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ELECTION 2022

Shunned at work, woman now turns to epilepsy drive

NYANZA
By Anne Atieno | Feb 12th 2021 | 4 min read

Vallent Adhiambo, founder of Geno Epilepsy Centre Foundation, during the interview in Migori. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Despite losing her job three times due to epileptic seizures, Vallent Adhiambo has not resigned to fate.

She is taking her condition in her stride and has taken a step further to sensitise epileptics and the public about the disorder.

After losing her third job last year, Adhiambo, 30, launched an organisation dubbed Geno Epilepsy Awareness Foundation to help people living with epilepsy.

By naming it Geno, which means Hope in Luo, Adhiambo focuses on ensuring epileptics do not despair in life.

She also refers epileptic patients to a doctor whom she says has really helped her in her recovery journey.

Suffered stigma

Adhiambo has partnered with Mediana Clinic in Migori where epileptic patients will get special medical attention and drugs every last Thursday of the month.

Mediana Clinic Director Philip Njika says Adhiambo came up with the idea of starting Geno Epilepsy Awareness and holding the monthly clinics at his facility.

Adhiambo has suffered stigma even as she struggles to cope with her condition.

After completing her studies at Zetech University in 2013, where she pursued a Tourism management course, she secured a sales and marketing job at a Nairobi-based private company in 2016, but was dropped months later due to her condition.

In February 2018, she got another job with the company at its Rongo branch as a customer care personnel.

“I would not go to the office at times when I had an epileptic attack. I would always let my boss who understood my situation know. But to my colleagues, I was not working yet I was being paid,” she says.

They called a meeting at the Rongo branch where we worked and announced that they were dropping four people, me included. 

“I went inside my room and cried my heart out. When I was coming into terms with the fact that I had already lost my job, my colleagues confessed that they conspired to have me sacked as they claimed that I pretended to be sick all the time," she said.

After losing her third job last year, Adhiambo went back home in Kanga, Rongo, where she now lives with her mother.

Adhiambo was born normal just like any other child but when she was one-and-a-half years old, she started having epileptic seizures. Her mother took long trips to hospitals trying to find medication for her.

When she reached Standard Five, Adhiambo would get epileptic seizures more often and sometimes miss school.

Now as an adult, she says men seeking a relationship with her pull out on learning about her condition.

Adhiambo hopes she will find a man who will someday accept her as she is and build a family with her.

Gained courage

She says she has struggled to accept her condition, which she later came to learn is a 'disability'.

“It is when I accepted what I had that I gained the courage to speak about it and help those living with the condition. I understand it and came out to get treatment,” she says.

Adhiambo moves from village to village telling people about her life experience and encouraging them to come out and bring their epileptic relatives to hospital for treatment.

“People with epilepsy fear coming out to the public or seeking treatment because of the stigma that comes with it. By doing this, I am trying to give them hope that they can also be accepted in the society and that by seeking treatment, they can manage the condition,” she explains.

She now focuses on helping and educating persons living with epilepsy and creating awareness to stop myths and misconceptions surrounding the condition.

John Ocholla, whose Standard Six daughter has been supported by Adhiambo both financially and psychologically, says that before Adhiambo traced them to their home in Nyatike, he had sold his four cows to seek treatment for daughter. “I moved from one hospital to another and spent a lot of money. I have also tried seeking prayer intervention to have my daughter get well. After going to all these places, my daughter’s condition instead continued to worsen,” Ocholla says.

However, he says that Adhiambo has been of help to them as his daughter is now faring on well after being directed to a specialist for correct medication.

Lucy Aduke, whose husband is epileptic, says Adhiambo has been of great help to the family as she keeps encouraging them. “She has been offering us moral support. My husband has been unable to work because of his condition."

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