HEAD TEACHER WITH A BIG HEART FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY
Patrick Muzungu, head teacher of Sahajanand Special School Mtwapa, Kilifi County is our hero this week.
Muzungu has dedicated 23 years of his teaching career to Special Needs Education. His experience in handling children with microcephaly at Sahajanand and the larger Kilifi county moved an international congress for persons with disability in Yekaterinburg, Russia in 2017 and put his school on the world map.
Two years later, the BBC recorded a news feature on microcephaly in Kilifi, highlighting this disability to a global audience. Muzungu’s inspiring story of selflessness and dedication has enduring lessons for all of us.
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Muzungu tells his story…In September 2017, I represented Kenya at the first world Congress for persons with disabilities in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
Amongst the 50 countries represented, Africa had three delegations from Kenya, Ethiopia and Liberia. The meeting lasted for four days between 7th to 10th September.
I talked about the programmes that we run at Sahajanand Special School at Mtwapa, Kilifi County where I am the head teacher. In one of the sessions, I received a standing ovation after sharing my story of rescuing microcephalus children in Kilifi county from neglect and taking them to Sahajanand special school for an opportunity in life.
Microcephaly is a rare nerve condition in which the infant’s head is smaller than normal compared to other infants of the same age and sex.
The condition can be present at birth or develop within the first few years of life.
One cause of this condition is exposure to the Zika virus (which is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito), especially in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Other causes include infectious agents such as rubella (German measles), chickenpox, toxoplasma and cytomegalovirus.
Defects in some genes and alcohol and substance abuse by pregnant mothers are other causes of microcephaly.
There is a belief in some parts of the coast region that children born with microcephaly are a bad omen to their family and the community.
Often they are kept in isolation, away from the public and they don’t go to school or play with other children. Over the years I have been working with chiefs and Deputy County Commissioners in sensitizing the public to take such children to special schools where they can learn.
I have been receiving a lot of support from local leaders and the county government in this undertaking. My passion for assisting people with disability began when I was growing up in Ganze Sub County of Kilifi County.
I had a deaf aunt who was in an abusive marriage and I always sympathized with her. Her deafness made it hard for her to share her plight with anybody. But I would see the pain in her eyes. When I earned my first salary as an untrained teacher in 1985, I did the unthinkable.
I refunded my aunt’s bride price and took her back to her family to ease her suffering. I began teaching as an untrained teacher at Milore Primary School in Ganze Sub County after completing my “O” Levels in 1984 at Ganze Secondary School.
I sat my “A” Level examination in 1989 as a private candidate. In the same year, I began an in-service course at Shanzu Teachers Training College, graduating in 1993 as a P1 teacher. I taught in several schools before joining Kibarani School for the Deaf in 1997.
The emotional pain of my aunt’s silent suffering made me opt for special education, majoring in hearing difficulties, when I got a chance to further my education. I now hold a Bachelor of Education degree (religious studies and the Kenya sign language). My move to Sahajanand Special School would come unexpectedly.
On August 30, 2006 President Mwai Kibaki visited Mtwapa to open the newly constructed Mtwapa Primary School, fondly called KP (Kanji Patel) Junior.
The directors of Mombasa Cement Company, who are the sponsors, decided to start the special school after a resident brought along 20 children with physical disabilities. I was immediately transferred from Kibarani School for the Deaf to the newly opened Mtwapa Primary School.
But over the years the number of pupils with special needs kept on growing. To meet this challenge, Mombasa Cement Company funded the construction of Sahajanand Special School next to Mtwapa Primary School. In addition to microcephaly children, we deal with children who have other conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism (hyperactivity) and the blind and deaf.
Sahajanand is also home to children rescued from difficult circumstances in the streets and abusive homes.My 23 years of working with children with disability has taught me to be patient. When teaching them, patience is everything.
I am happy that over the years my patience has developed to a new level, making me a better person. I have also learnt that disability can strike any of us at any time. These children remind me that it’s by the grace of God that I have full control of my mind and body.
Ironically, I see my imperfections when these pupils excel in music, art, sports and other competitions for students living with disability.As I engage my pupils, I find great happiness in sharing in things that bring joy to them.
I have come to see the world from their perspective of living one day at a time and seeking happiness from within regardless of my prevailing situations.