I did not let disability get in the way of my plan

By MWANGI MUIRURI

After completing high school, Walter Kamau, then 20, got a job as a tout, working for his uncle, who owned a fleet of lorries.

“I was full of life. Full of that confidence that if I saved my Sh12,000 monthly salary, plus the Sh500 I earned every evening, it would not be long before I, too, could start building my own fleet.

He was the ninth born in a family of 12 from a humble background and was aware that unless he worked exceptionally hard, he would end up poor.

That is what prompted him to approach his uncle for employment immediately after he finished high school, since the grade he had attained was not good enough to take him to university.

“I was always thinking of the way my single mother had laboured to bring our huge family up. I was aware of the daily hassles she had to go through to provide for us. I knew I had to grow up fast and relieve her off the burden of worrying about me,” he says.

SURVIVOR

But on November 23, 1995, all his dreams came crashing down after he was involved in a serious road accident, or so it seemed. The accident left seven people dead and three injured, including him. The other two died later, leaving him the sole survivor.

“I only remember the lorry literally flying through the air before flipping over and hurtling to the ground before crashing onto the tarmac and rolling three times,” he recalls.

When he was rescued from the mangled wreck, he drifted in and out of consciousness, with a piercing pain on his right hand.

“I passed out and when I came to, I found myself at Kenyatta National Hospital,” he recalls.

But even after the accident, his dream of owning a fleet of vehicles remained alive.

“After a week in hospital, it became apparent that my injuries were more serious I had thought. I could not feel my legs. It was time to come to terms with the fact that I was paralysed from the waist downwards,” he says. “That made me sad.”

Mr Kamau says a wave of frustration swept through him when a doctor finally announced that he would recover, but he would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

“My family and friends sympathised with me. Some cried while others tried to console me, telling me everything would be okay, that life in a wheelchair was still better than being dead. Some read Bible verses to me while others told me about those who had survived for long using wheelchairs,” he says.

But he knew of one important fact: that his life from that point depended on his own mindset and willpower to live.

“That is when I realised that I had to find my own source of strength. I said a small prayer; I told God that I fully trusted in Him to give me another chance to live. I asked him to at least reduce the degree of my disability, even if He did not heal me fully,” he remembers.

MIRACLES

He was in hospital for six months. “I was in a general ward for the severely disabled. There was this man who used to crack very sick jokes. He would ask us what we would do if a lion or a hyena appeared,” he recalls.

That made him make another request to God: that He be his source of help always.

“Miracles do happen. After seven months I was put on physiotherapy and out of the blue, I felt my left leg. It had gained life!” he gushes.

He thanked God, and prayed for his physiotherapist, who he only remembers as Dr Maina.

“Even Dr Maina could not believe that I had gained sensation in my left leg. He only said that miracles do happen. But he became more dedicated to my case. It was as if he had made a medical discovery. By the time I was discharged, although I could feel from waist downwards, I was partially paralysed from the middle of my right shoulder downwards,” he says.

But he could stand on his own, though with a stoop, but he had to use a wheelchair.

Determined to walk again, he abandoned the wheelchair after a month and opted for the crutches, and later, a cane.

                                           Walter Kamau after the accident. PHOTO | MWANGI MUIRURI

Why did he not make any insurance claim? One might ask.

“Two things happened. It is only the driver and two of us, touts, who were in the driver’s cabin, who were covered by insurance. The other victims were illegal passengers who had hiked a lift by hanging onto the back of the lorry. Police investigations showed that only the three of us could make insurance claims,” he says.

As the only survivor, and with his employer being his uncle, he decided not to make any claim.

NEW BEGINNING

Two years after the accident, he had got used to his disability and started thinking how best to rebuild his life. He was living with the same uncle, who had invested in real estate in Zimmerman, Nairobi.

“I knew manual jobs were out of question for me. And I had no skills, so there was no way I could get a white-collar job.  I decided to back to school, four years after completing high school, and went back to Form Three,” he says.

His aim was to get a grade that would take him straight to a university and hopefully, lead to a white collar job. But he did not succeed. Battling social stigma because of his disability, lapsing into self-denial and pushing himself too hard to achieve so much with his limited abilities did him in.

But he did not relent in his search for a career path that he could cope with, so he enrolled computer studies, majoring in information management systems.

“But once again, he was disappointed. I had not realised that I would be expected to carry hardware components around for practical studies as well as turn them around to fit in relevant devices. My body was not balanced, and I had to accept that. I abandoned that line,” he says.

In 1998, he enrolled for driving lessons. After getting his licence, he landed a job with a company that imported cars through Mombasa. His job was to collect them and drive them to the company’s showroom in Nairobi.

“One such assignment earned me Sh5, 000. From 1999 to 2008, I concentrated on those trips and gained the necessary information to be an importer too,” he says, adding that his disability made some customers believe in him.

“I also worked hard to build trust in myself since this was one avenue that looked promising in my search for self-reliance. I also felt that it was time for me to start a family,” he says.

IMPRESSED

So confident was he that he easily found a partner.

“I approached her with frankness about my disability. I convinced her that my disability did not disqualify me from being husband material. I told her that I was in charge of my life and had saved Sh500,000, which I intended to invest to take care of her and the children God would bless us with,” he says.

His wife, Stella Wangari, a psychologist, says Mr Kamau impressed her as a fighter, who never gives up irrespective of the odds stacked against him.

“I told him that I could also make my own money since I was had a secure job, just to let him know that money was not the most important thing to me. I told him that I saw beyond his disability, since he had packaged himself as a capable, broadminded person.    But what really attracted me to him was his positive attitude, which was and a major inspiration to me.  It was a matter of time before we moved in together,” she says.

                                      Walter Kamau with his family. PHOTO | MWANGI MUIRURI

With a wife to provide for and anticipating children, Mr Kamau felt he needed to diversify his sources of income. “That is how I researched for a business idea and settled on adding value to cashew nuts. My starting capital for the venture was Sh40,000. I would buy the nuts and roast and pack them,” he says.

The business, which he conducted through his company, QSols Investments, provided the breakthrough he had been looking for. Today, he says his gross worth is about Sh30 million.

He also started dealing in value-added peanuts and honey and started making inroads into the East African Community countries.

Mr Kamau is today an employer, with at least 200 families relying on him for their salaries and wages. He has also invested considerably in real estate and says that by 2030, he sees himself joining the billionaires club.

He has two daughters and a son aged between two and years, whose future is well secured. Mr Kamau, who says God is his first love his family his second, neither drinks nor smokes.

“Substance abuse has made many youths lose their purpose in life.  Many youths have been condemned to poverty and death as a result. My advice to the youth is that life responds to what you invest in it. You invest in alcoholism and drug abuse, the reward will be a total mess,” he says.

He also says positive thinking is the key to warding off disillusionment.

“If I had surrendered to my disability, I today would be just another statistic of those children who fell by the wayside. I refused to go down and am confident I will soon I will run for a political seat and become a lawmaker to help this country gain inspired leadership that will move from rhetoric to real policies that can change people’s lives,”  he says.

SNAPSHOT OF WALTER KAMAU’S LIFE

1975: He’s born

1994: Completes high school.

1995: Gets involved in a serious road accident

1996: Gets discharged from hospital, partially paralysed

1997: Goes back to Form Three in the hope of bettering his future

1998: Enrols for driving Lessons and computer studies

1999-2007: Works as a motor vehicle salesman and gets married

2008: Starts his own company and by 2018, becomes a millionaire

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