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Meet the 'soldier' on Wheelchair who wears many hats

WEDNESDAY LIFE
By Pkemoi Ng'enoh | October 8th 2014
Soldier in a wheelchair

Nairobi; Kenya: Some of the qualities considered when recruiting youths to the army include physical fitness, height, a well packed set of teeth and straight feet. The short, bow-legged and the scarred are shown the door immediately they show up.

But a number of Nairobians who park their vehicles or pass in the alley between Kencom and Kenya Cinema area have seen a ‘soldier’ fully dressed in replica Kenya Army combat gear, either in a wheelchair directing vehicles to parking slots or walking on crutches to catch up with motorists looking for parking.

Andrew Onyango Omondi, 45, is not however, an army man as his gear suggests but a security guard with Motor Security in Hurlingham. In the city centre where he doubles as a parking boys’ commandant, motorists and other people call him ‘Major’.

But why employ a disabled man as a security guard? “I was not born like this. My disability is as a result of a bullet in Uganda,” says Omondi. He was born in Kisumu where he grew up and schooled before leaving for Uganda to try his hand at a clothes business in the mid-1970s.

“I was shot in the right foot in the course of running battles with authorities, who were chasing us from the streets when then dictator Iddi Amin was making rounds in town,” recalls Omondi.

Although he survived, the bullet changed his life for good even after undergoing surgery to remove it from his ankle.

Never walked again

“I knew I could not survive in Uganda during Iddi Amin’s regime where the disabled were reportedly bundled into Lorries and dumped into rivers and caves. I was transported to Kisumu where I was treated but I never walked again.”

Having lost his business in Uganda, Omondi left his village for Nairobi to try to and earn a living instead of languishing in poverty. For more than 20 years, he has been on the city streets as a parking boy during the day and selling cigarettes, sweets, airtime and biscuits behind his modified wheelchair at night.

“One day while directing a driver to a parking spot, a man, who turned out to be the manager of a security firm, noticed me and offered me the chance to be part of his team. I received this replica Kenya Army gear from him and an allowance of Sh3, 000 every month but I report to the firm on Mondays and Fridays,” he says.

Omondi leaves many heads turning whenever he wears the full gear. “Others stare at me for long, wondering if it is possible for a disabled person to be recruited into the disciplined forces. Some find the courage to ask me, but police around the city know me very well.”

His special wheelchair, which he uses to commute daily from Kayole where he lives to the city centre, broke down, forcing him to use a matatu after close of business around midnight. This, however, has not dampened his spirit as he has to work hard to provide for his family.

“My son finished high school last year and scored a B-plain and my daughter is in Form One. Two of my other children are in primary school. I work hard to educate them instead of begging like other disabled people. Car owners give me a token after I help them find parking and watch their vehicles until they return,” he says.

Omondi believes not all disabled people manage to make ends meet, including educating their children, but a little support in form of a monthly allowance would go a long way in easing their burden.

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