Shoemaker Born Blind Putting Himself Through Aviation School

  • Daniel Otieno Odongo mends a shoe.
    Daniel Otieno Odongo mends a shoe.
  • Although many consider blindness an impediment to visual-oriented careers, Daniel Otieno Odongo, born blind, is set to beat the odds in realising his dream of becoming a pilot.

    Odongo, 29, was born on August 24, 1991, in Mumias, Kakamega county. However, he developed a congenital cataract disorder that caused his blindness.

    His father discovered he was blind at the age of three years, sadly, due to his condition, his parents separated and his mother took him to his grandmother.

    Daniel Odongo during an interview with KTN on January 9, 2020.
    Daniel Odongo during an interview with KTN on January 9, 2021

    It was while at his grandmother's home that Odongo created a good rapport with the catholic convent of St Peters Mumias, and the church put him through school.

    "At one point I joined St Ann's Mumias Girls school, and I couldn't fit in. I then joined St peters Boys, but I still couldn't fit in because they were writing on boards, and I couldn't see," Odongo narrated.

    He was later enrolled to Kibos Primary School for the blind, and was the school's top performer with 351 marks in the 2006 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). This earned him a spot at the Thika School for the Blind.

    Odongo attained a meangrade of B minus with 53 points, and he joined university in September 2012. 

    "After convincing the nuns, after convincing my brother, though not everybody was agreeing that with a B minus of 53 points I should join Kenyatta University,"Odongo intimated.

    His luck, came in a rather strange manner when he suffered from cerebral malaria and was admitted at the Kikuyu Hospital. There he met a lady who advised him that through surgery he could be able to see. Odongo was, however, doubtful.

    "I told her I was grateful, but I am very much comfortable. I can read, I walk with my sick comfortably and I had no reason to see. She told me not to worry about the bills. I could have the treatment first, and that would come later," Odongo narrated.

    The aviation enthusiast could not hide his joy when his eyes were able to detect light for the first time.

    "I could perceive some light and I could see things move in front of me, and I was overwhelmed," he recounted.

    Daniel Odongo poses with Captain Yvonne Mumia.
    Daniel Odongo poses with Captain Yvonne Mumia.

    Odongo went on with his studies at Kenyatta University, pursuing Mathematics and Geography.

    However, a hefty fee balance of Ksh113,000 at Kenyatta University has barred him from applying for graduation. He now works as a cobbler in Mathare slums, from which he earns a living. 

    "I try as much as I can to survive with this job here in Mathare. I pay Ksh1,200 for rent. Meaning even if I save Ksh50 everyday, I can be able to pay rent," Odongo narrated.

    Since childhood, Odongo had always wanted to become a pilot. Something he believes would help him carter for his family.

    "I often heard mews of sisters flying to Rome to meet the Pope, and I would ask them how long the flight took. I knew if I could become a pilot, I could take them to Italy," Odongo recounted, noting that the sisters at the convent had told him he would never become a pilot.

    "In 2017 I had saved about Ksh6,000, and so I boarded Jambo jet to Mombasa. After the 45 minute flight, I remained seated, and the attendant came to me asking why I was still in the plane.

    "I asked her if I could speak to the captain, and she said it was impossible. The captain overheard the conversation and asked that I meet her at Wilson airport later that week," Odongo recounted.

    With the help of Captain Yvonne Mumia, Odongo joined Nairobi Flight Training. However, after a week of study, he was asked to deposit 5.3 million fees, a sum he could not afford,

    "I only had about Ksh2,000, which I could use to buy a shirt, a tie and was was all," Odongo revealed.

    The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) wrote to the aviation school asking that they review Odongo's skills both on air and ground.

    Odongo's daily routine now revolves around going to school and shoemaking, a hustle he does after classes.

    He also hawks pens to sustain himself and his dream of becoming a pilot.

    Daniel Odongo poses with Sisters from the Catholic convent St Peters Mumias.
    Daniel Odongo poses with Sisters from the Catholic convent St Peters Mumias.