Twenty four years ago, a young girl from Busia was taken to a hospital in Kisumu for what was to be a simple medical visit.

She was treated and went back home unaware that the quinine medication administered to her was slowly affecting her hearing ability.

It wasn’t easy for a four-year old to understand what was happening to one of the crucial organs of the human body.

In class, she would struggle with hearing what the teacher or her fellow pupils were saying – sometimes someone would talk and she wouldn’t get a single word.

Teachers did not take kindly to the innocent girl constantly begging a pardon. Making friends became a difficult task because conversations were a challenge.

Her solace became her sisters, her neighbors, and close friends like Thelma and Belinda who were more accommodative to her challenge.

Understandably, the effect stretched to her academics, even though she was a bright student.

Malaria treatment cost me my hearing but God had big plans for me - Miss Disability Kenya Jackline Akinyi shares her story

Miss Disability Kenya

Today, Marion Jackline Akinyi is a promising artiste, a graphic designer, and a celebrated model who is the reigning Miss Disability Kenya – having won the Miss Disability Kenya contest for 2018/2019.

She has participated in four contests – starting out in Miss Governor’s Lounge Busia in 2015 where she emerged the first runner’s up.

Akinyi also participated in the Nairobi Street Catwalk where she was the first runner's up, as well as Miss Tourism Kenya Busia County 2018/2019 (1st runner’s up).

One of Jackline Akinyi's drawings - a portrait of ODM Leader Raila Odinga

Exceptional talent

Her journey to the runway has not been easy and has been a result of resilience, exceptional talent, and the benefit of supportive parents and well-wishers. She is particularly grateful to her friend Tracy Mutanda who encouraged her to pursue modelling.

After years of struggling with poor hearing, she had lost hope in life and says she had been convinced that God had discriminated against her. 

The trouble of hearing words at such a young age was so disheartening. It made me lose hope in life. The condition even made me hate God Himself. Our family was living under poverty line with some neighbors hating on us and showing contempt which made things worse.

“I was asking God most of the time, 'Do you really care if you are up there watching every human being you created, or are you just seated there watching? Why did you create us after all? To suffer?' I had endless questions,” she said in an interview with Pulse Live Kenya.

Her attitude changed while in class six after she visited a school for the deaf in Busia where her mother had taken her to get her first hearing aid.

Her school performance improved and finally cleared primary school with impressive marks that earned her a spot at Kaimosi Girls High School.

Even before she had settled into high school life, her hearing aid broke down while she was in form one.

School closed, I went home and told mum about it. We looked for the ear doctor, we heard he was in Kisumu so we traveled to get him but we were not lucky. God! I was devastated that my life was turning back. I went through high school without a hearing aid. I survived by reading books and my notes which I copied from my best friends Elsa and Ruth,” she recalled.

Despite the challenges, she again performed well in her KCSE – scoring a C+ after which she proceeded to pursue a diploma in Graphics Design.

Months after high school, I finally got a pair of hearing aids supported by Safaricom Foundation which my father had applied for. I wished I had gotten them in while high school. I swear I would have been the best student because I was a dedicated learner who used a torch to study at night while everyone was asleep,” the soft spoken model narrates.

The choice of graphics design was not accidental as Akinyi is an exceptionally talented artiste.

Jackline Akinyi's portrait of musician Akothee

Art Classes

I discovered I could draw when I was still young. You know those home science and art classes that required diagram drawings? I realized I did better than the rest. Some classmates would always come to me for assistance. One day as we were cleaning the school compound, we collected trash and I came across a small piece of paper. It had a drawing of a man done by a fellow pupil. I was so perfect that it got me interested in drawing for fun. These days, I not only draw as a hobby but also as a commercial side hustle,” she says.

Apart from training and graduating as a graphics designer, Akinyi is also shining on the run-way model, making impressive portraits – and her hearing has significantly improved after she obtained an advanced hearing aid with extra sound amplification.

In August 2015, my mum informed me she had talked to a doctor who informed her of a mission in Eldoret by the Starkey Hearing Foundation, a global organization that donates hearings to hearing impaired. Where were they when I needed them in my school life? I wondered. But it was alright. I received a free pair from them after a test and went back home happily."

They were much better in sound amplification, had free aftercare services including free batteries unlike the previous pair which cost me monthly renewal of batteries. I use them till to-date though I have a dream of buying digital ones soon!” she says, adding that the aids have helped restore her confidence and improve her social life as its now easier to make friends.

Jackline Akinyi's plans

For Akinyi, the sky is still the limit and she is determined to become a super model and start her company that would incorporate all her talents and passion.

A portrait by Jackline Akinyi for one of her clients

“I hope to have a huge company where we can offer art services and products for homes, office decors and gifts for loved ones. Graphic design would also be under the same roof same as Interior and Fashion design. God bless my dreams,” the alumnus of the Technical University of Kenya says.

She pleads with parents of children who live with disabilities not to hide them but rather to introduce them to the world and help them acquire life skills and discover their talents.

"Let them out, take them to school and show them the way, either by training them to sing or draw or whatever they can do. When you as a parent probably die, what will happen to that child(ren) ? Just STOP it! Look up Nick Vujicic, an American motivational speaker, a man with no limbs at all. Read up his story and be moved. He’s now living a contented life after all the struggles. He even got his own family with cute children. We are equal human beings. Get that!"

For persons with disabilities, discover your talents, look for someone around you to nurture them and grow from. You will appreciate life with talents alongside your professional career. Dream, Dream Big and keep Dreaming! Act on the Dreams! Don't STOP!” Akinyi concludes.