Posted by Emily Manjeru
During Rotary District 9212’s Nairobi Sunshine Rally held n 4th March 2023, 7000 children with disabilities were treated to a day of fun and entertainment at Jamhuri showground.  One of the attendees was Peninnah Mutuku, Deputy Head teacher of the biggest Learning Support Centre in East Africa- Thika School of the Blind who has dedicated her life’s work to helping children with special needs.  We celebrate her efforts during this years International Women’s Day. 
“I have two loves, My Emmanuel and Special Needs”
Peninnah Mutuku burst into tears, shattered that her best pupil had suddenly lost his sight. She was more devastated than the pupil's parents, feeling helpless that her shining star had gone dark.
Thoughts about her pupil weighed heavily on her as she travelled from Machakos to Thika School for the Blind, determined to get him help. 
"I went with my husband, but we left the child behind.  I couldn't stop crying during the visit and when we were done my husband just wondered whether he had brought me to cry," she said laughing. 
Peninnah's tears and compassion over seeing the pupils in need of help struck a chord in her heart, promising herself that she would find her way into working at the school. She credits her tears to her career journey, having trained as an English teacher. 
Conversations with Peninnah during the Rotary District 9212 Sunshine Rally held at the Jamuhiri Showground in Nairobi on 4th March 2023 would be interrupted by delighted alumni of the school, hugging her and saying hello, proud that they have become better people thanks to her. There was an air of warmth as pupils and parents alike shook her hand and exchanged pleasantries. Around them was a sea of parents, school students, Rotarians and Rotaractors raising dust amid the thunderous music from ‘Serikali’s’ podium at the center of the arena.  
Driven to join the school, Peninnah fished for information from the then staff about how to apply to become a teacher. She was advised to study special needs education. 
In 2001 her former school-Ndolo Primary School in Makueni was earmarked as an integrated school that would also incorporate students with alternative learning abilities. When she was asked to speak to the families, panic was written all over her face.  
"What would I tell them? How do I even help? I wasn't even trained as a teacher for children or students who are abled differently. This, however, fanned the desire to learn more on how to teach the pupils," said Peninnah. 
Adding: "Back in the early 2000s this wasn't easy. I remember going to the Teachers Service Commission to apply to Kenya Institute for Special Education (KISE) I was among the first 6 to be picked then the number shrunk to three. I was happy to have been shortlisted," she says, before her former pupils salute her.   
To attend the training, she needed to apply for study leave, and during the same time, she was expecting their last child. The date for the interview was on the same day as her delivery date. She called her relative to take her to the school for the interview, one of the biggest secrets she ever kept from her husband. 
"I knew it would spell trouble if I told him so asked a relative to pass by KISE before taking me to hospital. I left my husband's address in case they wrote back. By 11am I was done with the interview, by 3 pm we welcomed my last-born Emmanuel to the world," narrated Penninah. 
When the letter that came confirming that she is one of those sponsored by the government to study at KISE, it was received by her husband, she was overjoyed, "but this is where I had to spill the beans to my husband who wondered how I had received a confirmation letter without having gone for an interview. When I think about this, I laugh a lot."
However, another obstacle came, that she was mandated to board at the institution. 
"I have two loves, my Emmanuel and my special (referring to special needs)." 
She negotiated to be a day scholar, committing to being on time for class and still be able to care for their son. 
Two years on she received her appointment as a trainee teacher, rising the ranks to becoming the Deputy Headteacher of the biggest Learning Support Centre in East Africa. 
On the Sunshine Rally, she was glad that Rotary carried this on, noting that it uplifted the pupils' confidence and sense of belonging. 
"This exposure makes them feel loved as they interact with other children. I'm grateful that they get to feel like they belong," she said, ushering some of her pupils to a seat. 
Regarding the quality of education and the pupils' adaptability, she said that the braille pens were costly and all their materials are made from abroad. 
" Make no mistake though, the pupils are incredibly bright, very well versed with technology and everything going on in the world. They study under the same curriculum as other pupils and it gives me joy when they get accepted into reputable universities. Their learning materials cannot be sourced locally and one braille pen costs upwards of Ksh 100,000.  One of my jobs is to seek out well wishers to help with their learning resources to help them compete in the outside world," she says, looking at the over 100 pupils who sat at the arena of the showground. 
Having been a teacher for more than 16 years, Peninnah has churned out high flying professionals saying, "My best student is now a lawyer and so is the pupil who set me off on this journey, in fact my best students are lawyers, I have many people to call if I ever needed to be bailed out," she laughed, heartily. 
Mary and Mumbi, both pupils at Thika High School for the Blind walk over to say hello. Mary is visually impaired while Mumbi, who has albinism, shades her delicate skin from the harsh rays of the sun. Mumbi had been to the Sunshine Rally as a primary school pupil and was excited to be back again having grown to Form 2 at Thika High School for the Blind.
[What do you appreciate about Tr. Peninnah] 
"She is a role model and like a mother to us.  We love her so much. She taught us English," Mumbi responded. 
It was endearing to watch as Peninnah counselled Mumbi about caring for her skin. 
Peninnah shared nuggets of wisdom about leadership among her staff, half of whom are visually impaired. 
"You cannot grow where you are not challenged. I tell this to 36 teachers at the school, 18 of whom are visually impaired. They cater to a population of 350 pupils from diverse backgrounds," said Peninnah.
Thika School for The Blind started out as a rehabilitation centre for soldiers who had varied disabilities after the second world war. It became difficult to care for the war heroes so the leadership under the Salvation Army decided to channel its focus as a school for the blind in 1952. 
As we celebrate International Women's Day, we celebrate heroes like Tr. Peninnah who has poured her heart and soul into nurturing young people. Her love for the pupils is tangible, benevolent. 
The Sunshine Rally brings together children with alternative abilities for a day of fun. More than 3000 pupils thronged the Jamuhuri Showground in Nairobi to interact with one another and the Rotary community. 
Emily is a member of the Rotary Club of Nairobi-Lang’ata