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Disabled but able: He is a man of the people

Posted by African Press International on January 1, 2014

Left to right: Damaris Wambui, Praise Wairimu, Faith Wangari, and Dennis Ndegwa. Seated, his wife Jane Wanjiku and nephew, Alex Gathu. Photo/EMMA NZIOKA

Left to right: Damaris Wambui, Praise Wairimu, Faith Wangari, and Dennis Ndegwa. Seated, his wife Jane Wanjiku and nephew, Alex Gathu. Photo/EMMA NZIOKA

Posted  first on Wednesday, December 14  2011 at  00:00

Duncan Ndegwa was struck by polio as a child, leaving his legs paralysed.

With rehabilitation and education, (he has a Bachelor’s degree in business administration) Ndegwa has been able to build a successful career that has seen him positively change the lives of many disabled people in Kenya.

For his selfless service, Ndegwa, the disability programme coordinator at the Liverpool Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre, recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ministry of Children, Gender and Social Services and the National Council of Persons with Disability.

At 46, this father-of-four, who is studying for his Masters degree, says he has barely scratched the surface of his potential.

“I’ve always been a fighter,” he begins.

We are seated outside the beautiful home he shares with his wife of 23 years, Janet Wanjiku, and their four children.

The lawn is a lush green, their maize farm showing promise of a bountiful harvest.

It bothered Ndegwa that at the age of eight, he still could not crawl.

“When the other children went to play or herd cattle, I would be left behind, since I couldn’t do either,” he recalls.

He longed to kick a ball, run after cows, but even at that young age, he understood that he would never be able to do this. It frustrated him and he took it out on the other children.

“I was arrogant, and bullied my age-mates who could do all the things that I couldn’t,” Ndegwa says, pointing out that his disability made it possible for him to get away with a lot.

But what pained him most was the fact that he could not go to school.

“I’d never been into a classroom, but for some reason, I felt that going to school would take away the helplessness I always felt.”

His salvation came in the form of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), who came across Ndegwa while distributing relief food at his home in Kirinyaga, Central Province.

It was in 1972 after a long drought which made life even more difficult for poor parents like Ndegwa’s.

“I was malnourished and, being disabled, I stood out from the other children,” he recalls.

Ndegwa is convinced that the drought was a blessing in disguise — at least for him, because it is through the help of KRCS that he was able to realise his dream of going to school.

“KRCS introduced me to the Association of Persons with Disabilities in Kenya (APDK), who rehabilitated me,” he says.

The rehabilitation involved physiotherapy to strengthen his legs and proper nutrition and medication to improve his health.

After rehabilitation, Ndegwa was enrolled at the Nile Road Primary School in Nairobi, which had a special unit for disabled children.

KRCS, which Ndegwa is grateful to, found him a sponsor, Mr Dennis Oxyley, who paid his school fees and ensured that he had pocket money and everything that he needed.

In 1980, with the continued support of his sponsor, Ndegwa joined Joytown Secondary School in Thika town.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t do well in my final examinations, but Dennis, a very kind man who was genuinely interested to see me succeed, wouldn’t give up. He paid for private tuition, and when I did the exams again the following year, I got a Division Two.”

He would go on to study business administration, computer studies, customer care, and public relations at a city college, again through the assistance of a benefactor.

His first job was with a private company in Nairobi as a computer programmer. He went on to work for several other companies before joining World Vision in 1996 as a logistician.

“They had advertised the job in the newspapers. I applied and was called for an interview, which I passed,” he explains.

His primary job was to ensure that children in Southern Sudan, especially the disabled, received medication and books.

In 2000, he went work for Save the Children as a logistics and office manager. He ensured that medicine and other basic items for physically challenged and malnourished children were available.

“The most successful phase of my career was with the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya, where I worked for 10 years. It is here that I got to positively impact the lives of other disabled persons,” he says.

It is the innovative projects that he initiated while working there that won Ndegwa recognition.

For instance, in 2003, he approached the Australian High Commission with a proposal for a grant to alleviate poverty among some groups of disabled people.

His proposal was accepted and APDK was granted Sh4million. He then approached a local bank, which set up accounts for the disabled for free.

“APDK would send interest-free loans to the applicants’ accounts, which they used to set up businesses or farming projects, which we oversaw and monitored.”

The following year, with financial backing from Safaricom and APDK, he initiated another successful project, which came to be known as Simu ya Jamii.

The project involved providing phones to the disabled for commercial purposes. The phones were fitted on specially designed tricycles.

“I designed a model tricycle with an umbrella, which I developed with welding technicians,” Ndegwa explains. Safaricom gave 150 community phones, loaded with Sh5,000 airtime.

The project was an instant hit.

“Then, not many Kenyans owned mobile phones, making Simu ya Jamii a worthwhile venture,” he explains.

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Today, with almost everyone having a mobile phone, it may not be the money-maker it was, but the tricycles still come in handy since one can still sell sweets and other items on them and still ease mobility,” Ndegwa reasons.

