GRYZ WAHURA: A TRIUMPH OVER DISABILITY

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This article should have been published last week but something eroded the whole rationale. 30th June was fast approaching with thick torrents and fury. What to do when your whole extended family and friends who haven’t called you in fifty years finally emerge from nowhere and keep your phone buzzing unusually! So, around this time of the year, I usually feel quite proud of my career since very learned doctors who spent years in medical school studying complex stuff like, deciphering Human Cell Biology; TSC employed teachers salivating and edging in to meet their pensions; Beautiful, yellow-skinned lady bankers who apparently have no appetite for longer dresses who live for swindling the rest of us to take loans and subsequently sending their goofed and mean-looking credit officers to keep tabs on why the loans are not being serviced; Arrogant entrepreneurs whom you’ll spend years trying to explain to them what is I-tax, passwords and the need to have an email…name them. They will finally discover my number and call naively asking what is requested of them to file these returns. When you mention of P9As, they’ll condense and assume that is something close to a clearance form from CID. That was last week; Maddening crazy and overwhelming. Credit to I Tax portal – It was fast and efficient this time round unlike last year.

Further afield, we are putting up with July weather. Of course you and I under estimated the cold until we bumped on images about the Icing in Nyahururu and the acute low temperatures. What’s with Nyahururu and clouds falling on people’s heads and roads. Isn’t that invigorating? Well, by now you know I was raised in Nyahururu. In actual sense before global warming encroached, made a safe landing and settled, July was one of those months we all dreaded for. I recall my brother and I back then in lower class, where by 6:15 am we would painfully live the house to meet the annoying school bus. A time like July, we would shiver from the teeth to the intestines. Mind you we were on shorts, slogging through the mist and biting cold. By the time we boarded the bus, we couldn’t feel our legs.

Time for Gryz! Back in 2009, in the lifts of the tallest building at that time of Ngara area code was Vision Institute of Professionals. An accounting school where CPA was discovered, nurtured, instilled and exported to the rest of the colleges. In fact, most of these colleges which sprouted out after (Thanks God it was pre-Matiang’i era) had their founders cum lecturers start their careers at Visions. This was the epitome of excellence in the accounting field. Then, having been new to Nairobi, using lifts was quite fulfilling for me. Particularly because I was brought up in the village, Nyandarua County to be exact which has no single hill expect an ant-hill. So, being here boxed in a lift, my height dwarfed by humans with a taste for Nairobi fashion and fancy phones and school bags; I wanted to be like them.

It was on such moments that I met Gryz Wahura. Not that we exchanged pleasantries but at least I got to know of her. She was overly short, light complexion and with feeble legs. While I was joining Visions, she was clearing. Clearly, she was astounding by any standards. CPA not being a cup of tea course, we all wondered how she made it here. What cooked in her ambitions? She must have real fire burning in her belly and a self-drive that would move Kenya economy to first world. Watching her along the corridors, one could tell that was a walking gem eager to learn and change lives.

Eight years later(2017) I inboxed Gryz on Facebook requesting to have her featured in my blog. She had no qualms. I had her draft something for me about her life which I used to come up with a questionnaire to squeeze in more juice for this article. Ladies and gentlemen, here is Gryz’s story told for the first time on an online platform.

Gryz Wahura was born 29 years ago in Nyakahuho village, in Gikondi location, Mukurwe-ini Nyeri County. From the ages of two to fourteen years, she was raised by her grandmother. She is from a single mother who was the bread winner of the entire family. She was born a normal kid, crying and playing like any other until the age of three. This is when her mum realized that her beloved daughter had a spine problem. After back and forth to quite a number of hospitals, she was pronounced as to have a deformity in her spine. Her spine was curving in as she grew instead of forming straight. The spine being a very sensitive part of the body, nothing much could be done out of fear it could cause paralysis to her whole body. Growing up in the village at such a time had its pros and cons. First, there was stigma caused by lack of not so many cases akin to Gryz’s in the village. On the other hand, everyone got used to her physical challenges and she was treated like any other pupil in school including being punished like the rest if she featured in the list of noise makers or not completing her homework. She was active in co-curricular activities namely sports, drama and music festivals. Being treated like a normal kid helped her physiological wounds heal faster. In such formative years of one’s life, it is important to feel indifferent. But you can’t be indifferent in adulthood. Ama? You need to discover yourself, cut your own niche, embrace your personality and goals and remain self-reassuring. To that extent, it is difficult being an adult hahaha.

Something happened on the eve of her KCPE exams. She got a paralysis on her legs. Gryz was in and out of hospital for eight months for therapy and medical checkups, where she was confined to a wheel chair. Gryz later joined a special school for persons living with disability for her O levels in Thika, which was a big chunk of advantage to her because of the facilities and meeting classmates with similar challenges. While here, she lost meaning to life. And as she puts it, “at this point I lost meaning of life. I was a bright kid but I was never serious with my studies in high school, after all to my thinking, who would employ a person on a wheelchair despite their education!”

What was your initial experience on the wheel chair

At first I could not seat on it, I was in denial that I was paralyzed. It took me around six months to accept the situation, until when I joined high school and found other students with severe disability.

