BY PASCAL MWANDAMBO
She was struck by polio at the tender age of only one year, consigning her to permanent life on a wheelchair. Many thought she would probably never amount to anything but a lifelong liability to family and society. But being physically disabled did not mean mental incapability. She struggled to make it in life no matter what challenges she faced. Her guiding mantra was and still is… “Never say die”…But today, 55 year old Rozina Kisochi not only answers to the title “mheshimiwa” but rides in a Rav 4 car, has a fully-fledged private school of her own and is pursuing a degree course in county governance.
“I am a living example on how debilitating diseases such as polio can be and how they can change someone’s life. It’s a wake-up call to all parents to take health issues pertaining to their children seriously and take their babies for polio jabs,” says Rozina with a warm glow on her face and confidence in her voice.
Rozina who is a nominated member of county assembly in Taita-Taveta County representing persons with disability says it’s education that made her what she is today and challenges parents to take education of their children with utmost zeal.
“I still want to continue learning, as they say, education is a continuous and endless process. My love for education saw me start a private school in Taveta in 2005 called Divine Favour Junior Academy, whose first batch of standard 8 candidates will sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education(KCPE) this year. I also have ambitions of starting a secondary private school in the near future”, says Rozina.
Born at the idyllic Mghange Dawida village in Wundanyi constituency in 1960, Rozina says getting education was an endeavor fraught with hassles given her physical inability and the poor family background she came from.
The single mother of two, a boy and a girl, says at some point her elder sister had to drop out of school to support her.
“My sister had to drop out of school as she was the one helping to push me around and take care of my mobility,” says Rozina.
The MCA says she joined primary school in Mghange during her formative years before moving to Port Reitz school for the disabled in Mombasa where she completed class seven.
She then joined Bura Grils High School in Taita-Taveta where she shared the same class with Dr Naomi Shabaan, now Taveta MP and deputy majority leader in parliament.
“All through I relied on well wishers for school fees until I completed form four and got 36 points in my O-Level examinations,” she told i-mpact news.
She goes on: “I did not proceed for A levels and wanted to get a job so that I could raise some money to go to college. Even though one could get a fairly good job after form four in those days, my disability once again wanted to stand on my way as most potential employers were skeptical that I could perform as well as those without disability”.
She says she remained jobless in Mombasa for three years before returning home to get a part time job as a clerical officer in the then Taita-Taveta County Council.
“Even then my boss was doubtful about my performance but I did not waver. The job demanded brains and not physical strength and eventually they confirmed me on permanent terms after realizing how hard I was working,” she says.
In 1987 she joined the Voi-based Coast Institute of Technology(CIT) where she qualified as an accountant grade 1.
However, the hilly terrain of Wundanyi town where she worked proved quite challenging. “Building and other facilities like toilets were not disability friendly and I had to rely on my colleagues to help me around the offices,” she says, adding that finally, she applied for a transfer to Taveta(where the land surface is fairly flat) where she worked in the same capacity till 2013 when the new constitution came into use, leading to her nomination as MCA representing persons with disability under the Cord(ODM) political party.
Later she enrolled for a part time course in county governance at the Kenya College of Accountancy(KCA) where she is pursuing a diploma.
“I intend to go all the way up to degree level,” she says.
And what is her parting shot? “Young girls from Taita and Taveta should not waste their lives because of poverty or any other challenges. They should struggle to get education, get a better life and raise their families in dignity. If I can make it despite my disability, then they too can.”
Go for polio immunization, MCA urges Kenyans
Meanwhile Ms Kisochi is critical of the Catholic Church for opposing the ongoing polio immunization programme by the government. The MCA says the lives of many Kenyan children will be at stake if the parents are convinced to deny their children the immunization services without an alternative being offered for the same. “The allegations by the Catholic church that the polio jabs might be laced with family planning drugs are far fetched. No sensible government department can lace polio jabs with family planning drugs when the immunization is targeting children of below five years,” says Ms Kisochi. The MCA points out that she is a living example of how debilitating polio can be. “After being struck by polio at the age of one I was permanently disabled and were it not for the grace of God and those family members and friends who took good care of me, I could have died at childhood”, she says. Ms Kisochi asked parents with children with disabilities not to hide them away but expose them to the relevant government agencies so that they can get help. “During my days there were no bursaries and scholarships for children with disabilities but now things have changed. The National Council for People with Disabilities, apart from providing mobility devices for disabled persons has also been offering education assistance to disabled people so there should be no reason why children with disabilities and special needs should be denied education” says Kisochi.