Later, Ndegwa approached some colleges in Nairobi and persuaded them to sponsor several disabled youths.

“It wasn’t easy — my proposal was rejected several times, but eventually one college took in a couple of disabled students, while a private university sponsored two.”

That is not all. Ndegwa also lobbied the Ministry of Local Government to preserve 150 stalls for disabled people at the Muthurwa market, in the outskirts of the city.

“It took lengthy negotiations with the then town clerk and the Ministry of Local Government, but it bore results,” he says.

Through Ndegwa’s intervention while working with APDK, 300 disabled graduates got jobs with various companies.

When we marvel at his achievements, Ndegwa says the greatest one is his family, from which he derives his encouragement and inspiration.

His firstborn son, Dennis Ndegwa, 22, wants to be a pilot. He recently discontinued a mechanical engineering degree programme at the University of Nairobi.

“Who am I to discourage him from pursuing his dream,” Ndegwa shrugs, even as he comments that his son’s change of heart will cost him and his wife a lot of money.

Their secondborn, Damaris Wambui, 17, is a student at Pangani Girls’ Secondary School in Nairobi and wants to be a doctor.

Also in the same school is Faith Wangari, 15, who tells everyone who cares to listen that she will be a lawyer.

Lastborn daughter Praise Wairimu, 11, is at Westlands Primary School and is yet to decide what she wants to become.

Ndegwa has designed his house to accommodate the needs of a disabled person.

“It’s the kind of house where a person with a disability like mine can live independently,” he says.

The doors are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and the windows are low, so that a disabled person can open and close them. It is also fitted with a ramp. Public buildings, he says, should be disability-friendly to make it possible for such people to access services with ease.

The lively Ndegwa, who describes himself as a gentleman living happily with disability, is also a musician.

“My music is woven around topical issues and patriotism,” he explains. Some of his songs have titles such as Amani, Kenya Nzuri, Wakenya Tupendane, Vijana Acheni Madawa, Karibuni Kenya and Tuwape Nafasi Walemavu.

What motivates him? The word of God.

“I would hate to hear God tell me, ‘I gave you the knowledge, but you did not make use of it’.”

Though some gains have been made, Ndegwa feels that a lot still needs to be done for disabled people in Kenya.

“For instance, many disabled children have missed admission to public primary and secondary schools because they lack facilities that would make their learning easier,” he points out.

Free and quality education, he is convinced, would be a permanent solution to the cycle of poverty that dogs disabled people since it would give them the opportunity to compete on a level field with fellow Kenyans.

“I have accomplished what I have done because of the generosity of people who were kind enough to invest their money and resources in me. These people saw potential in me in spite of my disability. I wish we’d all be like this.”


  • Submitted by kanyonikega

    A news worth article, very inspiring story of a courageous man who has prospered despite a lot of odds. Thanx much for those who saw potential in you and chose not to let go!

    Posted  desember 16, 2011 01:33 AM
  • Submitted by Mulenzi

    A beautiful family

    Posted  desember 15, 2011 10:19 PM
  • Submitted by Amakobe

    A Great man with an inspiring story. Hope the press will look for more of such well written stories of people doing good instead of the usual fighting word stories.

    Posted  desember 15, 2011 02:02 AM
    • Submitted by mbukukanyau

      This is an impressive Kenyan. I would be curious to hear his songs. They are probably horrible

      Posted  desember 15, 2011 01:59 AM
    • Submitted by otherview

      What about Jane Ms Mwololo? Surely she must have contributed to Ndegwa’s success all these 23 years. Could it be that we’ve missed half this man’s story by leaving Jane out of it? Just wondering.

      Posted  desember 14, 2011 11:43 PM
    • Submitted by lisa7777

      Great man, inspiring story!! This is a great example of the Kenyans we should emulate, the Kenyans we ought to be. Thanks nation media. Kenya needs media companies that talk issues and are more inclined into empowering the society.

      Posted  desember 14, 2011 05:44 PM
      • Submitted by mjinimji

        Thank you Nation for such an amazing story. Very inspiring and timely at these discouraging times that we live in.

        Posted  desember 14, 2011 02:18 PM
      • Submitted by shadrackmbui

        There’s too much good potential in this our beloved country. If only we can look around. Otherwise what we call news is usually centred on a few ‘common’ individuals. Bravo Ndegwa!

        Posted  desember 14, 2011 12:55 PM
      • Submitted by stanleynjengakangau

        An inspiring story Mr.Ndegwa. I wish others followed suite and bragged off the idea of disability as inability but as an opportunity to be exploited. Heko.

        Posted  desember 14, 2011 12:43 PM
      • Submitted by jerryjarongo

        A true hero….Congrats Ndegwa for improving the lives of disabled people.God bless you abundantly.

        Posted  desember 14, 2011 10:46 AM
      • Submitted by maskam

        vry encouraging; disability is not inability……..we bless God 4 u man

        Posted  desember 14, 2011 03:41 AM

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