with disability.”
She concludes by challenging people not to despise disabled people but rather support them in their endeavors.
“Those who despise disabled people should know that no one wishes to be disabled. It can befall anyone so rather than pulling us down support us to achieve our dreams in life because we are also capable,” she says.
“When you despise a disabled person, they think that they are not wanted even by God. Disability is not inability,” she concludes.