Losing your eye sight can be devastating even at old age. People who were close to you distance themselves and even family members might treat you differently because they see you as a burden. After losing her eyesight Angela Nzilani went through an extremely difficult time trying to accept the fact that she would never see light again. The only people who came to her rescue were Community Health Volunteers. Now she is one of them herself and has a clear message to the world: “If you see a person living with disability, don’t see the disability but see their ability. We are normal people. Stop referring to us by our disability.”
Text and Pictures: Nicera Wanjiru
Covid-19 resulted in strict restrictions from the Ministry of Health and the government. The most common and basic being wearing of masks, social distancing, washing hands with running water, sanitizing regularly and in some counties, a night curfew and total lockdown. Try and imagine that you are totally blind, like Angela, and you have to follow all these measures. Doesn’t look easy does it? So the question is, how have the blind been coping during this pandemic?
To answer this question, I set out to visit Angela Nzilani who despite being blind, is a community health volunteer. She is not only beautiful, but also knowledgeable and vocal in her community. Before I even got there, she called to tell me that she had gone to visit a household, but we were still meeting later on. As I slowed down my pace, I couldn’t help but marvel at her dedication and hard work.
“My name is Angela Mailu Nzilani. I am a community health volunteer, mother of two kids and grandmother of one,” she began. “I am totally blind, though I wasn’t born so. At the age of 23, on the 18th of August 2005 to be exact, I had a very severe headache. Within two days I had become partially blind. I was left with one eye which wasn’t seeing properly. It took me one month to see a doctor because I was in the village and had to be brought to Nairobi for treatment. Unfortunately it was too late by then, the doctor said nothing could be done. Three years later I was involved in an accident and became totally blind. That same year I underwent an operation and my left eye was completely removed.” She told me that during this period she faced rejection and discrimination from people she knew very well because she was like a burden to them. She was left alone in her own world.
How I Became A Community Health Volunteer.
“Community volunteer didn’t have any meaning for me. Before I became blind my friend had requested me to attend a training session to become a community health volunteer. I rejected the offer since there was no pay. It never crossed my mind that I would one day become one.”
Angela is charming and she explains it laughing. “When I became totally blind it is the community health volunteers who used to visit me. They not only consoled me, but they also encouraged and assured me of support. Many were the times they came to my rescue whenever they came to my house and found me helpless with no food. They kept on telling me that it’s not the end of the world and disability is not inability. At times I felt like it was a punishment from God. They are the ones who helped me to accept myself though I never wanted to associate with them when I was not blind. I was very much interested so I was trained to be a community health worker myself. Later, I felt the need to volunteer. I have 100 households that I visit and I love my job. I love interacting with people though I can’t see them. This is a calling. When I’m doing this work, I always think about my trying moments, losing eyesight is no joke. This always makes me work harder to help others,” she told me with a big smile.
My Role during the Pandemic
“With the Covid-19 guidelines from the Ministry of Health and the government, you find that in our communities it’s somehow difficult to follow them. Not because you don’t want to but the situation can’t allow you. As a community health volunteer I always remind my community about Covid-19 measures. If they get the virus, I am also at risk. I also teach them on how they can make their own washing stations with what they have in their houses though for this I usually have someone to help me. I have also been doing demonstrations, for instance how to properly wash your hands.”
“Aside from that, I also train young mothers and married women on the importance of family planning. Those who have small babies, up to the age of five, I make sure I remind them to attend clinics every month. At times it’s hard and I thank my guide for she has to check some things for me. I also do mentorship to people in my community who have various disabilities. For instance, in the current situation, mental health is very important. Somehow, we feel neglected and as the disabled, we must take extra care of ourselves. With the harsh economy people are more worried about what they will eat than with catching the virus. I have to be there for my people and to encourage them. I really appreciate all the organizations and individuals who have been at the forefront in helping people living with disabilities during this pandemic,” she said.
Being Blind, Covid Times and Experiences.
“There are three questions blind people normally ask themselves. Where are you? Where do you want to go? How will you arrive there? This simply means you must have a guide. You might find one who doesn’t know exactly where you are going and so you have to explain. My guide is my eye and explaining this is sometimes difficult.”
Angela is with her daughter Mercy who was her guide in the morning hours. Mercy tells me if you don’t have patience and a good heart you cannot be a guide to a person with disability. “When it starts raining you can’t run, so you get rained on. Some people think you are not supposed to be walking because you are wasting their time on the road. Those with vehicles, motorbikes and tuk-tuk can be so irritating and they will insult you, though a few of them are very nice. My mother is beautiful and has a beautiful heart. When I see her facing this challenges I feel really bad. Even the police don’t care whether you are disabled or not. I think the president should come up with different rules on Covid for people like my mother,” she told me with a sad face as she stared at her mum who couldn’t see the grief written on her face.
“In my community, especially during this pandemic, I feel ashamed of asking someone whether they are wearing a mask or not. Even my guide might not be wearing a mask but I won’t know so I have to be strict with them. In meetings and gatherings I may not know if social distancing is being observed so at times I’m forced to stretch my hand in a polite way so as not to offend the people around me,” Angela told me.
“In my work I have faced horrible people who think I’m not supposed to be walking on the road or volunteering in my community. I was knocked by a handcart yet the person got furious instead of apologizing. He started insulting me and I was worried he might beat me even in my condition. Some people go to the extent of pushing you just to see your reaction.” For the first time I saw a sad expression on her face.
What Message Do You Have Out There?
“If you see a person living with disability, don’t see the disability but see their ability. We are normal people. Stop referring to us by our disability.”
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