I cleared my high school in the year 2004 and I didn’t know what next. At this time I had moved to Nairobi and the stigma from the society was just too much, I didn’t know how to face the world. I had no idea what to do with my life more so since I didn’t know of any college or university which accommodated persons with disability. Between January 2005 and May 2006 I shunned myself from the society and the only place I used to visit was the hospital for my therapy.

 How long did it take you to accept your condition

After continuous therapy I started regaining my senses and I could walk again using crutches. I went through a lot of counseling through workshops and training which played a big deal in accepting my condition. I accepted who I am and realized that there’s so much to life than disability and made a decision to continue with my studies. At this point I didn’t care about public perception so long as I pursued my life.

I indulged Gryz about her adolescence experience.

High school was fun. Being in a mixed school, one could have more than one boyfriend and several secret admirers who would keep writing notes to you without revealing their identity and leave you to do all the guessing. I was very confident in high school which made it easier for me to interact easily with everyone around.

Later she joined Visions which disappointingly, was not disability friendly. This meant, if the lifts were not working, she could only be left with no choice but to use the stairs at times to sixth floor.

In July 2006 I joined Visions Institute of Professionals as a KATC student. At first I didn’t know what would be the reaction of the VIP’s family would be, but what mattered the most is that the management accepted to admit me, the college was accessible and I had a goal in life. I made friends at Visions, several of whom are still good friends to date. And very few people didn’t want to be associated with me.

You searching for a job

Luckily, I didn’t hustle for job. A friend from my current place asked me to apply for a job vacancy which was advertised internally and I got the job. Joined Kenya Education Management Institute (KEMI) in January 2012 on a One year renewable contract as an Accounts clerk. Got confirmed on a permanent and pensionable basis as an Accountant 1 in July 2014.

Gryz is very active in Sports

In the year 2010 I joined Para sports as an athlete I participated in field events i.e. short put and javelin throwing.

In August 2010 I was a Gold medalist at the Great Lakes Athletics held in Nairobi. In the same year, I was appointed the National Treasurer of the Kenya Cerebral Palsy Sports Association.

In 2011 I joined the umbrella body that is the Kenya National Paralympic Committee as a Committee Member. This position came with several responsibilities, among them coordinating a youth workshop in Rwanda, youth training camp in Korea, African youth training in Nairobi and a Team Manager for the 20th Common Wealth Games held in Glasgow, Scotland.

Tell me about what motivates you in life

My Mum is my all-time motivator. She encourages me in all ways. I wake up every morning with her words in mind “Grace your life is greater than your disability”

Social Life

I love life and touring is part of me and that’s why I joined the Maina Kageni Road Trip Tour. Have been to several exciting places in the country and few other places in Tanzania and Rwanda.  

Tell me more about Maina Kageni Road Trip

I joined the team when they were on their third week of the tour after I heard Maina talk about it on his morning show on radio. It’s very simple to join, since you only have to pay.

How have you been handled by the rest of the crew in the road trip

Maina and the entire management have been very supportive and extremely friendly. I remember the first time when my friend (a wheelchair user) and I joined the crew, Maina was very encouraged.

Most memorable visit

When we visited Kyanguli Secondary School where the fire tragedy happened in 2001 and killed 63 students. The images were very disturbing. It was overwhelmingly emotional.

Tell me about a typical day in office

I wake up at 6am and retire back at 12 midnight. I get to the office by 8am. Being in a Finance Department, I’m busy all the way to evening.

I also do more in this institution than just accounting stuff. I’m a member of committees like;

  • Disability Mainstreaming Committee
  • Integrity Assurance Committee
  • Information Security Management
  • Tender Committee

 

Currently, Gryz, is pursuing her Finance degree at KCA University.

 Nick Vujicic perhaps one of the most popular persons living with disability worldwide having been born without arms and legs but two small feet, at some point succumbing into severe depression from bully in school, survived all this horrifying childhood challenges and by now is a huge motivator to legions of us.

I will leave you with two of his quotes;

If I can encourage just one person then my job in this life is done…. There’s no point in being complete on the outside when you’re broken in the inside.

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Are you a young person, with a compelling story that you strongly believe should be retold to a larger audience for the sole purpose of inspiring and educating. Reach up to me on wandrewism@gmail.com

KENYANISM, DEADLINES & NUMBERS

CompliantWhat brings us together as Kenyans majorly lies with Football and Deadlines. Kenyans love Deadlines and Deadlines love them back. They love working with each other most of the times too. Speaking of Deadlines they should be part of our National symbols and even entrenched in the Loyalty Pledge. Wait! Do kids still recite the loyalty pledge in school parades? Why did it sound difficult to us then, hehe. Anyway, aren’t we just loyal to deadlines?

