MWAURA ISAAC is the Special Interest Group Advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister. He is also the National Co-ordinator of the Albinism Society of Kenya. He has defied many odds to reach the skies, writes NJOKI CHEGE
Being born with albinism is a spectacle, particularly in Africa, where albinism is associated with several negative beliefs. Therefore, it did not come as a surprise when Mwaura Isaac, who was born with albinism, became a local spectacle and a conspicuous child thereafter.
“My birth affected everyone around me, including my parents, who separated because my father thought that this ‘kind of child’ cannot be born of him,” says Mwaura.
But that was just the beginning. Mwaura and his mother would have to contend with a lot of negative assertions and his mother was even accused of being unfaithful for having a different child.
Mwaura continues: “As a result, there were low expectations about me and neighbours even suggested that I should be taught menial tasks since I couldn’t amount to much, anyway.”
But that was never to be. At the age of four years, Mwaura was compelled to face life head-on as he was admitted to boarding school at the Thika School for the Blind. It was painful and disheartening, particularly for his single mother, who had to leave behind her toddler in kindergarten.
“Mother cried as we parted, but I had to go to school and make something of myself and prove the world wrong,” he says.
Interestingly, Mwaura did well in class and horned his leadership skills while still in primary school. But it was also at that formative age that he can trace his sense of nationalism.
“Thika School for the Blind is a mixed school. There are children from all backgrounds and tribes across the country. It was there that I trace my sense of nationalism,” he says.
Mwaura would go on to be the top pupil in the KCPE national examinations and he was called to Starehe Boys Centre. Unfortunately, he was not admitted the top-performing school. Heartbroken, Mwaura attended Thika High School between 1997 and 2000.
But even in his teenage life, Mwaura not only stood out because of his physical condition, but also for his leadership skills. It was in high school that his interest in politics was hatched and he began to take keen interest in the politics of the 1990s, drawing inspiration from political big wigs James Orengo, Gitobu Imanyara and Paul Muite among others.
In 2002, Mwaura joined Kenyatta University for a Bachelor’s degree in Education, specialising in Special Education and French. But the leadership bug bit him even before the first freshman semester was quarter way.
“Majority of the students with special needs came from poor backgrounds, yet the school administration expected them to be self-sponsored. Even though my mother was able, I felt concerned that these students had to grapple with school fees,” he says.
As Mwaura points out, most special needs students barely make it through high school, therefore making it to university is a big achievement by itself. While few would foot their own school fees and other bills, most were unable, because of their poor backgrounds. Something had to be done.
“We led a big protest that attracted media attention. We lobbied the Joint Admissions Board to lower the threshold for special needs students and make it possible for them to be government sponsored in spite of their grade,” he says.
This effort bore fruit and it has now become a government policy. Mwaura later served as the class secretary in the special needs class and later in the executive position as a special member in charge of the student’s constitution and transport affairs.
Among his landmark achievements is reviewing the Kenyatta University’s students’ constitution from an archaic one to a more vibrant and inclusive document.
In 2004, while still a university student, Mwaura was appointed a board member to the National Council of Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) at just 22 years, making him the youngest board member in the country.
The wealth of experience he gained as a board member not only sharpened his leadership skills, but also catapulted him deeper into national politics. He would later move on to be in-charge of communication for the NCPWD where he helped spearhead the formulation of its first strategic plan.
He served in NCPWD until 2007 when he moved to the Uraia Programme as a programmes officer in charge of the National Civic Education Programme.
It was in NCPWD that his activist streak gained ground and in 2006, he co-founded the Albinism Society of Kenya.
Says he: “We wanted to share and celebrate our differences and uniqueness as persons with albinism and lobby the government to fund the national development fund for persons with disabilities.”
Mwaura’s efforts have not gone to waste, as albinism is no longer considered a taboo subject in Kenya.
So far, the society has been able to lobby the government to allocate Sh100 million to buy sunscreen for people with albinism in all parts of the country.