Maria Njeri, an Africa Nazarene University alumnus from Kikuyu, Kenya, was born with cerebral palsy. She first realized she was different in primary school when she was faced with a barrage of questions about her condition. Her family was there for her through the bullying, and they encouraged her to grow in her independence so she could support herself one day.
After completing her high school education through a General Equivalence Diploma program, Njeri struggled to get into university. Almost no institution could accept her since they lack experience working with differently abled people, particularly ones who have cerebral palsy. That is when Njeri found ANU in Nairobi, Kenya.
According to ANU’s admissions policy, the university admits students from all backgrounds irrespective of race, gender, age, creed, nationality, ethnic origin, marital status, or special needs.
“Africa Nazarene University campuses provide facilities and services that support activities of differently abled students and staff,” said Maureen Kinoti, from the Deans of Students Office. “Most of our key buildings at the Leah T. Marangu Campus provide ramped access for those that are wheelchair bound. At our Nairobi Central Business District Campus, most of the floors are served by a spacious elevator to allow for secure and easy access to the various facilities.”
Both ANU campuses have health facilities with qualified clinicians to care for the unique health issues, challenges, and emergencies of the school’s differently abled community members.
ANU also takes extra measures to ensure their students mental needs are met.
“The student services department provides psychosocial support to all students that need it through highly skilled counselling psychologists,” Kinoti said. “This is a necessary service for differently abled students to help them handle the academic, spiritual, social, and emotional challenges that come with university life.”
Though ANU was happy to accept students with special needs, Njeri didn’t initially qualify for a bachelor’s programs because of her GED background. Eventually, she was accepted into ANU’s pre-university program — a bridging program meant to give a second chance to students who did not qualify for degree programs.
Njeri completed the pre-university program and enrolled for a degree in community development with a major in human displacement. She went on to graduate in October 2018 and was awarded ANU’s Servant Leadership Award, an award given to one male and one female student in each graduating class.
“Africa Nazarene University is very proud of Maria,” said Rodney Reed, ANU deputy vice chancellor of academic affairs. “Our motto is ‘What begins here transforms the world.’ We are happy to have played a role in equipping Maria to play her role in transforming the world, and we are confident that she will.”
During her time at ANU, Njeri took her first trip outside Kenya. She traveled to Rwanda with help from her friends.
“My friends had to pull me across the border,” Njeri told the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper. “The bus dropped us on the Kenyan border and we had to rush through the checks and run to the other side of the Rwandese border where the bus was waiting.”
The Rwanda trip empowered Njeri, but it was an opportunity through ANU to study and travel abroad for a year that changed her life.
“If you would have asked me if I would go back packing across Europe and Asia, I would have said no way!” Njeri said. “The trip to Norway was such a big deal. I can’t imagine what my parents went through.”
Njeri’s professors and friends supported her in the exchange program as they traveled the world.
The opportunity also taught Njeri about world atrocities such as the concentration camps in Europe and Cambodia genocide, among others. This exposure inspired her to work with refugees at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.
“Within my cause, I have been a practical example in my advocacy and in my service toward people with different abilities,” Njeri said. “I am glad to be a part of the domino effect in bringing a revolution in Kenya.”
During Njeri’s graduation ceremony, she was asked to represent her fellow graduates alongside the class valedictorian in the ceremonial student speeches.
“To Africa Nazarene University, thank you for accepting and nurturing a student with cerebral palsy,” Njeri said. “Thank you for believing in me.”