Seated back straight on a comfy office chair, Brian Samuel Ndun’gu keenly looks at a piano set before him. He carefully takes off his black canvas shoes and quietly composes himself before plunging the toes of his right foot through the keys. A beautiful melody of Joy to the World wafts through an open field where he is seated gently swaying his head to the music. He has mastered a rare skill of playing the piano with his toes.
He was born without arms and with one deformed leg due to a congenital defect. But that has not deterred him from living his life to the fullest. He has honed a range of skills that most people with limbs do in a lifetime. He can sing, draw, play the piano, the guitar, swim, play chess and dribble a ball. Samuel has also overcome obstacles considered mundane, such as answering telephone, baking a cake, writing, dressing and eating. Most of the skills are self-taught.
In a hospital in Mathira, Nyeri County where he was born 19 years ago, doctors did not offer much medical explanation to the cause of his condition. “They urged my mother to accept me as I was,” he says. As a child, he questioned God a lot, trying to make sense of his condition. But with time, he accepted himself having realised that his life had a purpose and that negativity would be an additional limitation.
A positive attitude has helped him surmount hurdles. He was never afraid to stand out. In his early years, he sang in the church choir as the only boy among girls. And by the time he was joining school at five years, he had already learnt how to write using his toes. “At the time, we were living with a cousin; a Class Eight candidate. Out of curiosity, I would take her pen and learning materials and scribble things for fun. With time I learnt to use my foot to write,” he says.
Determined to have Samuel lead a normal life, his mother enrolled him in a mainstream school. “She made me feel loved and encouraged me to never limit myself. She made it clear that I could do anything I put my mind to,” he says.
Best handwriting or is it legwriting?
His kindergarten teacher at Kalimoni Primary School, Juja, was apprehensive about him at first. “Even though she accepted me in her class, she was afraid that I could not catch up with other children,” he adds. Samuel would, however one day surprise her when she handed out an assignment and he was the first to complete it. It changed how the teacher and other students viewed him. At one point, he won a school award for the best handwriting. It is while in primary school that he also learnt to draw and swim. “I could draw well and on most occasions I helped my classmates draw diagrams,” he says. He forged great friendships with his classmates who assumed the role of being his caretakers, helping him out with tasks he could not do on his own.
In Juja Preparatory School where he went for his secondary education, he excelled in things few expected him to. He once emerged the best in a swimming competition and when he was in Form Three, he produced his first song featuring Faith Muturi, former host of Crossover 101.
Fondly referred to as Sammy Brayo, he loves nature and hanging out with friends. Moving around while hopping on one leg is tedious, but he has grown accustomed to it. He prefers to use a taxi to run his daily errands, a costly affair for the mother.
“I have no problem travelling in a matatu, but most are not equipped to handle people living with disability. Besides, what if I am asked to alight before getting to my destination as it often happens?” he poses. He also enjoys playing chess in his free time.
At home, he is quite independent. “I dress myself, mop the floor, pour my tea from a flask, I have also attempted doing my laundry,” he says laughing. For his drawings, he uses a customised stand. The only child in his family, Samuel aspires to be a news anchor and one day host a television show highlighting the plight of the disabled. To that end, Samuel who completed high school two years ago is currently in his third semester pursuing a diploma in mass communication at Talanta Institute. He is also focusing more on making a career out of music and recently released a song. “There are many songs I have written so far, which I hope to produce in future,” says Samuel.
His secret to wading through life’s challenges with grace and fortitude, Samuel says is prayer. He is also so indebted to his parents for embracing him and supporting him every step of the way. “I have three parents, my birth mother and my guardians; the Skilton’s family who have supported me in many ways, even paying most of my school fees,” he says.