Reverend Edwin Maling’a defies all odds to make it as Kenya’s first deaf priest
Sometime in 1997 Edwin Masai Maling’a retired to bed as usual enthusiastic about the following day, but what happened when he woke up the following morning has stunned Maling’a to date.
Then a Standard Four pupil at Chesito Primary School in Mt Elgon Sub-Count, Maling’a woke up to the realisation that he had lost both the power of talking and hearing.
However, the second-born in a family of six had been spared with the power of sense and sight.
Twenty-seven year old Maling’a recalls that he woke up to the fateful day when his father called him by his name and he failed to respond. The six-foot elegant man then tried on his radio set but could not hear a sound even though the set was in put at the loudest volume.
Maling’a then decided to go to school, hoping things would be different but had the same experience appeared when the class teacher was conducting the morning roll call. It was then that both the school’s administration and parents realized that something was amiss.
Arrangements were immediately made for Maling’a to be taken to Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret where the doctors tried to treat him without any success.
Many years later, all that is history now as Maling’a who is now serving as a priest of the Kitale ACK Parish at the Diocese headquarters at St Luke’s Parish after graduating from the three-year theological studies in 2013.
Reverend Maling’a, as he is now referred to, was ordained into priesthood by Archbishop Stephen Kewasis in July 2016 as a deacon.
Since then, Maling’a has been conducting mission work and other pastoral duties within the diocese as directed by his superiors.
Through an interpreter Simon Tanui, Maling’a says he has been able to accomplish what other able ordinary prelates have not achieved.
His achievements make him the first Kenyan deaf priest to preach in the fast-growing and competitive industry of the gospel.
Maling’a’s success was not an easy walk in the park. After staying at home for a year following the debacle at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital to restore his voice, he joined the St Anthony’s School for the Handicapped in Webuye where he did his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations and scored 192 marks.
Another setback came in for he lacked school fees that would enable him to join secondary school. Maling’a says his parents thought because of his condition he could not make anything meaningful out of his life. They advised that he looks after family livestock which would later be sold to pay fees for his “able” brothers and sisters who include a Jubilee nominated MCA Rose Maling’a of the Trans-Nzoia County Assembly.
This didn’t dampen Maling’a’s spirits as he found his own way and joined a vocational institute at Bondo in Siaya County where he obtained grades II and III in carpentry and joinery.
The ugly issue of lack of school fees reared its ugly head again. He was forced to abandon the vocational training and come back to Kitale where a fellow deaf friend, Wilfred Wafula, a member at the St Luke’s ACK Church accommodated him.
Wafula welcomed Maling’a to his car wash project where at times they could go without any money for a whole day or just earn as little as KSh200.
At one church service, the then Provost Rev Polycarp Mekel announced to the congregation that St Paul’s Limuru College Theology was admitting students and as fate would have it, Simon Lagat as Maling’a’s interpreter had to take him through the methodological process of applying including oral writing.
Clad in a bare T-shirt and discoloured trousers and with free interpretation service from Tanui, Maling’a undeterred with fellow interviewees who were smartly dressed walked out of the Bishop Muge Chaplaincy room dejected man.
A few days later, he received a letter of admission to the college’s constituent campus in Kapsabet. The nightmare of fees was still haunting him. Fellow students who greeted him were shocked to learn that he was deaf and found him to be out of place. Soon they accepted him and became friends as they bonded.
One John Lagat taught Maling’a sign language during their free time and at night. He did not know who paid for his
fees at the college but he was later told it was the Kitale-based former Principal of African Theological College Rev Emmanuel Chemengich together with his wife Dorcas Sikowo who is a nominated Member of the County Assembly in Trans-Nzoia.
Maling’a would finally graduate with a certificate in Theology. Upon graduation, Maling’a came back to the Kitale ACK Diocese where he was posted to work at St Andrew’s and St John’s Chepareria in West Pokot before being moved to Trans Nzoia, where he worked briefly at Kibagenge Parish. He would later be transferred to the diocesan headquarters.
In addition to theology, Maling’a has also trained in leadership management at the Door Institute for the Deaf based in Nairobi.
Does Rev Maling’a regret his past? How does he combine his church role and private life? How does he perceive life for the deaf?
Maling’a says: “It was the work of God to turn me into a deaf person so that I could serve Him well.”
He notes: “People regard us as abnormal because we don’t talk but let them be assured that this is what God had bestowed on us since there are other ways of communication.”
And for his parents who regarded his disability as inability and preferred paying fees to his brothers and sisters, he says: “Mungu ni mkubwa (God is great).”
However, Maling’a is not bitter and he constantly visits his parents in Mt Elgon without any grudge.
He regrets for his brother the last born in their family who died in a road accident last year.
Maling’a does not regret being deaf and asks parents with deaf children and other impairments not to hide them in homes but instead expose them to be nurtured further.
Recently, Rev Maling’a accompanied Kitale Catholic Bishop Maurice Croly at St Francis School for the Handicapped at Chisare in Cherangani where he called on the church to consider opening colleges and universities for students with disabilities who were being wasted in homes. He also thanked Bishop Kewasis for recognizing him and ordaining him despite his numerous challenges.
Asked if he is being challenged for a marriage life, he says: “I have a wife already. She is called Hilda Wamalwa and soon we shall be ringing bells”. Asked further how they met, he says: “I love her and she loves me too. She has even started mastering sign language”.
On social life, the priest stood high as the custodian of the national soccer team for the deaf where Kenya beat Uganda 1-0 in Kisumu in the 2016 tournament that brought together four East African countries.