September 2017 Member of the Month: Ms Alice Gathoni (2013)

"I enjoy seeing children with disabilities learn and play with their non-disabled peers in schools in Kenya – it fills me with joy ... I am happy that inclusion is slowly taking shape, notwithstanding the challenges."

Alice Gathoni

What is your current occupation?

After my studies at Wolfson, I went back to Kenya where I taught at Machakos University College for one year. I also continued working with youth with disabilities in various capacities until last year when I received funding for my PhD at the Open University in Milton Keynes, which is where I am currently based.

My current research 'Youth with Disabilities in Kenya and their Use of Social Media' builds on my previous experiences mentoring youth with disabilities and my earlier research, as I seek to understand their uptake of social media and its role in their transition and development. I also volunteer with community-based organisations and am a friend of Kwanjora Special School, where I help fundraise for projects. Currently, we are raising funds for the construction of a borehole to ensure that the school has a steady supply of clean water. I also mentor several students with disabilities who are currently in higher education.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy seeing children with disabilities learn and play with their non-disabled peers in schools in Kenya – it fills me with joy. When I started working in this area seventeen years ago, many children were confined in special schools. I am happy that inclusion is slowly taking shape, notwithstanding the challenges.

How have your studies at Wolfson helped you in your career?

Studying at Wolfson gave me an opportunity to explore issues of youth with disabilities in and beyond the confines of education. I gained important insights into how policies and practice in various sectors of a country shape service provision for these youths. The sound training I received in qualitative inquiry continues to enhance my current research, and will certainly shape my future engagements in research and development practice. 

What is your fondest memory of your time at Wolfson?

Apart from its cosmopolitan nature, which provided interactions with colleagues from diverse nationalities, I loved the fact that Wolfson is a close-knit college where I made warm friendships which continue to thrive even now.

I really enjoyed the Christian Union meetings where we not only studied the Bible but also shared many laughs and celebrated birthdays. A memory that I will always carry with me is when Christian Union members, we managed to raise enough money within a very short time to buy two high-yield milking goats for a special school in Kenya that was in urgent need of milk for its students following a famine. We also bought about 150 pairs of shoes for the students. I personally presented the gifts to the school and the joy in the students’ faces still speaks vividly to me to this day.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Growing up as an orphan, life was difficult, but my aunt Mary who helped raise me always advised, 'Never lose hope' and 'A good name (integrity) is better than expensive perfume'. Said in my language, these two pieces of wisdom are loaded with meaning and life and have played a big role in shaping the person that I am today.

Which person (living or historical) do you most admire and why?

Generally, the big-hearted people all over the world who give to just causes to make the world a better place for all of us. Closer to home, I have great admiration for my aunt Mary, who worked tirelessly as a cleaner to ensure that numerous needy children, including myself, got an education and a safe place to call home when all hope seemed lost. And Sister Muthoni (Stefana), an Italian nun, who for over forty years now has supported the rehabilitation, education and inclusion of marginalised children with disabilities in a rural school in Nyandarua, Kenya where I once taught. Her zeal challenges me to be better every day.

Which book has had the greatest impact on you?

Growing up, Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands inspired me to never allow any circumstance to limit me, while the Gospels are always a constant reminder that there is a higher being who cares and loves all people unconditionally.