The first time Samuel Juma put pen to paper was after he joined Standard Eight in 2002.
Previously, Juma, who was born without hands, had moved from one class to the next without writing - at least not on paper. While at Simatwet Primary School, he perfected the art of listening during lessons. He knew he had to retain as much information as possible since he had no notes to refer to later.
He relied on some of his teachers to write exams in order to move to the next class. He also took oral exams in some instances.
Despite attending a school where little was done to cater for his special needs, Juma was aware that his future depended on studying, sitting for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination and getting a leaving certificate.
What kept him going was his determination to make it in life. He did not want to end up as a school dropout.
“Knowing that I had to write exams to transit to secondary school pushed me to practise to write on paper. For long, I used to write on the ground using my leg,” said Juma.
His tenacity finally paid off. Today, Juma, who holds a diploma in information and communications technology from the Rift Valley Institute of Science and Technology, is the secretary of Caritas at the Catholic Diocese of Kitale.
Juma uses his mouth, legs and a small limb protruding from his left shoulder to carry out office tasks like photocopying, typesetting, filing, writing proposals, installing software and maintaining the computers.
But life has been anything but easy for the second born in a family of six – five boys and a girl.
Born in 1986 at Moi Farm, Kiminini, in Trans Nzoia to a pastoralist community, the first hurdle the disabled infant had to overcome was a threat by a relative to kill the ‘cursed’ infant.
“But I lived to tell the tale because my parents saw me as human. My maternal grandfather promised my parents tens of livestock if they killed me. They resisted,” said Juma.
After completing his primary education, he had to contend with lack of school fees. He stayed at home for one year without knowing his next move.
A friend came to his rescue and linked Juma with Cheshire Disability Services Kenya (CDSK), which offered to sponsor his education.
“The organisation’s intervention was timely. I was already losing hope as I stared at the end of my education and future. Only prayers kept me going.”
Juma joined Moi’s Bridge Secondary but could not cope because of lack of facilities. After one year he transferred to Tumaini Integrated School in Molo.
CDSK also paid for his college education. After graduating in 2010, it became a nightmare securing employment. He applied for tens of jobs and was even called for interviews but he believes his condition turned off employers.
Juma narrated an incident where he applied for an ICT job, was shortlisted and invited for interview.
“On arrival, one of the administrators inquired if l was Juma. I said yes. They looked shocked, perhaps because of my condition. They politely told me they had postponed the interviews yet I could see the others going in and out of the interview room. I was so hurt.”
He knew what he was capable of doing and felt bad that he had not been given a chance to prove himself. Juma can wash clothes and utensils as well as fetch water and cook with ease.
In 2012, he married his girlfriend whom he had known since their secondary school days. The couple has two children.
“I had many girls. Even today, my wife still feels insecure,” he said amid laughter.
His wife, Vivian Chepkorir, also burst into laughter and dismissed him.
“Our friendship started in school. Initially, I sympathised with how he struggled to do things for himself. I developed a liking for him and the rest is history.”
Juma started volunteering at Kitale Catholic Church to keep himself busy. Three months later, the church employed him. “We realised he was highly skilled in ICT and employed him. Today, he handles all ICT work in the church,” said Caritas director Alexander Barasa.