When Daniel Odongo was born 25 years ago in Musango, Mumias West Kakamega County, his father wanted nothing to do with him.
He abandoned him, leaving a blind Odongo with nothing much but an indomitable dream. As he grew up, young Odongo could not see, but somehow harboured dreams of becoming a pilot.
Today, Odongo is a pilot student at Skylink Flying School, flying across the country; Mombasa, Eldoret, Maasai Mara and Amboseli National Park.
Although he refers to himself as the ‘Blind Captain,’ Odongo can now see after his eyesight was restored three years ago, through surgery.
“Flying was my dream despite disability challenges,” says Odongo, when we find him in the company of mentally challenged students at St Maurus Special School in Mathare Area Three.
He adds: “These are my brothers and sisters. It was while here that I got sponsors who paid for my secondary and university education.”
Odongo came to the slum-based special school after a sojourn with a nun.
“Two years after my mother and I started to live with my grandmother, my father and siblings demanded that my mum returns home, alone. She went back, leaving me with my grandmother,” he says.
Unfortunately, Odongo’s grandmother died soon after and he was forced to join St Peters Mumias Convent, in 1989.
Odongo’s mother, Emelda Nyarotso, says there were differences with her husband over their son’s condition, forcing her to flee with the baby. Later on, she left the child with its grandmother.
When my mother died, the child had nowhere to go. A sister from Mumias took him to school. I monitored him secretly,” she says.
The nun admitted him to Kibos Primary School for the Blind in Kisumu, where he sat his Class Eight exams in 2006.
An aunt promptly introduced him to St Maurus Special School and later, Thika School for the Blind; he left in 2010 after sitting the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams and scoring a B-.
Damaris Sombe, head teacher at St Maurus Special School, lauds him: “He is one of the success stories this institution has produced.”
Thika School for the Blind Deputy Principal Anne Mwanthi is excited that Odongo, who entirely depended on the Braille to study, is learning to be a pilot.
“Despite his condition, he was a bright student and could have become anything he wanted in life. I am not surprised that he is now flying.”
But what surprised Ms Mwanthi is learning that her student’s eyesight was restored. “It is a rare occurrence. I have taught in this school since early 90s, and such cases are rare. The first was with a girl called Abigael in the year 2000.”
While at the special school, the Indiana Foundation sponsored his admission to Kenyatta University, where he pursued a degree in special needs education.
During the second semester of November 2013, Odongo was diagnosed with cerebral malaria and taken to Kikuyu Hospital.
After four days, he was discharged but as he prepared to head to campus, a doctor asked to examine his eyes.
Odongo was booked for a left eye operation, which was replaced with artificial lens.
“I could only see a bright light but could not identify objects,” he says.
Soon after, the right eye was also operated on, and after undergoing medication for three months, l fully recovered my eyesight. I cried tears of joy, it was a miracle,” he says.
Having been used to learning using the Braille and Braille machine from primary, secondary and part of his university education, the now seeing Odongo found alphabetical letters strange.
“Adapting to my new environment was tricky. I could not write words because l did not understand them,” he says.
Odongo took about two years to muster the alphabet as well as read and write.
Often, he would resort to Sign Language, Tactile or Telephony to understand better. Odongo confesses that though he continued to nurse the dream to become a pilot, he did not know where to start from. Then fate checked in and an opportunity presented itself in January last year when he boarded a plane to Mombasa.
“After landing, l remained in the plane as other passengers disembarked. A hostess came over to ask if l needed help. I told him l wanted to meet the captain.” The hostess looked at him in disapproval, but a determined Odongo insisted on seeing the captain.
He was shortly introduced to Jamal, who worked with Jambo Jet. “He was nice to me and advised me to enroll for a flying course.”
Back in Nairobi, Odongo inquired what he needed to study at Skylink Flying School located at Wilson Airport. He found out that he needed about Sh4 million to acquire a commercial pilot licence.
He says: “I pleaded with them to admit me with the Sh12,000 I had, and promised to pay the rest while studying.”
Now in his second year of study, Odongo has only paid Sh170,000, and is looking for well-wishers to support him achieve his long-held dream.
Even as he inches slowly to actualising his dream, Odongo’s father has since asked for forgiveness. His mother says: “My husband is a Christian and realised later it was not Odongo’s wish to be born that way. He apologised to Odongo and they are now good friends.”
Though he has forgiven his father, Odongo is yet to reconcile with his siblings. “Since distancing from me at birth, none of them seems interested in me,” he says.