He Defied DeathTo Become CEO Under 40, Wesaya Maina Resumed University On A Wheelchair

A tractor mangled Wesaya Maina’s limbs when he was in campus. His wife died young. He speaks about hope, fortitude and the power of family and friends.

What do you do for a living and what is your family/social background?

I am an education, public engagement, and strategy consultant. I grew up in a humble home where a character was the defining indicator.

A freak accident changed the course of your life. Tell us about it…

I had just turned 23 after my teaching practice. A student I had supported the previous year stopped to thank me for helping them pass their exams and as we were chatting, a 14-tonne cane trailer pulled by a tractor smashed into me. I spent six months at St Mary’s Mumias, Kakamega General Hospital and the famous Ward 6 at KNH.

What was going on in your mind as you lay on the murram?

I said, “Lord, spare my head.” A Good Samaritan picked me and rushed me to hospital. I have never been able to identify who it was 18 years on. There are angels out there.

What was your hospital experience like?

There were long moments of pain, heartache, and uncertainty. I was not sure which of my limbs could be reconstructed. Family members, friends, and acquaintances fainted when they came visiting. But I had hope; hope that I would walk again…and to this day, many see it as a miracle.

What kept you going? 

One of the orthopedic technicians at KNH summed it up for me. “Young man,” he said, “You are a patient, be patient. Make this bed your home…it is going to take a while before you leave this hospital.” He was right!

Wesaya Maina [Photo: Courtesy]

You resumed university on a wheelchair. What was it like?

It was tough, but Prof Munavu who was the VC and the Dean of Students Mr Mureithi, made me settle. More importantly, I had a great set of friends who formed an impregnable social support system. As fate would have it, my younger brother was admitted at the same university when I was still in hospital. My friends made adjustments to accommodate and support me, vacating their rooms for me, literally carrying me to lecture halls, some recording themselves while reading their notes using the ‘Walkman’ for me to listen to later. It was all surreal. The miracle of the season was that I did not re-sit any exam!

Did you receive support from the university fraternity?

Yes and no. The VC re-admitted me after the deadline, which was a big thing. The dean of students provided a wheelchair for my use, the university doctor made the ambulance available for my use whenever I needed to go for check-up from my room to the university clinic at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. A few lecturers were accommodative but some did not care. I could not access my room and a friend had to vacate his. I missed some lectures due to accessibility challenges. I remember my friends carrying me to the top of the admin block on main campus for my micro-teaching lessons (5th floor) because the building had no lift.

You ran a business in campus on a wheelchair…

I sold bread and cake for sustenance. It helped me cushion my family shortfall in finances. The student leadership was supportive and awarded me the tender two years consecutively.

Irungu with Wesaya Maina [Photo: Twitter]

How did you spend the cash you saved?

I employed my Class One desk mate who had fallen on hard times after his KCSE at the tuck shop. He worked for me for over a year and a half and in exchange, I supported him to join a teachers’ training college. I also used the little cash I made to pay for my postgraduate studies in human resource management and development studies.

Despite your injuries, you were studying two courses at the same time…

The accident made me a daredevil. I registered for postgraduate before I cleared undergraduate and went ahead to register for a second postgraduate degree before I cleared the first.

You also ‘hustled’ as a newspaper writer in campus. How did you get your first break?

Oh yes!  I wrote a letter to the editor that caught an editor’s attention and he called the dean of students looking for me!

Would you say this was your biggest break in life?

In 2012, I accepted a job offer from Discovery Learning Alliance as the country director for Kenya, becoming a CEO before I turned 35. That was a big break.

You were widowed young…what happened? How did you manage the loss?

In 2011, my wife collapsed and died out of a heart condition. It has been nine years of pain, tribulation, anguish and many ‘why’ questions that remain unanswered. Family kept tabs on me, I underwent counselling and also immersed myself in the world of work. It works for some moment, but relapses happen.

You are involved in a lot of philanthropy, especially in education. What is your driving force?

My grandfather and father kept telling us while growing that, You lose nothing by giving.’ I struggled when my father passed on while I was in Form 3; I know how poverty looks like. If I reach out to one child to go to school just for one more day, my heart is at peace.

Wesaya Maina [Photo: Courtesy]

As an education expert, what worries you most about the future of our children?

That we are playing games with the policy and management of the education sector in Kenya. We lack leadership in the sector and are simply not giving this critical sector enough thought and attention.

You walk straight. No one would guess you have huge disability on the right side of your body. Why are you not officially registered as a person with disability?

I thank God that I am able to move without aid. Since I can move, registering myself as disabled will be rolling back again I already have. I consider myself able and believe that registration for disability should be reserved for those who badly need it at this point in time.

What’s your most memorable moment?

It has to be May 1, 2015, when I had a private moment with President Bill Clinton when he came to Kenya and dedicated half a day to my project at Farasi Lane Primary School in Lower Kabete.

And your most moving moment?

When I led the donation of bicycles to a local secondary school founded by my family members in the village. As we speak; over 300 girls go to school on bicycles. This has reduced truancy, teenage pregnancies and led to greater completion rates. In 2019, we managed to have 14 students qualify to join university from a dusty village school.