Dr Delfina Gaitenga: My struggle as a single-mother with disability - Evewoman
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Achieving Woman

Dr Delfina Gaitenga: My struggle as a single-mother with disability

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Mine has not been the easiest life. It has been fraught with a series of challenges which I have overcome each after the other and lived to fight another day.

My struggles started when I was only two years old.

My parents once left me unattended when I was two years old and my uncle defiled me. He was my father’s cousin and lived in the same compound with us.

I have no memory of the act.

But the experience, left me with serious injuries on my right leg which led to paralysis. The paralysis has recovered slowly to the level I am now but I still walk with a limp.

The case went to court for many years after an attempt by the family to settle the matter out of court failed. It was finally dismissed due to family interference.

I have undergone two surgeries over this painful past and I cannot use my right leg or squat. I experience pain whenever when I walk.

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I am now 47 years old since my birth at North Imenti, Meru. I attended primary school at Runogone Primary school and CCM Township Primary School where I sat for my Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) in 1982.

I attained 34 out of 36 points and joined Nkabune Girls Commercial and Technical School which was a national school and attained a Division One of 18 points.

I proceeded to Kathiani High School in Machakos where I got two principals and two subsidiaries.

Attaining basic education was not easy for me because of an unstable family. My father was a drunkard and every time my parents fought, my mother would take off.  Then we would be forced to fend for ourselves.

The court case against my uncle for defiling me was the main cause of my family’s strife.

My father was uncooperative and was bitter when all the family valuables were repossessed to cover costs incurred during the longstanding battle in court.

Among the items repossessed was my father’s valued scooter, the family cow and his radio.

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My teachers knew what I was going through but there was nothing they could do to help. At some point I was even exempted from coming to school early and would report to school at 10am.

Once, my mother took off and did not come back as was the norm and I had to live in the streets for three years between 1979 and 1981.

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I would still attend school and being gifted really helped because the teachers fronted me as their best student so the other children were reluctant to bully me.

While I was living on the streets I found homelessness to be warmer than my own home. I fed myself through a program run by the Methodist church.

At some point a family took me in until one day I met my mother on the street and followed her home.

My stint at home did not last long and I found myself on the streets once again after my mother took off yet again. While I was in high school, I lived in an orphanage.

When I ran away from home, I tried to stay with relatives but they rejected me because of my disability saying they were afraid I would die in their hands.

In 1993 after clearing my A levels, I got pregnant with my firstborn son. Because of my vulnerability, desperation and inability to support myself, I agreed to get married to my high school friend who was responsible for the pregnancy.

In the middle of my marriage I was lucky to get enrolled in the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) for a Diploma in Community Oral Health and lucky to get employed at Machakos General Hospital upon completion of my course.

I later got pregnant again and gave birth to a second son. The marriage however, came to an end in 2007 when my husband wished to marry a second wife against my will.

Immediately after my divorce, I quit my job at the Ministry of Health and flew to Australia to take a degree in General Surgery at Sydney University. I stayed there for three years and when I came back, I was posted to Chuka as a community oral health officer.

In 2013, I made another attempt at finding love and was in a serious relationship when I became pregnant with my last born who is now five years old.

He was very supportive until our son became sickly and consequently developed a disability –cerebral palsy- at nine months old. He was born premature and at nine months he developed a fever and then he got a stroke. As a result, he developed paralysis. He cannot hold with his hands, he does not sit, he cannot walk and he is still in diapers.

My partner could not handle the pressure and lay all the blame on me. He said disability ran in my family not his and took off.

I was left alone with a sickly child who needed full-time supervision, a fast-paced career and two growing sons who also needed me because their father was not helping me to raise them in any way.

When we divorced, I did not ask for any material possessions because my husband had been out of work for a long time although he has now gone back to work.

My son’s need for constant care from a medical practitioner informed my decision to resign from my job so that I could focus on his care.

When I found out my son had developed cerebral palsy at nine months, I went into denial. I waited believing that he would wake up and still be able to walk. I wallowed in self-pity until finally I accepted the situation.

I became a doctor out of an ardent desire to help others because helping satisfies me and after quitting my job, I had a lot of time to think about how I could still help people in the society.

Due to first-hand experience, I realized how much time and effort disabled children require. Parents get stuck taking care of them and therefore cannot be able to work.

This compelled me to buy a property and start a centre to give care to children with severe disabilities. At the Centre for People Abled Differently I take care of 16 children and still spend time with my son. It is a win-win situation for me.

Favour my son has gotten better now and since I have gotten an offer for my job back, I am seriously considering going back and leaving the centre in the care of a manager because I need the money.

I support my family by working part-time in clinics in Meru, Nairobi and Mombasa.

I always have visions in my head about how my life would have turned out if I had not been defiled. My life would have been fast paced but I would still do the same things I am doing now.

In 2017, I tried to join politics by vying for Meru Municipality Ward but the returning officer rejected my party nomination. I will still try again in 2022.

I have forgiven my uncle and am a good friend with my cousins - his children. We do not talk about the matter and I do not go to their home. I have no grudge against my father and I’m even taking care of him in his old age.

I can drive an automatic transmission because my other leg is fit. I can dance but cannot swim because I am water phobic.

Discrimination is everywhere even if people pretend that it is not. When I was working in Chuka, I was stigmatized against a lot.

I remember once during the second week of work there, I had a motorbike accident but the head of department told me that unless I was dead, I would have to go to work.

Another time, my salary was stopped when I was admitted at the same hospital where I worked with my last born.

A lot of people do not understand you.

I came to accept such things as normal occurrences and that has helped me to move on.

Finding love is difficult for people living with disabilities. They will marry you but they are scared of meeting their friends when they are with you because they are embarrassed. I knew this but I persevered and tried to make it work.

What I can say is that disability has not inhibited me from doing anything I wanted to do in life.

End…/

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