Dear Kenyans, since when did Papa (Shirandula) appear on our TVs soliciting us to file our tax returns? Typically, we turned a deaf ear, blind eye and moved on to more important things ignoring the fact that Karma was alive and kicking and that a day would come when we will waste days hinged on stagnant queues begging for assistance. Those days have come home to roost. Just this week, here we were taking off days or closing down our businesses to rush to Huduma Centers and I Tax support centers to impatiently line up pulling remorseful faces and going back home having not got any assistance. We stared at those tired and demotivated faces from KRA personnel taking a century to find letters Q & F in the dusty keyboard and waiting even longer for I Tax website to process a single command. The elderly staff donning those multicoloured fat ties and oversize suits clearly looked overwhelmed by the crowded halls of humans who seemingly have a soft spot for deadlines. But seriously who still strangles his neck with a fat tie the size of a mother’s union kitambaa. We complained and threw tantrums in these stuffy halls together with hundreds of other laidback taxpayers because misery loves company, and demanded to be explained as to why there were clouded inefficiencies in these offices.

But to be fair to KRA, they took about 5 months sensitizing us to file our returns. The very educated Kenyans but perceived to be busy too (really) didn’t care a thing nor have time for such flimsy requests from government. We dismissed Papa’s ads and got submerged to more family talks at that crucial time before 9pm news. We went ahead browsing on our phones if not preparing supper or catching up with the day’s newspaper or retiring to bed early. We laughed at the poor bachelor who missed on marrying the love of his life for not filing his returns. The shocker he got from Papa is the same shocker that compelled us to make frantic calls to a Mr. Chris, the only accountant we know of to help matters. Unknown to us, Mr.Chris was making a kill from our procrastination-mentality and casual reasoning. Of late he has been laughing all the way to the bank cashing in from many of us who have a genetically modified problem of working with deadlines.

The very peculiar Kenyans who have each, half a dozen briefcase companies for no apparent reason, stare at the reality of paying sh.10,000 penalty of every company that didn’t file a tax return by 30th June this year.  Moreover, we will also have to pay an extra sh.1,000 unnecessarily for the Individual returns we failed to file querying how worse can be the consequences of defaulting to file! I even know of people who woke up at 12am or made it to the office by 6am to file their returns. From where I’m seated, that’s the shocker the Bachelor in Papa’s ad was battling with. We were not any different, caught flat footed by a Mr.Njiraini (KRA MD) who didn’t bulge or show any sympathy for those who hadn’t made it to the deadline. In any case, KRA put it on record they were targeting 2 million taxpayers (only), meaning the rest will have to prepare to pay penalties. Some crossed their fingers for Mr. Njiraini to extend the deadline but to their shocker (The same in Papa’s ad), that was a non-issue.

We are the same funny taxpayers who sabotaged the I Tax system this week. Predictably, we waited for the very last week and suddenly started running helter skelter to cybers to login to the system. How wouldn’t the system servers not get shocked too if suddenly millions of Kenyans bullied the KRA website with millions of attempted log-ins? Being an accustomed user of I Tax system by virtual of my career, I could tell it would disappoint taxpayers at the very last days. In any case, KRA officials disclosed that 28th June was the only day they witnessed the largest number of successful filed returns where the numbers stood at about 100,ooo. That’s tells you how complacent the system is, meaning, many would-be taxpayers were locked out which wouldn’t be the case if all took Papa’s ad seriously.

But what are consequences of not filing tax returns in Kenya? That’s the elephant in the room and the million dollar question. Arguably, there are no harsh consequences especially to individual taxpayers than they are to companies. Many will not lose sleep for a mere sh.1,000 haha. Call it mere but isn’t it not painful to part with a one thousand shillings note due to negligence and our very typical Kenyanism? The other consequence would be for those who apply for Compliance Certificates. But how many apply and when is it needed in the first place? I’ll come to that shortly. The shocker though comes from the news that KRA has been in active engagement with banks operating in Kenya to cooperate and release bank details of tax payers. If that succeeds and essentially have it that KRA will have powers to demand banks to deduct monies of defaulting taxpayers, that alone will be a game changer. Word has it that KRA is banking on a new law that will give it unfettered access to taxpayers bank accounts to improve revenue collection. If this succeeds one will be put to task in explaining the sources of incomes that find their to your bank accounts that probably don’t reconcile with what you disclose in the Income Tax returns.

They even went ahead to approach Safaricom salivating on millions of Mpesa transactions that process billions of monies, though Safaricom won the first knock out stage citing breach of confidentiality. Pundits have it, KRA will be back at Bob Collymore’s doorstep better armed with a law that will leave Safaricom a helpless opponent. This again is where the can of worms live and prosper. Mpesa will be the next battleground. According to Safaricoms 2015 Annual Reports; Mpesa active customers stood at 13.9million, 6 times more what KRA was targeting. You sense the disconnect. The devil lies in the numbers. This is where the cookie crumbles. If KRA storms Mpesa, millions of Kenyans will have to part with staggering penalties. As back as 2014, Kenyans moved more than Sh.1 trillion in 6 months. You can imagine how much more is moved in 2016!

I promised something about Tax Compliance certificate; you will need it as a requirement for some government jobs, County and Government tenders. The validity of a TCC lasts for 12 months, nowadays applied exclusively via I Tax and normally rejected if you have pending tax returns or have accrued penalties and interests.