By Yasiri J Kasango
Today, I can joke about what I don’t have – good vision and normal stature. But my lighthearted attitude wasn’t always so.
Visual impairment, more often attributed to old age, is something I was born with. The trials with my sight cannot be corrected with prescription eye glasses or surgery. Medical professionals in my native country of Uganda call what I have “low vision.”
Plus, at roughly 1.2m tall, I stand more than a head shorter than the shortest person. When I asked my mother, Zain Mutesi Kasango, why I was this short and why I couldn’t see as well as others, she told me that I was created like this.
As a child, people cruelly called me names. “Pygmy” was the most common. I was irritated, depressed and without hope.
In Primary Three, while at Covenant Primary School in Mbale, eastern Uganda, Sylvia Mutungi, my former teacher, was the first to point out my sight challenge. She told me to move closer to the blackboard to see. She informed my father, Juma Mugabi, about my vision obstacle. My mother recalled that when my father told her about what the teacher had said, she remembered that since I was born, I had challenges with my right eye.
“You would cover the eye with one finger, in order to see well,” she told me. Often, my mother said, I would squint to see objects at a distance. She stopped me from the practice of covering that eye with her reminder that everyone, including me, is created in God’s image.
While in Primary Six, I went to an eye hospital, St Benedictine Eye Care Center, in Tororo district, eastern Uganda. That is when I was formally diagnosed with low vision. The optician said I needed to learn to live with my sight challenges since there were no lenses to correct my condition. I was warned never to drive a car and told that there would be many things I would not be able to do in life.
I was told that since my sight problem originates from the retina, it was difficult to find optical glasses that would solve the problem. I was given magnifying lenses for close range reading and a telescope to focus on the blackboard. The telescope gave me short relief while reading things on the board.
However, it was only for use in class and got broken soon after its first use. The telescope fell to the floor and got damaged after two terms. I went back to my usual struggle of moving closer to the blackboard.
While age 14 in boarding school in Senior One at Bukoyo Secondary School in the eastern Uganda district of Iganga, I was taunted most as I walked to get rice and beans at the dining hall. Peers followed me with shouts of “pygmy” to the point that I stopped eating.
The bullying caused me anxiety and low self-esteem. Snacks I carried from home, which were meant to last me the whole term, became my meals. I almost dropped out of school because of such harassment.
Despite the intimidation, there were days I would wake up with the resolve that my happiness entirely depended on me – and God. I reminded myself that the Lord and Saviour who I learned about in primary school Bible studies valued me as much as my sighted, normal-height classmates.
In darkest of times defined by people around me, I remembered God’s protection. One such fortification happened as I was home from school and crossed a busy road to my Presbyterian church in eastern Uganda’s village of Mbale. I remember one particular Sunday when my father and five siblings had left for church without me. That Sunday, I waited for human help at the busy road, but that didn’t come, so I used my hearing to run and dodge cars. To my surprise, there was a car coming, and it missed hitting me by a whisker.
God protected me that day and every day. While I respect the Sabbath with church attendance, I long ago realised God wasn’t just in a building on Sunday, but within me.
With this new attitude and strengthened faith in Christ as a teenager, I started getting leadership positions.
From Senior One to Senior Three, I was a councillor on the country’s umbrella body for secondary school student leaders – the Uganda National Student’s Association (UNSA). From Senior Three to Senior Four, I was the external coordinator for UNSA. In Senior Five and Senior Six, I was a prefect in my school, in charge of lights, furniture and water.
When I joined Senior One, I went back to the eye hospital. After tests, I was given two lenses. The optician told me they were meant for reading only. Therefore, I had to struggle to find a walking partner while venturing on the road.
The introduction to Computer studies in A’ level as a subsidiary subject was a good initiative by the Ministry of Education and Sports in Uganda. However, to a student like me with a sight challenge, it was a disadvantage. The subject has two sections – theory and practical. I struggled to do the practical exams because of my visual impairment and ended up getting a pass.
I joined Uganda Christian University in 2017. At the university, I found a similar challenge. In my first year, I was supposed to study basic computing. For the practical coursework of basic computing, my lecturer, Henry Sseguya, helped and gave me “oral practical” coursework.
I thank teachers and lecturers who have helped to make studying a little easier for me than it would have otherwise been.
Looking back, the nicknames that people have placed on me due to my challenges have been my source of strength. Whenever people call me a pigmy, I get the inspiration to climb high. I wish all people who are naturally blessed differently – physically and mentally – can be considered just as important in society as those who seemingly blend in.
I pray each morning and night, thanking God for the life He has given me, for the food I eat, for my safety, including, at age 19, my recovery from a leg fractured in a bicycle accident. I thank him for my education as a journalist, my internship with the Ugandan parliament and for all the opportunities I have had and are yet to come as I hope to become a university lecturer someday.
As I type this, I am age 26 and working in the newsroom of the Uganda Christian University newspaper called The Standard. I am respected there. No taunts. I even joke about my eyesight, telling colleagues that I see only what I am supposed to see.
I know God has a plan for me. To Him be the glory.
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