This is Josh
Overcoming a terrible setback with support and a lot of determination. Josh's story is incredible.
Most of the students in The Small Project come from the general area of Nanyuki in central Kenya, right by Mt. Kenya, which allows us to keep track of them, both at their respective schools and at home during school breaks. They are selected through an informal process that includes conversations with their teacher, meetings with the family, and a home visit. This leads to a consensus that the child is a suitable candidate for support. Josh, however, came to The Small Project by a very different path. A Canadian family started supporting him informally after their daughter met Josh and his family during a youth trip to Kenya. The Canadian supporters knew about The Small Project and asked if Josh might be included in order to provide some fiscal accountability and so that we might key a closer eye on Josh’s progress, his school, and his family. Despite Josh living a seven-to-eight-hour drive away from the Nanyuki area, we agreed to take him on.
At the end of the first term of Form 4 (grade 12), Josh’s life changed irrevocably. While the story varies depending on who is doing the telling, at the end of the day, none of it actually matters. The bottom line is that on a Friday night, for a bit of fun, Josh drank some methyl alcohol from his school's chemistry lab. He passed out and woke up the next day very sick.
And he couldn't see.
Josh was taken to the local hospital and then transferred to a teaching hospital in Nakuru. But despite the best efforts of the staff there, it was too late for Josh. He was blind.
Josh in the hospital, two days after his unfortunate "mistake".
It takes little imagination to realize what a catastrophe this could have been for Josh and his family. The hospital bills alone were crippling; his father was preparing to sell the family’s modest farm (and their sole source of income) to help pay them off. And the life for the blind in Kenya, especially the newly blind, is not great, even grim. The great news is that Josh’s Canadian sponsors stepped up to the plate and provided the funds to discharge the hospital debt. And equally important, they gave us the green light to do what was necessary to get Josh some crucial rehabilitation and training.
This was a new experience for our helpers in Kenya and a bit of a steep learning curve. But we eventually settled on an institute or school in Machakos (east of Nairobi) that specializes in helping people who are newly blind adjust to the reality of their new life. They learn how to do the small personal tasks (wash, eat, look after clothes, and so on) as well as how to navigate in the world. And they learn Braille. The institute, while modest in appearance, was highly recommended and indeed proved to be excellent for Josh.
After a year at Machakos Institute for the Blind, the director told us that Josh's marks at were excellent. It was clear to everyone that Josh was really trying and that he had made good progress toward becoming independent and able to learn as a blind person.
Josh was ready to move on to a “regular” high school for the blind and visually impaired. Our goal was to have Josh complete his secondary school education and then to learn a trade.
Pauline rushed to the hospital to assist Josh and his family, who were understandably devasted.
Most of the students at Machakos were older than Josh. They are mainly people who have lost their sight as a result of disease or an accident, although there are some women who have lost their vision because of acid attacks.
The school works to have the students learn to be independent with daily life. They also teach trades so they can earn a living. However, because Josh was still a high school student, they felt it best that he finish secondary school. As it turns out, this was an excellent suggestion.
After some research and some school visits by Pauline, Josh enrolled at St. Lucy’s School for the Blind, near Meru. Because Josh's Braillie skills were still poor, he had to start back in Form 2 and so it took him several more years to complete secondary school. But Josh was reconciled to that. He knew still had much to learn.
After three years at St Lucy’s, Josh had made good progress and he applied for a diploma program in what amounts to political science at Nairobi University. He was accepted under an affirmative action initiative at the university.
As of this writing, Josh was just finishing his two-year program and plans to extend his education for another two years to earn a full degree. And ultimately, he would like to go to law school.
Now, how's that for determination?
Maina is a good friend of The Small Project. We use him exclusively to drive the students. Over the years, Maina has gotten to know Josh well and serves as a mentor to him.
Josh has come a very long way his terrible mistake a few years ago. The Small Project is honoured to be a part of Josh’s journey. While his life will continue to be challenging, at least now Josh has good reason to be optimistic.
Of course, this would not have been possible without the amazing generosity of Josh’s Canadian sponsors whose support for this young man has been unwavering. We can’t thank them enough.
Mary-Ellen Taylor of The Small Project visiting Josh at St. Lucy's School. His smile says it all.