From exclusion to inclusion: A blind teacher in Kenya recounts his own education

30 July 2020


Kangundo DEB integrated primary school
Peter Nzioka, a primary school teacher, is standing behind the school's sign with colleagues.

Peter Nzioka slid his hand across the contours of bent wire, trying to figure out what letter it was. A first-grade teacher at the local primary school in Machakos County, Kenya, would shape the wire to help Nzioka, who is blind, learn the alphabet. However, this teacher was an exception, and instilled in him a lifelong thirst for learning.

Challenges from a young age

Nzioka, who is 38 years old today, was just nine months old when he bumped into a pot of boiling water. His family brought him to the doctor, who diagnosed him with vision problems. He would soon become blind.

Nzioka grew up in a family of six children. He watched his siblings attend school – but for the most part, he stayed home, as the local schools did not have any policies to support students with visual impairments. The special schools were far and fees were beyond what his parents could afford.

At the age of six, Nzioka briefly accompanied his older brother to the local primary school. “I felt odd. I could not do anything because I could not see,” he says. “Most teachers [except for the one with the wire] would write on the board, but I could not see what they were doing.” After one term, he stopped attending.

A new start

Three years later, a Good Samaritan – a teacher from another locality who had met his mother – helped Nzioka enroll at the Thika School for the Blind. “The teachers were supportive there, and proper records were kept,” he says. Doctors from one of the leading eye hospitals would do monthly diagnostics and conduct follow-up treatment.

Nzioka performed well in school. However, he fell behind on the school fees, forcing him to drop out in the sixth grade. However, a neighbor – who was a cook at the school – encouraged him to appeal to the principal. “I was able to go back and finish school and not pay the fees.” In 1998, he progressed to secondary school.

Life in secondary school was challenging. He experienced stigma from peers and did not have access to the right learning equipment. The fees also started to accumulate. But, this time the principal was not as sympathetic to Nzioka’s case.

“For another year and a half I disappeared from school. Then the same man who had helped me before helped me again. He brought someone from the Liliane Foundation to meet me,” he says. At first, they were worried that Nzioka would not be able to catch up, but the Foundation’s representative could sense his determination.

“I tried as best as I could and I made it”

“I went back and my previous class had gone to the next grade so I had to learn with the class behind me. I tried as best as I could and I made it,” Nzioka says. In 2002, he graduated from secondary school.

Nzioka later enrolled into an artisan shoe-making course, however, his passion was teaching. It took three years for him to secure a place in the teacher training college and then another three years to secure employment with the Teacher’s Service Commission. He also received a diploma for special needs education and after many starts and stops – throughout the years – Nzioka found his place as a teacher at the Kangundo DEB integrated primary school in 2010.

Peter Nzioka is a source of inspiration to all learners, a role model, a mentor, and one of our school administrators.
Kivuva Bernard, School principal of Kangundo DEB.

A learning pace for all

Nzioka teaches students from grade four to eight. “I feel good in this career,” Nzioka says. He explains that the children with visual impairments enter mainstream classrooms from the 5th grade. His mission today: to make sure none of his students fall behind. “We teach them as one class.  When you are teaching them together, you cannot rush.”

Click the image below to view a slideshow:

Peter Nzioka's school Kangundo DEB integrated primary school

What kind of support do teachers with disabilities need in inclusive school environments?

As a teacher with a visual impairment, Peter Nzioka faces his own challenges within the school environment. Kivuva Bernard, School principal of Kangundo DEB explained how the school community supports him:   

  • Proper orientation,
  • A focus on teamwork,
  • Provision of supportive services, equipment and instructional materials,
  • Help where sight is required.