As you walk across many towns in the country, there is one factor that remains constant in all of them, the presence of beggars.
To a casual observer, most of them are people living with various disabilities and thus have no other means to cater for their basic needs other than begging on the streets.
Peter Mbithi Mwinzi’s story is however different. Though disabled, he seeks to better his life and that of his family by cobbling, disability notwithstanding.
You will hardly miss Mbithi on his usual work spot on the dusty Kitengela Street regardless of the weather. Mbithi was born normal in 1965 and had a normal childhood until the age of three when he started falling ill. According to his mother, he started complaining of general body weakness including fatigue. Subsequently, he was admitted to hospital for a week as doctors tried to find out what ailed him.
By the time he was being discharged from hospital, the doctors ruled out polio but concluded he would not walk for the rest of his life.
The news was devastating to his parents but they were determined to give him a better life regardless of the situation.
Life was not easy for him too as he had to cope with walking using the surgical boots and crutches.
At the age of four, his parents enrolled him at Kyambuko Primary School, 1.5 kilometers from his home and he had to make the difficult walk daily to access education.
In an interview with KNA, Mbithi thanked fellow students and parents for ensuring he had a less stressful time in primary school. He said he was later admitted to Joy Town Secondary School for the disabled in Thika and later proceeded to Embu Vocational Rehabilitation Centre where he undertook a course in Leather work.
“I started working as a cobbler in 1988 thanks to an organization which provided me with a machine for making new shoes,” Mbithi, a father to five children says, adding proceeds from this venture had enabled him to educate his children up to high school level without having to beg for assistance from anybody.
“My last-born child is in secondary school and I have never asked anyone to help me with school fees to pay for him or other older children. My work as a cobbler also enables me to feed my family, pay rent and also meet other financial obligations,” he added.
Among the challenges that he faces is using public transport as he travels to distant towns including Nairobi city to source for necessary materials for his business. “I have to board a matatu to Nairobi and my tricycle has to be handled by touts who are mostly rowdy and end up breaking it,” laments Mbithi.
He said the machine for sewing new shoes broke down sometimes back but he could not afford to buy another one adding he is forced to make do with the little money he gets for repairing torn shoes.
“Prior to Covid-19 outbreak, I used to make up to Sh1,000 on a good day. Now I go home with Sh500 which forced me to scale down my budget,’’ he said.
Mbithi challenged other people living with disability to ensure they have a means of income rather than depend on begging to survive. “Earning money on your own gives you a sense of dignity and respect as people do not consider you as a liability,” he says further advising PLWDs to register with the Association for the Physically Disabled in Kenya (APDK) so they can access benefits such as trainings and donations.
“The APDK sponsored me with a tricycle to enable me to move around with ease after the one I had initially was destroyed by a matatu tout while I alighted,” he said.
Mbithi also urged parents to avail their children for vaccination whenever they are required to do so warning the repercussions of failing to do so were dire and sometimes life lasting.
Mbithi has not only improved his standard of living but has also trained another disabled man too who is similarly eking a living as a cobbler in Makueni County.
“I want to expand my business and employ more people who will help me in making the new shoes and repairing the old ones once I am able to acquire the shoe sewing machine,” concluded Mbithi as we parted.