Activism & Volunteering

Profile of Nick Ondwat - founder of the Consumer Action Disability Network in Kenya

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“My Name is Nick Ondwat. I was born in Homa bay in western Kenya. I was born like any other person. My mom and my dad tell me so. Until the age of 5, my mom left me behind when she had gone to the market in the morning, but she was called back before she accomplished her mission in the market. ”Nick tells us about his experience of becoming disabled following Polio, of his family’s reaction, and of founding the Consumer Action Disability Network.

My Name is Nick Ondwat. I was born in Homa bay in western Kenya. I was born like any other person. My mom and my dad tell me so. Until the age of 5, my mom left me behind when she had gone to the market in the morning, but she was called back before she accomplished her mission in the market.

She was told I was seriously ill, I was sick. Then she came back and they realized that my lower limbs were weak. So after that I was taken to the nearest hospital, then I was given some kind of medicines to take care of my sickness but it did not help because after one week my lower limbs were still weak. They were told that this is polio. Still they tried to use the local medicine but this did not help.

Then later on they declared that I was physically disabled so the alternative was to take me to a hospital to get the appliances but that did not happen immediately. Not until I was almost seven years. When I was in class 6, my father fell ill. In 1989, he died. That was January.

From then our life started to be difficult again because my mom was all alone and I was the oldest and had five siblings. In Kenya, people believe that the disabled are to make shoes, they are to be cobblers. I can recall one of my uncles insisting that instead of going to highschool, I should go and be a cobbler. So my mom was like, no, I should not go to be a cobbler, I should go to secondary school. She insisted and I went.

She had to look for money and I went to highschool. My mom got ill again and was seriously sick but I had to sit in school to complete my studies. So I sat in school for that period. I can recall one day she tried to go to the market to look for products and she got in an accident. Things disappeared because when the accident occurred, some people took materials, took everything. The most important thing is that some good samaritans helped her, gave her some money and she came back home, but it affected her.

I was struggling in school, but when I completed fourth form, that’s high school, I started looking for how I could take care of myself and maybe my siblings and my mom now. My mom was seriously sick, she was bed-ridden so I had to come back. I had completed my fourth form, I had no job, and there was nobody. I was doing this business of selling clothes, and in Kenya selling clothes and moving from market to market, you have to carry them, so I can recall waking up in the morning and rushing and paying someone to carry this luggage to the market for me, or to the bus station, from the bus station to another market, then I open my luggage, do my business, then in the evening the same. Pay somebody to carry it to the bus station and maybe put it in the bus, then I reached the town and did the same thing.

This happened for almost eight months. When it came to September 1998, my mom died so I was alone with my siblings. One day my uncle came to me and wanted me to be a cobbler again. So I was wondering why is he insisting that I become a cobbler? It happened when I was in class 8, then when I was in fourth form, and now he insisted again. So he came and picked me up and took me to his house. He took me to a certain cobbler and asked that cobbler to train me. The guy told him 6000. He said 6000 for being a cobbler? The guy told him yes, 6000. So my uncle told me to talk to this man and see if he can reduce the price. Talk to him, and we’ll talk later. Then I went and talked to this man and I told him that I am not interested in this job. I got my education in business administration and I’m looking for employment. So I left that guy.

After some time, when I was staying with my uncle, my aunt sent me out of the house. So at that point, I asked myself, what next? I visited my friend. I told him what was happening, then he told me, lets come together as persons with disabilities. So one day me and my friend Walter sat down and came up with the problems we were facing as persons with disabilities, then we said, what can we do as persons with disabilities?

Then we came up with an initiative. We came up with an organization called Consumer Action Disability Network. When we were establishing this organization, we had nothing. So we looked for money to register. Registration costs 1000, which was another problem. We raised the 1000 and after that we talked to a certain judge to see if they could give us an office because we wanted physical identification. That judge gave us an office and we talked to the judge, we talked to the bishop, and started articulating our issues

. After that we brought in some other members with different disabilities because we didn’t want to do it as Nick and Walter, we wanted to do it with other people with disabilities because we find out problems from sharing with others. From there, we started mobilizing for resources, but getting resources in Kenya is another problem. So what we have been doing is articulating on issues, we teach people about disability issues, we go to forums on disability, maybe public forums whether or not it is on disability issues, but we have to include disability issues so that people know what issues people with disabilities are facing.