Carol Wanjira, Nairobi

Two decades ago, her father walked out on the family because of her disability; today she is independent and takes care of her grandparents, proving him wrong against all odds. She devotedly performs house chores, prepares meals, does laundry and later catches a bus to town from Kawangware for a wheelchair basketball game.

Ms Carol Wanjira, 20, was born with spina bifida, a condition that involves incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings. On Monday, she joined hundreds of thousands in celebrating women’s achievements during the International Women’s Day celebrations.

Progress for all

This year’s theme, ‘Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities, Progress for All,’ echoes the kind of society she is grateful Kenya is warming up to. The day was first celebrated in 1975 during the International Women’s Year by the United Nations and has since been commemorated annually worldwide to appreciate past struggles and accomplishments and to encourage women to be the best in their fields of endeavour.

Spina bifida, occurs at the end of the first month of pregnancy when the two sides of the embryo’s spine fail to join and in some cases, the spinal cord or other membranes may push through this opening in the embryo’s back. The term means “split” or “open” spine, though it is closed immediately after birth.

The disease has not watered down her passion for wheelchair basketball and she has religiously attended training sessions every Tuesday for the past three years at Nyayo National Stadium. The former Joytown Secondary School student, who cleared in 2008, says that despite her condition, she lives a normal life and believes she will soon represent Kenya in international matches.

She is also a member of a support group, Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Kenya, Shak, which comprises members whose siblings, relatives of friends have the condition. “Spina bifida comes with its complications especially because most people cannot control their bowels,’’ Ms Wanjira said in an interview at her grandmother’s house in Kawangware.

She has to drain urine very three hours, a routine she has mastered to ensure she remains dry all the time. The causes of spina bifida are largely unknown. Some evidence suggests that genes may be involved, but in most cases there is no family connection. A high fever during pregnancy may increase a woman’s chances of having a baby with spina bifida.

Ms Wanjira, who attended Dagoretti Special School, disputes the misconception that a person with disability, particularly if it is a woman, cannot soar to great heights in their field of interest. “I have travelled to South Africa to represent Kenya in basketball, a venture that would have been impossible if I did not believe in myself,” she says giving accolades to her Langata Basketball team mates who also play in wheelchairs.

She also received recognition in school for excelling in other games like sitting volleyball and javelin. She also represented the country in 2006 in India where she participated in shot-put. “I need to exercise myself regularly and believe I am more fit than some able-bodied people,” she said heartily.
 
In 2010 Carol participated in the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India. She represented Kenya in the 1500m wheelchair competition. As second youngest participant, she finished in the 9th position.

Disability fund

Her mother died, and Wanjira now lives with her grandparents, who she hopes to relieve of their responsibility as breadwinners once she sets up her own business from the recently introduced disability fund. Her uncle, Mr Patrick King’ara, says Ms Wanjira is a source of inspiration to all family members especially when they are discouraged.

“She wears a permanent smile and believes that all is achievable to anyone that believes in herself,” Mr King’ara said. Ms Wanjira welcomed the 2003 Act of Parliament that came into effect this year that requires owners of buildings to adjust their premises to suit disabled persons.
 
Source: Daily Nation
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