Brian Nderitu is a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunlight and everything good and fun in between. He is many things but what stands out most about who he is, is the fact that he cannot stand. He would love that joke because he is a self-appointed punster. He uses his witty personality to address societal issues affecting the disability community. A community he is a proud member of and passionately advocates for.
He currently works as a writer for EnableMe, a disability-focused community and information portal. He is also a social media intern at Light for the World Kenya. During his time, he volunteers his writing skills at Riziki Source, a disability social enterprise that helps persons with disabilities get into meaningful economic empowerment through jobs and entrepreneurship.
“I have a physical disability that affects my ability to walk. It’s mixed up with some cerebral palsy. I have a dislocated hip joint and my legs can’t support my weight. I, therefore, have to use a wheelchair to get around. As is with everything else in the world, being disabled has its upsides and downsides.”
I had an interesting conversation with Brian about his journey, revisiting how his childhood felt like as a disabled person. The process of him becoming a writer/advocate for the community and his dreams of one day becoming a billionaire.
What are your interests, and what do you enjoy doing the most?
I have a myriad of interests so much so that I get confused at times. I love getting informed on so many fronts that’s why writing comes easy for me. I love watching documentaries on Technology Business and history. As a result, these three subjects are sometimes intertwined and you find yourself getting lost in very interesting bits of information. For example, the foundation stone for Volkswagen was laid by Hitler (history) and Volkswagen Group is the 2nd biggest vehicle conglomerate in the world after Toyota (business) and they are also in the process of having self-driving cars (technology)
I also love reading newspapers and blogs in addition to travelling when am able to. Pesa nikikupata wewe!
Describe your roots? Where do you come and what is your home area best known for?
My roots! If only you loved Lucky Dube to know that my roots are reggae! But anyway, home is Meru, a place famous for low-budget Safari Rally driving in the name of Miraa Drivers. Miraa chewers are called Jaba-nese. Personally, I don’t chew miraa because life with a disability is expensive so you could say I am economically high. In Meru, all the 14-seater vehicles are called Nissans never mind the make is actually a Toyota. It’s a wonderful, lovely place actually.
Describe your childhood, how was school and what was your general experience growing up?
My childhood was a mix of shifting between a normal school and a children’s home for PWDs like myself. I remember being a very cheeky kid, more so in the children’s homes where I was the entertainment prefect. It was fun because I used to live in a children’s home for the night and then go to a normal school during the day. I was subjected to a certain level of discrimination from the other kids because of my disability but being different also made me popular in the school and I suppose that was a perk.
At some point in my childhood I was a trouble maker but my dad never once spared his rod. I was whipped just like my peers and taught the meaning of discipline. My favourite subject in school was English. I was near hopeless when it came to other disciplines.
Some of the fondest memories from my childhood are the days I would visit my grandmother. She was very protective and fond of me. If you ask some of my other family members, they might say that I was a little spoilt by my grandmother. Maybe I was, but I remember her being very nice to me, I guess my disability played a role in how she treated me.
What impact has your disability had in your life? Settle the debate, is it better to be born with a disability or acquire it later on?
In terms of accessibility or lack thereof, stairs and bad roads are things we have to contend with every day as wheelchair users. A section of society still carries around a lot of negative attitudes towards disabled people and this can be frustrating at times, especially when you are truly trying to be positive and live your life as best as you can.
On a more personal level, when you have a disability you are forced to redefine what freedom and independence means because oftentimes you will need the assistance of a caregiver to help you do some of the most basic things like going to the washroom. It is also quite challenging to navigate intimate relationships because as is with every person out there with a healthy dosage of scepticism, you can never be certain about the other person’s intentions with the relationship. I have found that in most cases when you have a disability, the motivations of the other person might be driven by pity more than love or friendship. The problem is that even when someone is genuinely interested in you, you have already conditioned yourself to be by alone and to expect disappointment. So you don’t pay much attention to it.
In my opinion, it is better to be born with a disability than to acquire it later on. You grow up aware of the challenges you are going to face and you prepare yourself accordingly to overcome them. By the time you’re getting to your teenage years, you completely understand who you are, and what you can and cannot do. Acquiring a disability later on in life I imagine must pose a very difficult adjustment period, I believe it takes time to accept yourself and the memory that things were once better than they are now, will always haunt you.
In your opinion, what is the most challenging thing about having a disability?
In the olden days, (from 2000 going back) the most challenging thing was accessibility. When Kibaki came around, things improved for the better. Unlike then, today most of the challenges have eased but there’s much more that needs to be done. People need to be informed that PWDs are as human as everyone else. The awareness levels are improving but at a slow pace. There is room for improvement.
The most challenging thing about having a disability is the lack of opportunities for PWDs. By opportunities I mean economic opportunities. Employers still view PWDs as burdens and are very hesitant to employ them. Of the few who are employed they are mostly concentrated in the city and those who are in the rural areas miss out.
