Despite the odds, Hannah Wanja stands tall for the disabled
For Hannah Wanja, the many storms in her life have made her stronger.
Wanja, a gender and development specialist, remembers the stigma she had been subjected to at a tender age like it happened recently.
Some neighbours were so insensitive and irresponsible and teased 25-year-old Wanja for her disability.
Some people even told her parents that there was no need to send her to school because she would not be able to compete with able bodied students.
Neighbours in pretext of consoling her mother shared tales of persons living with disability being denied opportunities in jobs and education.
The more people discouraged her mother, the more determined Wanja became in persuading her parents to give her an opportunity to learn, which they did.
“I wanted to prove them wrong. On the other hand, I told myself that with the right education, I would become a voice for those like myself,” says Wanja. This is the mission she pursues with gusto and passion.
The brisk manner in which she goes about her affairs is testimony of a go-getter in matters to do with disability. It is as if she is always chasing after something. Hardly does she pay attention to her disability as she pursues her goals in life.
Wanja walks with a limp since her right leg is deformed. She has used her disability to her advantage.
A Master’s degree holder, Wanja is not about to be done with studies any time soon. She has set sights on getting a doctorate on gender.
After her studies at United States International University (USIU) for a Bachelor’s Degree in Gender and Development, she proceeded to the University of Nairobi to pursue a Master’s degree in International Business Administration.
Wanja’s aspiration and dream is to be a top academician not only in the country across the East African region and beyond. For her, the sky is the limit.
“Only then shall I have made a point that disability is not inability. I will then be better placed to articulate the case of colleagues from an intelligent position,” reiterates Wanja. “It will also be a tribute to my mother for believing in me and instilling the value of education in me.”
This is in contrast to some parents in the rural area who keep children with disability away from public glare.
A former pupil at Joy Town Primary School for the Handicapped in Thika town, Wanja wonders why a girl should be hidden at home for being disabled. She says it has been hard for women to make progress in life because of retrogressive cultures but it is worse for a woman with disability.
According to Wanja, societal attitude towards those living with disability has left them marginalised and depressed as well as being denied fair access to opportunities.
“As a country we have not implemented the global conventions the country is a signatory to. One has to do a lot of sensitisation to remind authorities of their obligation. Implementation of frameworks is constrained by lack of finance and political goodwill,” says Wanja.
The outspoken gender and development specialist is soldiering on and is committed to championing the rights of People Living with Disabilities (PLWD).
Born in Gatundu North Constituency in Kiambu County, Wanja has been called names for her crusade but she has not looked back.
“My determination and zeal will not be dampened. I’ve been branded a big mouth given all sorts of derogatory names. I have also been threatened and asked to tone down my activism. It is not in me to conform,” says Wanja who was named the 2005 Inspirational Woman of The Year for the special category of people living with disability.
The Directorate of Gender in the Ministry of Devolution and Planning is leading the initiative of the Inspirational Women of the Year Awards – County Edition.
The concept was developed by Mothers and Daughters, an organization that focuses on building the capacity of girls and women to realize their full potential through a series of motivational talks, trainings and mentorship.
In awarding Wanja, the judges noted her ability and commitment to improve the lives of women, girls and families, the impact of the campaigns she carries out as an agent of change and commitment to the cause of equality and equity across barriers.
And she has a special message for the disabled in Kenya for the International Day for the Disabled which is marked on December 3: “No one brings anyone opportunities in the house. You must shed off negative attitudes and shame the devil. To reach out, you need to rejuvenate self-esteem.”