Something special happened at Makutano Primary School in Ndeiya, last week.
Here a small group of parents and teachers gathered to honour the best performers. Among the teachers that stood to be honoured was Josephine Muthike, 40, a social studies, religious education and Kiswahili tutor.
Mrs Muthike received a standing ovation from her pupils and fellow teachers when her name came up on the honour roll.
Muthike was clearly one of the popular teachers among her pupils but few know her story.
Muthike went blind at the age of nine months after a measles infection.
Born and raised at Kasinga village in Machakos County, Muthike had always wanted to be a teacher, a profession she describes as noble and a calling.
Her parents enrolled her at Central Primary School in Kitui where she sat her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations, which she wrote on braille. She scored 405 marks and secured a place at the Thika School for the Blind.
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In 1998, she sat her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations but her parents did not have funds to help her to immediately proceed to college.
“I stayed home for three years. I felt my life grinding to a halt," she recounts.
Her parents had another reason for not wanting to pay her college fees: they did not think she was worth it.
“A friend of mine from Kasinga village pestered and pushed my parents to take me to college but my parents did not see how I would benefit. My mother asked my friend, "Sasa huyu atatusaidia na nini?" (How will this one help us?) Muthike says.
But her friend, Hellen Nguti, was not about to give up and even went to the Teachers Service Commission to ask for a college recommendation letter.
Muthike took matters into her hands and walked for miles to the chief's office to present her case. She was in luck after the chief promised to help her get a sponsor to pay her college fees. Muthike tapped her way home, sightless but elated.
“It was such a relief. Even as I walked back through the Ukambani terrain with only a stick to guide me, I could see light at the end of the tunnel, as they say."
Muthike was admitted to Highridge Teachers College where she met other visually impaired students who encouraged her.
“There were 20 blind students at Highridge. We encouraged each other amid so many challenges,” she recalls.
She graduated two years later but no school was ready to take on a blind teacher, and the head teachers told her as much.
"All the head teachers I spoke to wondered how I would be able to teach with my condition,” she says.
Muthike almost gave up. She first tapped her way to Kangundo School where she was referred to the TSC for a registration certificate.
”It was very frustrating trying to get a (registration) number at the TSC then,” she recounts.
But lady luck was smiling her way and the young blind teacher caught the eye of Education Permanent Secretary Karega Mutahi. He ensured she not only got registered by the TSC but also landed her first job at Kasinga Primary School.
There her pupils posted good marks and Muthike proved to all that she did not need her eyes to teach well.
She also found something else at the school: love.
"There was this man who kept pestering me. I did my best to ignore him but he kept coming back," she recounts with a chuckle.
Today, that man, Isaac Njogu, is her husband and constant companion.
“Even in another life, I would chose her as my wife,” he says.
The couple lives in a rental house within Makutano shopping center in Limuru, a short walk away from Makutano Primary. Head teacher Lucy Wanjiku Kimani says that in Muthike she has a reliable, hardworking teacher who is passionate about her job.
"Initially, I did not know how I would assign her duties but as we went along I found a very competent person with good attitude about her work. She delivers like any other teacher here,” says Ms Wanjiku
Still, it is not easy being a blind teacher when some people think blind people ought to be pitied.
”At times I get very irritated when I walk in towns and people think that I am a beggar,” Muthike says.
But despite such irritations, and sometimes struggling with her phone, she says she never allows anything to bring her down.
“My spirit to soldier on, fight on and press on is ever present. My resolve to always win is always there. I must prove my detractors wrong. I will never ever give up!” she says.
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