My name is Cheptock, Betty. I’m from Uganda. I’m from an Eastern part of the country called Captura. I’ll be 28 in November. My parents told me that when I was born, I was a healthy child. I looked so beautiful, but at the age of 5 months, they took me to the clinics in the village. I got an injection and was paralyzed. Read more about Betty’s story of how she overcame challenges to become a student leader for disabled students’ rights.

Betty Cheptock

My name is Cheptock, Betty. I’m from Uganda. I’m from an Eastern part of the country called Captura. I’ll be 28 in November. My parents told me that when I was born, I was a healthy child. I looked so beautiful, but at the age of 5 months, they took me to the clinics in the village. I got an injection and was paralyzed. Afterwards, they had the desire for me to be like any other child.

When it was time to go to school, my mother carried me in the morning on her back to school and my father would come in the after noon to take me back home. This happened for seven years until I completed my primary school. When I joined secondary school, they took me to a boarding school where you sleep at school.

I studied in the boarding school until afterwards when my father got some information because I use to crawl because I didn’t have crutches. He met his friend who asked ‘why don’t you take her to get an operation? Maybe something could be done for her.’ So he took me to a rehabilitation center. They operated on me.

After two years, I started using calipers at nine years old. I began using crutches and stopped crawling. Still, whenever we have holidays, they carry me back home and when school starts, they carry me to school. My father came to school and told me that female genital mutilation is a core value in my community.

He said ‘I love you very much, but I have no option, no alternative. Please help me. You have to be circumcised with your younger brother.’ He told me everything had been prepared. There is no way, no excuse, no nothing, or the elders will kill me. I told my father ‘no, how will I handle the disability problem that I already have along with female genital mutilation?’

My father said,

“I have told you, it’s up to you. You have a holiday in the following week. Make sure you come home. Your brother has already started mobilizing people.”

It became a tormenting time in my life. How could I look at the disability I already have, and have the burden of female circumcision? The time came to close school and I talked to the head mistress. She told me that I have no choice. “You go and see what your mother can tell you.” I went to my village. I met my mother. Luckily my father was not at home. I went to my mother crying.

She told me

“Betty, I am supporting you. I went through the circumcision, your father went through it, your grandmother went through, but I don’t expect you to go through it because I know what it means.”

So she carried me on her back to the nearby road where I could get transportation to run away from home. She told me to go to her sister who lives almost 100 kilometers from my village. I got there and slept. The next day my aunt took me to a village that was very far from her home. The following day my father arrived home and the people in the village asked “where is Betty, she has not come back.” He went looking for me and realized that I could only be at my aunt’s place. He followed me up to my auntie’s place and they told him I wasn’t there, though I was there, but was taken somewhere else.

That was the end of my relationship with my parents.

My father mostly. He refused to pay my school fees because I had embarrassed the family. He refused to do anything that a parent would have to do for his daughter. When the season ended, I went back home. It’s normally done from November to January. I went back home to request school fees and he disowned me and sent me out of my home.

I continued to stay at my auntie’s place, then all of a sudden a friend called me and said “Betty, you know what? They want you to be in Kampala.” That was when I realized that God’s plan had not left me aside. When I came to Kampala, I got sponsorship. I studied and this time I would not go back home to my parents because no matter how much you have refused to be cut, they still force you into circumcision. When I was in the university, I contested as a student leader for students with disabilities because based on my past experiences, I had a lot of challenges which really gave me the desire to see how I could help the people who are in my situation, but who are still young.

When I was at the university, I really felt that there was a gap. I needed to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. I studied affirmative action until I completed the university, but one thing that inspired me is that if you really have the confidence, and you have the determination, you can make it despite having a disability or any other thing, you can make it.

I made an awareness organization called Organization for Awareness of the Disabled (?) and I invited stakeholders, D.P.Os, I invited companies, I invited many, many people. Afterwards, people got to know about me. It created a kind of exposure, because we needed to make a procession in the university creating awareness with banners and moving around, and everything was very lively and educational. In one-way or another, it was a way to advocate for the rights of students within the university because issues with accessibility were addressed. Issues of human rights were addressed. Lecture rooms without lifts were addressed. Means of transport within the university were addressed. One of the greatest achievements that I left in that university was when they brought in the new vice-chancellor, he had to put in means of transport for the students and now there are vehicles that take students in shifts within the university whenever they want to go to the medical center, or anywhere, they are able to access it. That is my greatest achievement that I made at the university.

I have a vision that in five years, all the categories of disabilities will have been mainstreamed, and they are able to speak for themselves without any fear of failure.

Featured Image Credit: Zero Project

Written by Betty Cheptock

Betty Cheptock, Student Leader and Founder of Organization for Awareness of the Disabled in Kenya