Nothing beats the feeling of having a good relationship with your siblings. Sharing a lot in common and being supportive of each other. KTN presenter Yvonne Okwara is among the good siblings, and she is caring and loving to her elder deaf-blind brother Albert Okwara.
Last year, in a lengthy Facebook post, the sexy TV siren narrated how it was like living with a deaf- blind brother. (Below is the emotional story that went viral).
“2 years ago, True Love magazine asked me to be on their cover. Because, I tend keep my life private, I was a bit hesitant but went ahead anyway. Judith Mwobobia was quite the interviewer. It was her questions on my background, however, that I was not ready to deal with. Not that it has ever been a big secret, but everytime I have talked about it, I have earned pity, shame, endless questions about religion and traditional curses, and finally isolation. You see, my brother has a disability. Allow me to introduce you to him. Albert Okwara was born close to 50 years ago. He is deafblind. And yes, it is one word. Not deaf and blind! I talked to the True Love writer about this with no hesitation at all. It was refreshing and scary to say this on such a public platform. Had never been this open about it. What followed was great support from readers and also lots of people just thankful that someone else was living with this in the family and was speaking up about it. However, I wasn’t ready. Perhaps, selfishly so, based on past experience. I have grown a lot since then and appreciate the platform I have to speak up, share my (and my family’s) journey, if only to give someone hope.
Let me start at the beginning. In the 60s, while expectant, my mother contracted German Measles. It has no symptoms. By the time she was giving birth to her first born son, there were complications. Mental retardation, and deafblindness started to set in. She tried everything, no door was unknocked, multiple surgeries, consultations. She talked to every doctor in the country. All of them, including, the professors, told her they had travelled far and wide and had NEVER seen anyone like my brother. That he would not live beyond his 5th birthday. Or his 10th. Nor his 12th. Albert Okwara is still here! 50 years later! What a journey it has been. Friends have fallen along the way, those that could make the choice did so and exited our lives. Called it a curse. To the entire community! I won’t name names but he knows himself!
The world of disability is a lonely one! The road has been lined with tears, pain, dashed hopes. But it has also had wonderful lessons that have made me who I am today! Let me explain, Albert is deafblind. He does not see, speak or hear. His perception of the world has been through his primary caregiver, his mother. My mother! We have cared for him, fed him, clothed him and bathed him for close to 5 decades now. Today the round-the-clock care continues. Many times I have asked myself how different life would be if he had just one of the senses. What would he say to me? About my work? Life choices? Wish he could have been the big brother to shield me from the bullies. Stand behind him when those people in my neighbourhood where I grew up said nasty things (you know who you are). Wished he could have walked me down the aisle. Instead, it was the other way around. I had to grow up fast. Be the ‘big sister’. I bathed him, clothed him and fed him and protected him from the world that has such high levels of ‘perfection’ that it shuns anyone who seems ‘less than perfect’. Sometimes I mourn my lost childhood but it was for a good cause. For a man who is pure. For that is what Albert is. He has seen no evil, heard no evil and uttered no evil. Literally! His soul is pure. No ill will. No malice. And that is why I will fight to the death for him. Sacrifice everything for him. It is my mother to whom I am forever grateful. She could have abandoned him. As some have done. She stayed with him. Nurtured him. Paid the price, sacrificed good jobs in the private sector, opting for a job in the civil service that had flexible hours to allow her care for ‘my son’ That is how she lovingly refers to him. She put all relationships aside because she did not want distractions from the job she believes was given to her by God! Through her I have seen the true meaning of unconditional love.
You see it is hard to love someone who can’t show you the love in return. Hard to care for someone who can’t say thank you. But it is a most rewarding experience. My mother has done it without ever tiring! Ever complaining.
So why am I speaking now? Because I hope my story will help someone. I don’t have a plan yet for how I am going to use my voice to speak for those who can’t but I am finally brave enough to start with this one step.
To parents, siblings of persons with disability, stay the course. We have done it for 50 years. You can too. For those that judge mothers, walk a mile in their shoes first. To fathers who stand by their children with disability, I applaud you! For anyone who just wants to talk, I am here, if for nothing else, just to listen to you. I have been there, I know!
For a start, in this new phase of my outreach, I have reached out to friends to help me. One such person is Daddy Owen. So join us on Saturday for the Malaika Awards that celebrates and honours those who are making a difference in spite of their challenges. It will be a celebration! Not a pity party!”
In a recent interview with Yvonne Aoll, Yvonne Okwara talked about her relationship, marrying a man older than her. She was criticised after photos of the wedding surfaced online.
“People talked. People said things. That’s what comes with having a job in the limelight, but again, no one lives my life but me.
My husband is my best friend, we get along incredibly well, and none of these other issues have ever mattered.”
Okwara, who has worked at KTN for more than five years, says she has learnt a lot in the journalism field thanks to her mentors.
“Joe Ageyo, my boss, who’s also my mentor. He’s been very instrumental for me in so many ways. He’s also allowed me to take on many risks on air. And I couldn’t be more appreciative of that.
Also, Kathleen Openda. She left mainstream media, but that woman is absolutely incredible!”
Yvonne, who has always been there for her 49-year-old deaf-blind brother, says it’s not easy taking care of such a person.
“I can’t put it into words. It’s incredibly difficult. It’s more than difficult. It’s another thing altogether,” she narrated before disclosing that her relatives have deserted her family.
“We’ve seen it all. We’ve been through it and then some. My family and I have been looked down upon, insulted, ex-communicated, deserted, abandoned, disinherited, you name it.”
When asked for the one thing she could ask God for, Yvonne responded:
“Sight for my brother.
I was, for a long time, very angry with God. I used to think, He is God, He has the power to take away every hardship my family has been through. I was quite angry with him, then I made peace with it, and learnt to forgive, even Him.”
Her advice to millennials…
“Get as much experience as you can. Whether it’s paid or unpaid, whether you think it’s relevant or not, absorb every single experience. No experience is ever wasted.”