On a personal level, I would say a lack of awareness in society about disability is the most challenging thing I face. The awareness that we are equal and as such, we should be given equal opportunities. If there was equality, looking for a job wouldn’t be a problem or seeking an accessible house for myself. It also wouldn’t be a headline if I decide to date an able-bodied person. It wouldn’t be a headache looking for mobility devices. If enough awareness is created and the proper action is taken, all the other challenges facing people with disabilities in Kenya will be history. Look at the Western Countries and you will understand what I mean. Richard Branson is a billionaire despite having a learning disability in the name of dyslexia.
How would you rate our society in terms of accepting and accommodating disabled people?
I would rate society at 5/10. This is because much has improved unlike before. The laws in place e.g., ramps in public buildings, sign language interpreters in media stations, five per cent of positions in public organizations to PWDs and inclusion programmes from the corporate world like Safaricom, StanChart and other private organizations have contributed to accelerating the empowerment of persons with disabilities in the society. However, the efforts are not visible enough to cause a massive shift in the general societal attitude.
For example, there are more women in the corporate sector nowadays and more ladies are getting in male-dominated careers e.g., engineering. As a result of the nomination of Martha Karua as a running mate to a major political coalition, more aspiring governors have chosen female candidates. Female candidates have increased and chosen male running mates in the gubernatorial contests like in Kirinyaga.
We need such a shift as well. A moment where the CEO of a government entity or a major private company in Kenya is a person with a disability. It will take time but it is possible. There should be actively running recruitment programmes. There should be active recruitment programmes for persons with disabilities if they are to achieve an equal proportion of empowered PWDs by way of meaningful job opportunities in the country. Once the pace has been set, everything else will fall into place.
You are an incredible writer; how did you get into it and what was your inspiration?
Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter. As they say, every ass loves to hear itself bray. Since my primary school days, my compositions and inshas were among the best in class. After campus, I met Faith Masengo who is the community manager for EnableMe in Kenya and that’s how I got into writing for EnableMe and other disability engagements out here.
The inspiration was obviously inborn and the fact that I was tired of disability stories written from an outside perspective somehow amplified the notion that persons with disabilities are to be pitied while praising the writers who may not be well versed with disability matters as such. I wanted to share disability perspectives from an experience point of view to inform the outside world of what we think, feel and touch. While at the same time offering solutions to what can be done better. Of the people who give feedback, some say they see themselves through my writings and that gives me joy that my work is impactful.
How important is creating awareness to you? What in your opinion, is the biggest obstacle faced when raising awareness?
Awareness creation is of utmost importance because it is the bedrock of everything else that comes after in matters of disability inclusion. Awareness creation makes one see persons with disabilities as people of value who are critical to the progress of a society, rather than burdens because of their physical outlook. Awareness creation is the basis of everything good. Inclusion, equality and equity. Think of it as water to a farmer or as the ‘seek ye the kingdom first’ verse.
The biggest obstacle to awareness creation is the negative deep-rooted beliefs about disability. E.g, disability is a curse, disability is caused by witchcraft and denial. Denial that disability doesn’t exist or is a preserve of some people. Denial could also be hiding persons with disabilities from mainstream society because they are “not picture perfect”. We see denial in the dating world as well, you normally hear people say he/she is beautiful/handsome but because he/she is disabled, I won’t date them. At the end of the day, awareness creation cannot be understated and should be done consistently and intently.
What are some of your best achievements so far?
One of my proudest moments was winning the Techstars Startup Weekend back in July 2021 and emerging number 1 at the EmployAble closing Ceremony for the first cohort of the Employable Programme of the FutureMakers Initiative by Standard Chartered Bank. EmployAble Programme is a programme carried out to impart work readiness skills to university students with a special focus on university students with disabilities. The programme is carried out by Light for the World, under the InBusiness Initiative, which does economic empowerment for PWDs through jobs or entrepreneurship.
What is your dream? What legacy do you want to leave behind
I draw a lot of inspiration from Alfred Nobel, the founder of the prestigious Nobel Prize. It is not every day that an award recipient is called a laureate. After reading his brother’s obituary Alfred Nobel created the award to recognize and reward efforts to counter the damaging effects of dynamite. Now it is the most coveted prize in the fields of literature, economics, chemistry and leadership just to mention a few.
My dream is to be a billionaire. A multi-billionaire for that matter. With the money I hope to fast-track the inclusion of PWDs in society and levelling the playing field for them to thrive in society. Money makes things move. Not just things. Money makes the world move. As to the direction the world is moving to, that’s a can of worms I do not wish to open here. With money, you can make things happen. Look at telecom billionaire Mo Ibrahim founder of Celtel. He sold it and began the Mo Ibrahim award for exemplary leadership in Africa. Chuck Feeney used his billions in duty-free shopping business to rebuild Northern Ireland. I want to leave a legacy of creating opportunities for persons with disabilities to live their lives to the fullest devoid of any obstacles.
You can find Brian on social media on Facebook and Twitter.
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