Growing up, Maryanne Emomeri never noticed anything different about herself.
“I remember the first day I realised that I couldn't talk. I don’t remember how old I was, but I must have been quite young. One of the children I was playing with just said, "Wewe hujui kuongea, usicheze na sisi" (You don’t know how to talk. Don’t play with us). I used to think that the sounds I was making were words, because to me, it sounded like I was talking.”
She rushed to the house and went and stood in front of the mirror just to confirm. And that was when she noticed that her lips never moved when she was talking.
“I’m glad I can laugh about it now.”
She is planning to learn sign language soon.
Maryanne was two years old when she contracted meningitis. Her mother took her to the hospital for treatment but she was treated for malaria.
“Before that, I had been taken to the hospital for the meningitis vaccine, but my mum was told I was underage. I developed complications a few days later and was rushed back to the hospital. I almost lost my life, but I thank God only the speech part of my brain was damaged. So, I can't speak, and I drool. I can't tell you this story well since I was still a child.”
Maryanne spent most of her childhood in hospitals.
“It pained me to see other children go to school while I was in a hospital or at home. I went to school when I was much older.”
The brightest spot in her childhood was when she discovered books and writing.
“My compositions were the ones that were read for the whole class. Those were some of the good memories. My parents knew this, and our bookshelf was always packed.”
Stigma in school
Despite reclaiming her voice through writing, Maryanne struggled through her primary and high school education. Apart from the stigma from some of her teachers, her parents also struggled to raise school fees. Her determination saw her walking into the Ministry of Education offices after staying home for one and a half years for lack of school fees after she completed her Kenya Certificate of Primary Examinations.
“I sneaked out of the house one day and went to my aunt’s house and asked her to give me fare, which she did. I went to the Ministry of Education office back home in Amagoro and asked to speak to the person in charge of disability education, he was known as Mr Ekabten. I got into his office and asked him to help me and told him I was not going to go home until he does. That's how I got into secondary school, but I was always out of school for weeks when the funds from the scholarship delayed.”
Through sheer grit and determination, Maryanne made it through high school and eventually got a diploma in mass communication from Multimedia University, but her battles with discrimination were far from over. From recruiters who refused to interview her when they realised she couldn’t speak to those who went cold on her even after she passed interviews, she has seen it all.
“In one of the interviews, they asked people to submit something in writing. The HR later called and said he was calling about my submission, but after noticing that I couldn't talk, (I had indicated so in my CV and asked them to use other means of communication), [and] he never called again. I tried following up with an email, but nothing came out of it.”
Maryanne has since self-published her book on Amazon titled The Punching Bag: Story of a Little Girl with a Disability. She writes about disability rights, using her own experiences to illustrate the cost of discrimination and stigma.
Not one to be hindered by a disability, she had been working with the Africa Podfest as an Editorial Assistant, participated in the Africa Podcast Day 2022 by being a part of the social media team, and was also featured in this year's podcast festival in Amsterdam. However, her contract with Africa Podfest is soon coming to an end.
Maryanne is optimistic about the future and sees herself as a strong disability advocate one day, especially for children.
“I am passionate about little children. I would like to publish locally. What if these children read about people like them who have overcome and achieved their dreams? They will most probably be encouraged and be better and do more. I would like to start an organisation that would make parents of children with special needs be empowered, the children educated, and even the grown people with disabilities empowered too.”
Maryanne is currently researching on and and plans to write a disability inclusion guide to help workplaces and social spaces be more inclusive to persons with disabilities.
Her greatest desire is for people to see people with disabilities as God-made, respect them and know that the greatest disability is the inability to see the ability of people with disabilities.