Kenyan set for trip to South Africa on wheelchair

Mr Zachary Kimotho will travel from Nairobi to Cape Town on a wheelchair to raise funds towards building of the first spinal injury rehabilitation centre in Kenya. Photo | FILE  

A Kenyan will travel from Nairobi to Cape Town on a wheelchair to raise funds towards the building of the first spinal injury rehabilitation centre in Kenya.

Mr Zachary Kimotho will embark on the 4,000-kilometre journey to the nearest spinal injury rehabilitation centre in South Africa on Saturday.

Through the journey, he will also raise awareness about the plight of paraplegics in Kenya.

Along the way, Mr Kimotho will keep on updating people about the progress of his journey through the social media. An accompanying crew will offer him security and document his journey on both video and still images.

Mr Kimotho will stop only when the sum required to build and equip the centre is raised.

The Kenya Paraplegic Organisation (KPO) has organised the “Bring Zack Back Home” campaign with the aim of raising 250 million shillings (approximately $3 million) for the facility, which they hope will go a long way in assisting the rising number of spinal injury patients.

Most of them are victims of road accidents and carjacking. Mr Kimotho led a healthy life until eight years ago when he was shot and left paralysed.

Pulled the trigger

The tragic turning point for the father of one happened in January 2004, when he was accosted by carjackers on his way from Kikuyu town towards the city centre.

“I was at a junction and the traffic was not moving. I wound down my car windows as I waited for other vehicles to pass,” he recalled during an interview with Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.

“Suddenly, a car stopped in front of me and a man came out of it and headed straight to my windscreen with his hands up. Before I could comprehend what was happening, another man ordered me to open the door and move away from the steering wheel,” said Mr Kimotho.

He shouted at him: “Mjinga, unaona hii nini nimeshika?” (Stupid, can you see what I’m holding?).

“I was unlocking my seat belt so that I could move as he had ordered when he pulled the trigger. I felt piercing pain and I could neither control the steering wheel nor move,” he said.

His vehicle moved slowly into another lane and rammed the kerb separating the two-lane highway. Good Samaritans who had witnessed the incident from nearby took him to Kikuyu Hospital.

“Those five kilometres to the hospital were the longest journey I have ever travelled,” said Mr Kimotho.

“It took me several years to come to terms with what had happened to me. The shooting happened only months after I lost my job and the death of my wife,” he said.

Born in Murang’a District, Mr Kimotho attended Karinga Primary School before joining Nyeri and Nakuru high schools for ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels.

He then joined the National Youth Service and later graduated from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1994.

His job involved a lot of travelling, sometimes on lorries while he worked as a veterinary officer in Marsabit and on foot in northern Kenya.

Without a job, he lost hope of finding one given his condition. “A friend of mine offered me office space in town to start a business but I got tired travelling to the office,” he said.

He now earns a living through manufacturing veterinary medicines from his two-bedroom house in Donholm Estate in Nairobi.

Rehabilitation costs

KPO executive director Tim Wanyonyi said that those who suffer from spinal injuries go through a lot of suffering and rarely get jobs.

“I used to be a criminal and litigation lawyer but I was forced to change to corporate and property practice because I required an army of people to carry me to court,” Mr Wanyonyi told the Nation.

Carjackers compelled Mr Wanyonyi to a wheelchair in 1998 when they shot at him a few metres after dropping his friend at Ngara Flats in Nairobi’s Ngara Estate.

“I had to travel to a rehabilitation centre in Belgium. It cost my family 10 million shillings ($117,000) for a three- month stay at the hospital. The Kenyan embassy in Brussels, Belgium, stood guarantee until we finished paying the amount two years later,” he said.

The struggles he went through paying his rehabilitation cost convinced Mr Wanyonyi that there was need to start such a centre in Kenya. In 2006, Mr Wanyonyi and other paraplegics decided to start a spinal cord rehabilitation centre in Kenya.

They raised some funds and bought a 12-acre plot of land in Kiserian, in the outskirts of Nairobi. “We have dug a borehole at the site, planted trees and connected electricity. We are only being delayed by lack of funds for the construction,” Mr Wanyonyi says.

The initiative is being sponsored by Safaricom, ScanGroup and the Nation Media Group, among other organisations. The rehabilitation centre, which is expected to have 150 beds, requires about Sh250 million to complete.

KPO gets about Sh1 million from fund-raising activities held twice a year. They hope that Mr Kimotho’s daring efforts will bring more.

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