If you and I had just an ounce of the determination that Gladys Rotich has, this world would be a much better place.
At just 28 years, Gladys, a university lecturer, is the head of the Department of Humanities at Mount Kenya University, Eldoret.
This young woman, who has a Master’s degree in education, is currently studying for a PhD in educational management.
Gladys is blind, and those who hear her story for the first time cannot help but be immensely impressed and inspired.
She lost her sight when she was three to what her parents suspect was a measles attack.
“Suddenly, I was hitting things and walking in a funny manner,” she says.
GLADYS WAS BLIND
The doctors they consulted delivered the same verdict — Gladys was blind.
Her parents were devastated, but even in their despair, they were determined that nothing, not even blindness, would stand in the way of their daughter’s future success.
And so they took her to school like their other children, encouraged her, and treated her the same way they did her six siblings.
“I went to Thika School for the Blind for my primary school education, then joined Moi Girls’ School Nairobi, an integrated secondary school.”
Gladys, a bright student, scored B in Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination, but believes she would have been among the top performers in the country that year had it not been for the E she scored in mathematics.
“Math is really difficult for blind people because even basic formulas are not easily translatable into braille,” she explains.
Being a practical person, when she realised that she was not going to pass in math, she decided to concentrate on the other subjects.
It is a strategy that worked, since she performed exceptionally well in those subjects.
Gladys joined Moi University in 2005 to study education and graduated in 2008, with a second class honours degree.
She could have been satisfied with her degree, but since her dream was to lecture at the university, she informed her parents that she wanted to study for a Master’s degree.
“I completed my degree in April 2008, and was to graduate in December, but since I had no intention of wasting seven months at home doing nothing, I decided to enrol for my Master’s degree immediately.”
When she approached the head of the department with her request, he pointed out that she was yet to graduate. But Gladys had anticipated this and had brought her provisional transcripts.
“He must have realised how serious and determined I was because he gave me the go-ahead,” she says.
Gladys was awarded her degree a day after completing her first semester exams for her Master’s programme.
“I was itching to get a job so that I could stop depending on my parents and, therefore, planned to complete my Master’s degree within two years,” she says.
She was so sure that she would graduate within this time, she began to look for a job immediately.
“Though my dream was to lecture, I did not limit myself and approached organisations that were said to support and employ people with disabilities,” she says.
NO ORGANISATION EMPLOYED HER
However, none employed her, for one reason or another. Some were open enough to tell her they did not have any opportunities for persons with special needs.
“It was frustrating and disappointing because I had a well full of knowledge that I felt was going to waste,” she says.
When she graduated, Gladys began chasing her lecturing dream with earnest. Armed with her Master’s degree, she went from university to university, including Moi, where she had studied, positive that she would get a job. She did not.
Just when the heartbreak was about to become unbearable, a director at one of the universities she had approached informed her that she had been hired and even introduced her to other lecturers.
On the day she was to begin teaching, she was instead sent to the dean’s office “for the final decision”.
“I was asked to reapply for the job using what he called ‘the right channels’. I did, but in the end, I didn’t get the job.”
Gladys points out that such discrimination is what discourages people living with disability.
“It is sad that the only opening given to us, in spite of our qualifications, is to volunteer at organisations for people with disabilities.”
She has a passionate message for employers who are reluctant to employ people living with disability.
“Don’t prejudge our abilities; you can only gauge our intelligence and mental strength when you see our work. We are not looking for sympathy; we are looking for a chance, just like able-bodied people.”
Well, Mount Kenya University gave her the chance she was looking for. She was first hired as a part-time lecturer and later taken on board full-time in 2012, teaching management and administration.
“My job is very challenging, but I enjoy every minute of it. In fact, I am at a point where I feel I could ask my boss for more challenging responsibilities,” she says, adding that her job is made easier due to the support she gets from the university’s administration. The chairman, she says, has especially been supportive.
For instance, the institution has employed an assistant who helps her out with day-to-day tasks such as reading out scripts. She then gives instructions on how to mark and grade.
Since the institution has no teaching material in braille, Gladys gets textbooks and other teaching manuals, which her assistant reads out for her. She then translates them into braille.
HAS TO WORK TWICE AS HARD
Granted, she probably has to work twice as hard as other lecturers, but she is not complaining.
“I am a very optimistic person. I have a very positive mind and do not give up easily. That is why I am where I am.”
Asked how she monitors class attendance, she says that she has housekeeping rules, which she expects her students to follow.
Gladys Jematia Rotich, who is visually impaired, a Lecturer at Mount Kenya University, Eldoret Campus takes her students through a lesson
“There will always be some who break these rules, but this is expected…” she says, adding that over time, she and her students have developed a good rapport, which makes her work easier.
“My students are receptive, there is nothing I enjoy more than when they come up to me after a lecture and ask a question. This tells me that they trust me enough to enlighten them.”
But the most rewarding aspect of her job is when a student thanks her for doing a good job.
LEARNING IN UNIVERSITIES A NIGHTMARE FOR BLIND STUDENTS
Talking about her quest for education, Gladys says that higher learning at most local universities is a nightmare for blind students. To begin with, most have no specialised learning aids for visually impaired learners.
Throughout university, she had to depend on friends to read to her, which is not only taxing for her and the person reading, but is also not a reliable learning method.
It is especially tougher now that she is studying for her PhD, which is more demanding.
“I have to read a lot and do mountains of research, and since there’s no existing learning material in braille, I have to pay someone to type all these materials, which I then send to the Kenya Institute for the Blind for translation. It is expensive and time consuming,” she says.
The institute is the only one of its kind in the country, and with orders from all over the country, the queue can be quite long.
“When I am appointed Cabinet secretary for Education in a few years to come, I will ensure that learning for people with disabilities is given the attention it deserves,” quips Gladys.
In the meantime, her ambition is to set up a foundation for people with special needs to assist them get quality education.
Gladys says that unlike many children with special needs, she was lucky to have parents who taught her that she was as capable as the next child. For instance, as early as when she was seven years old, she was expected to do normal chores such as washing dishes, doing the laundry, cooking, “and the usual things that girls at that age do.”
She adds that it also helped that she went to boarding school quite early, saying that it made her become independent quite early.
“Though circumstances made me resilient, I think that by nature, I am an aggressive person and believe in doing things for myself; I would protest whenever I was prevented from doing certain chores. I would ask, why not?”
Gladys has every intention of getting married when she finds the “right” person. She says she has had many suitors, but that when she finally says yes, it shall be to a man who is first her friend and God-fearing.
“Yes, I am very positive about marriage and look forward to having a family one day.”
All we can say is, that man, wherever he is, will be lucky indeed.