Dr. David Ole Sankok may be living with a disability but that hasn't stopped him from making bold choices. From surviving assassination attempts and living in exile, he still fights for a barrier free Kenya.
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December 12, 2016, during the Mashujaa Day celebrations at the Nyayo National Stadium, President Uhuru Kenyatta recognized Dr. David Ole Sankok as one of the heroes of Kenya.
Sankok is currently the chairman of National Council of Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD).
"I think to have honored me as a hero, President Uhuru Kenyatta has seen what l have gone through. It has not been an easy journey. Being a person with disability is tough. There are lots of challenges you have to overcome. Things such as attending schools, running businesses, traveling, farming and relationships are not so easy to us," he says, quickly settling into the interview.
Sankok cites own experience on how difficult it was to get a spouse as a man with a disability.
"While making my marriage proposal, I had to forward her the list of my abilities and disabilities. Also, some of the married men live in fear of their wives being snatched away by able bodied men," he explains.
Sankok 38, is currently married to Hellen with whom they are raising their seven children. He says that his primary reason for being the chairman of NCPWD is that he's fighting to have a barrier free society where everybody has equal opportunity to access a great education, job opportunities, wealth creation, leadership position, religion and freedom of speech.
Sankok was not born physically disabled. In 1988 while in class six, he got a wrong diagnosis of pneumonia whose treatment led to paralysis of his left leg. The condition of the leg was so bad that it had to be amputated.
He reveals that the transition from a physically fit boy to being disabled was not easy. "Initially l was energetic, independent and played soccer. After the incident l could not play soccer," he says morosely.
The ordeal however became a turning point in his life because he resolved to study hard, become a doctor and understand exactly what happened to his leg. He did achieve that dream.
Perhaps, Sankok shares, if it wasn't for this misfortune, he could probably have dropped out of school, become a moran like many of his age mates, raided other communities and stolen cattle. "Who knows what that would have led to?" he muses.
In 2000, while at the University of Nairobi undertaking his medical studies, Sankok plunged into campus politics and gunned for the President post of Students' Organization of Nairobi University (SONU).
"I became the first medical student, first disabled person and also the first Maasai to lead SONU," boasts Sankok.
Seven months later, he fell out with the government and university authorities when he protested the introduction of parallel degree programs.
"I saw it as way of hawking degrees to the highest bidder; degrees that would one day not make sense. My reasoning was that when you train future workforce by charging them heavily, when you finally employ them, they too will demand a lot of money just as you charged them. This would definitely result in a bloated wage bill," he explains.
He organized student demonstrations and tried to eject those who had already enrolled for parallel programs from the university.
He explains that the Government started countering their move using threats and intimidation. Sankok was arrested and tortured. In his tenure, he was arrested and jailed 11 times in seven months.
He was finally suspended alongside five others in the student government. Also, during this time, Sankok survived three assassination attempts in Kericho, Thika Road and Narok. But it was the third attempt that had him flee the country and seek refuge in Norway.
He recalls on the night of December 7, 2000 when unknown people set fire to his shop cum house in Suswa at 1am.
"It took a toll on me because l lost everything including my crutches. It was by God's grace that l managed to crawl out through the window. Apparently, they didn't know l could manage that with my disability. Their intention was to kill me."
The following day, he left for Norway where he continued his medical studies at Bergen University.
Sankok says a regime change in 2002 was a great reprieve because all students who had been suspended were granted amnesty. "Upon return, l rejoined the university and graduated later with a degree in medicine," he says.
After graduation, he founded two medical facilities; Loita Lab Medical Clinic and OSIM Medical Surgical Centre in Narok which he operates to date. He also dabbles in farming in Narok.
Sankok says that he foresaw the deteriorating status of university education through parallel programs 16 years ago.
"What l foresaw came to pass, yet the government punished me for telling them the truth. Although the 2008 education reforms state that the minimum university enrollment is a C+ grade for all courses, universities have continually admitted students with lower grades like C and C-.
Today, Sankok is a happy man largely to the fact that Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i is in the process of restoring the status of university education.