Some tragedies in life strike you like a bolt from the blue.
And others arrive in bite-sized portions a little at a time. Everyday takes something away from the rigor of life; calling for a doctor’s appointment and another and another. Until it hits you one day that the diagnosis isn’t good at all.
Timothy Mburu’s slide into a health abyss was the gradual type. He wasn’t worried at first then he was. Then his doctor was and finally he had to face the dispiriting news; he had been diagnosed with a severe bout of Tuberculosis -or TB, that had advanced to attack his spinal cord.
All along, Mburu, a University of Nairobi Bachelor of Science graduate from what he describes as a humble ground and who had made it through life by pulling his own bootstraps, was a vibrant mathematics and chemistry high school teacher.
“I got into teaching in 2003 and taught in both private and public schools,” he said.
But in 2010, Timothy began to experience some difficulties and at times would collapse, much to the bewilderment of his doctors who couldn’t pinpoint the cause of his condition.
This went on for over two years until late 2013 where things took a turn for the worse from weakness in the lower limbs to finally full paralysis from the waist down. He was now confined to a wheelchair with his chance of ever walking again deemed by doctors as “very slim”. He was teaching in Laikipia County.
It was an acquaintance who knew of a similar case who referred him to Kijabe Mission Hospital.
“That’s when they realised that I had TB that had attacked my spine. My spinal cord had been destroyed to a big extent and I need surgery to place an implant on my spine,” he said. He thought his fate was sealed.
After the diagnosis, things at home changed. He became dependent, was deprived of his independence and was in a state of shock. He knew life came with its own set of adjustments but this one would test him to the core.
It did…and he passed the test. He is grateful for family relationships that had been broken before and that were repaired as he was healing; creating an environment for more wholesome healing. He says it was a huge burden for the family but friends also stepped in to support.
If there was one thing he had learned from his illness, life would be the ultimate teacher. The tables had turned and it was his turn to be the student.
“I was alone with my family. It was hectic. I used to earn but here I was relying on people. I had to borrow everything. Even close people can see you as a bother and even some family members who had been supporting me called it off. For my physical wellbeing, I was following doctor’s orders to the letter,” he said.
His legs had ceased to work but his mind had not. Quitters never win! That simple but moving realisation got him out of a slippery slope to self-pity.
He became more hands on with decision making in the home and together with a group of friends, began venturing into farming, among other business ventures.
“I felt like I had reclaimed my life,” says Timothy.” The support I received from friends and family at the time empowered me to get back on my feet, so to speak. I realized I could still live my life and make a positive impact on those around me. I was myself again.”
Then came the glimmer of hope. During one of his physiotherapy sessions, his doctor noticed some response in his legs. The rest, followed according to script and within months, he went from wheelchair, to frame, crutches and finally the redemption of managing a few short distances without an aid.
When he felt strong enough to stand in front of a class and teach, Timothy got his groove back and was back in the classroom doing what he loved at a school near his home, which also added to his healing process.
While going through his therapy, he had joined an online support group for people with disabilities and in the process learned about the opportunities available at Safaricom.
He applied in October 2016 and though was not successful on his first try, was recalled for an interview in April 2017, underwent the training courses and will this month clock his sixth month as a Customer Care experience Executive in the company.
From a spirited and active Maths and Science teacher to being paralysed from the waist down, to getting back on his feet, he has surprised doubt with action.
“Before I got this job, I would blatantly be shut out of job opportunities because of my disability. To others, it didn’t matter that I was qualified, they had already labelled me incapable. Safaricom uplifted me and granted me a great relief,” says Timothy.
“With this job, I was given a chance to redeem myself. I now take full responsibility of educating my daughter and It’s my greatest joy to do so,“ he adds.
The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons earlier this week was under the theme Transformation Towards a Sustainable and Resilient Society for All. At Safaricom, there are currently, 92 employees with special needs which constitutes 1.7 per cent of the total work force. Our goal is to have 5 per cent employees living with disabilities by 2020.
In line with this year’s theme, through a four pronged strategy, inclusivity and diversity among the employees will be assured, regardless of their situation and conditions. One of the strategies is language, whereby 380 employees across the country are trained in basic sign language in retail stores to ease communication.
Additionally, product innovation is also taking this into consideration with the launch of a world’s first, a voice tech to help visually impaired persons access their M-PESA accounts.
“In life, you never know what the future holds, but at Safaricom, you know that they will not leave anyone behind when transforming lives,” says Timothy.