- She finds motivation in people who see her as disabled, instead of differently-abled.
- Accepting the new condition demanded patience, inclusive change, flexibility, and acceptance.
- Last year, she was a finalist of the Rhodes Scholarship among the 2000 Kenyans chosen.
In a grisly accident in December 2012, Patricia Mativo would have her life change drastically as a new chapter was unveiled.
“It was unconsciously a transition phase; I had to move permanently to Kenya to continue and or start over,” Ms. Mativo said in an exclusive interview with Scholar Media Africa.
The born and raised in Tanzania teenager then was only 16 years of age when the car accident happened, and she suffered a spinal injury that caused partial paralysis.
“As a teenager, these are things you barely expect and they go on to make you uncomfortable, especially as a young girl,” she explains.
Learning, unlearning a vicious cycle
Dealing with acquired disability is not a five-finger experience, as Ms. Mativo explains, as it demands inclusive change, flexibility, and acceptance, yet there’s no handbook as to how to deal with the new state.
In her case, Ms. Mativo had to discontinue her education for two years as she took time to heal from the trauma and enroll for therapy sessions.
“It was hard to understand what happened to me and not just the accident but discontinuing my studies as well,” she said.
In 2015, she picked up her slack and went back to school.
Her father enrolled her in St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School in Lang’ata, Nairobi, which was accommodative for her state and closer to her area of residence.
However, Ms. Mativo faced many barriers in trying to transition and adapt to the Kenyan school curriculum, as well as her new space as a person living with a disability.
“The shock of transitioning from the Tanzanian curriculum, being in a new school and meeting my peers as a person with a disability was unfathomable. I had severe headaches at the end of each school day; I thought of dropping out,” Ms. Mativo opened up.
Nonetheless, with help from a counselor, she got to a realization that she had to forge forward and change the narrative.
She never looked back and would go on to top in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations.
“I hated how everyone would stare at and sympathize with me when I walked into a room. I came up with something that would make them look at me differently. Education was my only way out of the unconscious stigma, so I went for it!”
Call for leadership
Aged 27 and now the Vice Chairperson of The United Nations Fund Population Youth Advisory (UNFPA) panel, was cut for leadership in her teenage years.
Ms. Mativo explains how she took up every opportunity presented to her, which has made her what she is today.
After culminating her high school education and passing with a distinction, she was admitted to Multi Media University, Nairobi, to take up a Bachelor’s Degree in Analytical Chemistry.
“I was not ready for campus because of the unfamiliar environment; I went up for an inquiry at the institution’s administration block and a woman looked at me as if I was lost and did not know what I was getting myself into.
Little did she know she had just lit a fire in me!” beamed Ms. Mativo, noting that her motivation has mostly come from people who see her as incapable.
She continued to perform exemplary well as she chose other co-curricular activities, such as joining the university’s Health and Environmental club and later in politics as a Delegate for Special Needs and, for two terms, as a Secretary for Health and Environment.
“I saw to it that renovations were made in terms of ramps to accommodate people with mobility challenges among implementation of other inclusive policies,” she remembers.
Ms. Mativo was the only female in her class of Analytical Chemistry, and out of her relenting spirit and unbounded excellence, she graduated with first-class honors in 2021.
A still-blazing fire
Since her graduation, she has only been the best as she continues to change the narrative about PWDs all over the continent.
Apart from her role on the UNFPA board, she is the Kenyan Champion of the South-South HIV Prevention Learning Network (SSLN) program.
Her enthusiasm for helping young people, especially the differently-abled, led to her selection to represent UNFPA and the country at the UNITED Leadership Summit in South Africa last month.
“The summit is meant to unite and strengthen the collaboration of youth-led organizations tackling sexual and reproductive health, HIV and Adolescent Girls and Young people (AGYW),” she wrote on her LinkedIn profile.
“More than 80 young people from 14 countries in East and South Africa brought their heads together to discuss how best the youth can collaborate with organizations and governments to amplify the work and efforts of the younger generation,” explains Ms. Mativo.
She has continued to chase bigger dreams and is elated that most are being actualized.
In the interview, Ms. Mativo expressed her joy that she would be joining Oxford University to undertake a Master’s degree.
“It is just mind-blowing because this is something that I have dreamed of all my life and it’s unimaginable!” she was thrilled by this milestone.
Last year, she was a finalist of the Rhodes Scholarship among the 2000 Kenyans chosen; however, she lost the chance as only two were picked.
Ms. Mativo discloses that she will pursue a Master’s of Science in Environmental Change and Management and link it with Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights.
“I want to interlink all my areas of study to create sustainable change for young people,” she asserts.
Not one, but many barriers
The PWDs advocate admits that her passion for changing perspectives about disability got more attention after her accident encounter and has noted many gaps in the advocacy.
“I have walked in spaces where PWDs are seen as needy and cannot accomplish anything by themselves and it puts them in weird, helpless situations,” she says, noting that conscious and unconscious stigma is barely inevitable when you have a physical disability.
Regarding the government, the activist says there are Acts and policies in the constitution, but more needs to be done, especially on implementation.
“The 5 percent threshold set by law concerning employees with disability in organizations is not implemented. This is because many organizations are not ready to shift budgets that will accommodate PWDs,” says Ms. Mativo.
She further notes that different disabilities require different resources, making it hard for organizations to absorb them in their workplaces.
“For example, a person with a hearing and speaking challenge requires a sign language interpreter, otherwise they’ll face language barrier. Most organizations are not ready for that conversation,” she elucidates.
However, she continues to battle these barriers by sensitizing the masses by working with relevant bodies to ensure the rights of PWDs are upheld and that they are perceived as equals in decision-making activities.
A partying shot
Ms. Mativo commemorates how dark her situation was, and having to pick up the pieces single-handedly at such a tender age did not lessen the burden, thus feels it’s her life-long responsibility to wear a hat of support.
“It’s like holding a torch in the dark for someone, and it has grown on me,” she comments.
Ms. Mativo promises continued support to this agenda through partnerships and deliberate projects such as “The Body Right” campaign, which beats violations through body shaming, and the spreading of explicit sexual content, whether physically or in the digital space.
Nonetheless, she urges people with disability to stand tall to be seen and embrace their uniqueness without letting circumstances hold them down.
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“I stopped listening to what people are saying. Everyone has their own hassles, and focusing on how they perceive you is a waste of time. We have so much greatness if we let ourselves explore our capabilities,” she parted.