54-year-old blind and diabetic teacher who still loves changing children's lives

Jotham Angatia, a blind teacher of Ibokolo primary school in Butere. He has been teaching for years besides his challenges. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Jotham Angatia started teaching in 1987 and he has never looked back.

Angatia had just completed A-Level at St Peter’s Mumias High School and the government deployed him as an untrained teacher at Ematawa Primary School in Butere, Kakamega County.

He says his interest was in Mathematics and Science, but since there were few teachers at the time, he taught all the subjects.

Over the years, Angatia has remained a determined and proud teacher.

And as the world marked International Teachers Day on Tuesday, Angatia says he is satisfied with his achievements as a teacher.

But the P1 teacher is blind and relies on his white cane and what he terms a ‘rare wild instinct’ to go about his daily duties.

Angatia, 54, says with his loss of eyesight, the result of diabetes complications, life has not been a walk in the park.

“However, l have done all that was required of me to remain a teacher and impact lives,” he says.

The main challenge he faces is juggling between classwork and frequently going for medical checkup, and at times, getting admission to hospital due to diabetes.

He was diagnosed with diabetes in 1980 when he was 14. The Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) results had just been announced and he scored 33 out of a possible 36 points.

He was at Ibokolo Primary School, and was among the best students in the former Western Province.

He was still celebrating when he suddenly fell sick. He was rushed to St Mary’s Mission Hospital, Mumias, where he was diagnosed with diabetes. He says the diagnosis changed his way of life, but he continued with his studies.

Angatia joined Eregi Teachers Training College in 1993. He graduated as a P1 teacher in 1995 and went back to teach at Ematawa Primary.

He was to join Kilimambogo Teachers College, but having lost sight in the right eye, he opted for Eregi, which was near his home.

He continued teaching until 2001 when he woke up one morning only to realise a sudden loss of vision in the left eye. 

Braille studies were recommended for him and he ended up at Machakos Technical Training for the Blind in January 2005.

After two years, he left college to embark on teaching, this time using Braille and was transferred to Ibokolo, a school closest to his home.

Angatia, who previously taught upper classes, went back to lower primary due to his condition. That was eight years ago.

Like many devoted teachers, he says moving to lower primary does not feel like a demotion and did not enjoy teaching until he moved to lower primary and started interacting with much younger children, whom he loved more because they are the only honest people in the world.

Unlike those in upper classes, who would sometimes fear, the children in the lower primary will tell you as it is, without fear.

“That makes me very proud and happy to be around the little angels. When l am late, they will tell me l am late, so l should not punish them when they also come in late. When l miss class, they will tell me point-blank that I missed school, and I have to agree with them, or even explain to them why,” he says.

The seasoned teacher shared his condition with the pupils so that they know that when he is not in school, he is in hospital.

At times, they even offer to take him to the hospital or even escort him home. “With this kind of interaction, l rarely get bored in school.”

Despite his condition, Angatia always wants to be the first to learn new things. Such was the case with laptops and the latest Competency Based Curriculum (CBC). “This way, you do not feel left behind.”

Away from school, what else would he want to be? He says he knows how teachers and children with disabilities struggle, and that is where he would shift his energy if offered a different role.

“Because of stigma, there are children who report to school late. There is need to empower parents/guardians to realise that disability is not inability. So many disabled people across the world have achieved a lot,” he says.

Angatia is a member People with Disability Butere Forum, which largely fights for children with disabilities to start schooling as early as possible.

“We even started a unit at Buchenya Primary where children with disabilities can go to learn,” he says.

Though it has not been easy, with support from teachers and the government, he remains true to his calling - teaching.

[email protected]