I wonder how it feels to have a learning disability and think that you’re just plain stupid. Velma was a stupid student who repeated class six. We used to wonder why even writing her own name was difficult. She was one of those people whose palms used to sweat a lot. Especially when she was put on the spot to write or read.
Until last year, whenever I thought of Velma, I put the qualifier, ‘dunderhead’. I was really ashamed of my harsh judgement of her. I thought to myself, “You may never know the struggles someone might be going through, so suspend all judgement.”
In primary school, there was no teacher dedicated to children with learning disabilities. Nairobi River Primary School was for the stars. It was one of the top performing city council schools in Nairobi. I guess that’s why they didn’t see the need to set up a special needs unit or hire teachers who were trained to handle children with learning disabilities.
Velma did not have spectacles all through primary school. I met her again years later after we had finished high school. She had spectacles- thick ones- she had a problem with her vision all along. I can’t blame the school entirely. Parents have a responsibility to get her children checked.
I don’t know how she went through high school. I don’t even know how she performed in high school. Did she go to a school that catered for students with learning disabilities? I wonder. The instances we have met have been brief. I was so busy with my life that I didn’t think of the small talk that would give me access to such information. In all fairness, she was also busy with her life.
I went to Sinapsis Alumni open day the other day. Sinapsis nurtures young business ideas to strong businesses. I was a first timer. During the introductions, a blind lady aided by a young boy joined our group. She was introduced as Velma. She had gone through the program and was in the business of making sandals. When she introduced herself as Velma Mudeizi, I couldn’t hold my curiosity.
“Mudei, we were in the same primary school”, I told her. We used to call her Mudei, short for Mudeizi. She asked me who I was and I told her my official name, Juliet Awuor. She recalled, “Oh! Jacky?” She had her memory intact. She could remember voices and even place nicknames to voices. That’s not a stupid person.
I asked her what happened. She had a condition that made her gradually lose her eyesight. But hey! She is in business. Making sandals. And married too. Disability did not hold her back. I might convince her to share her story here.
The next time I want to put a label on someone, I should pause and ask myself what they are going through. Parents need to educate their children not to judge or label other children at school. Teachers should also be more accommodating to children with learning disabilities.