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Friday, January 21, 2011

Is blind Muhumuza's legal profession the next big thing?

He had to hire people to read for him sometimes, move him around and he came from remote Kanungu District, but Boaz Muhumuza overcame even taunts to top Makerere’s Law class, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.

Boaz Muhumuza having a light moment with a friend
In the movie, The Great Debaters, James Farmer Sr. (Forest Whitaker) says, education is the only way; “the way out of ignorance, the way out of darkness into the glorious light.”

To Mr Boaz Muhumuza, who was born without a silver spoon in the remote Kanungu District and lost his sight at the age of three, Whitaker’s words ring true. He surmounted poverty, prejudice and other debilitating issues and will this Friday graduate at the top of his Law class with a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 4.21.

Beating 311 students in the most competitive and prestigious Humanities course at Makerere University is a stellar achievement, although the crown for best overall at the 61st graduation belongs to a female student, Ms Barbara Nansamba, who scored a CGPA of 4.9 in Computer Science.

In a course that is qualitative and analytical in nature; requiring students to cite several legal cases and quote accurately from endless legal works, and other complexities involved in making arguments, getting a First Class degree is rare.

As Human Rights and International Law lecturer, Mr Kabumba Busingye, says, “An Upper Second in Law is a very good achievement. Muhumuza also benefited from the concept of reasonable accommodation which gave him equal platform with other students.”

Mr Brian Bwesigye, a classmate, said: “Muhumuza’s brainpower is mesmerising. We all consulted him.”

But intelligence without diligence is like faith without works –it is useless. This much Mr Muhumuza recognised in primary five and set the goal of becoming a lawyer and toiled toward this fulfilment. He would have wept and wallowed in self pity following the teasing from fellow pupils at St. Helens Primary School, but nothing was going to obstruct or destruct him.

“I decided that anything a sighted person can do I can do,” he says. “I believe I’m ordinary, I believe in me!”

The believer became an achiever early on when he scored 11 aggregates in the Primary Leaving Examinations to join Iganga Secondary School, a girls’ school. He studied there for six years because the school has an annex for the blind. He learnt to use Braille, a writing system that enables people without sight to read by touch.

He excelled in O’level examinations, scoring 14 aggregates in eight subjects. He sat for UACE examinations in 2005, and beat Iganga District, with a whopping 25 points (4As) in History, Economics, Literature and Divinity and Credit 3 in General Paper. This earned him a government scholarship to study his dream course at Makerere University.

“Education for the blind is extremely expensive. The machine I use to write costs Shs2.5 million, a mere rim of papers costs me Shs70,000 and the software for my machine itself costs far more than a computer.” He adds: “Then you have to hire someone to read for you sometimes and to move around with. Then the negative attitudes here and there, but I refused to be drained by those.”

Mr Muhumuza was born with full sight but as a child suffered from a rare disease called retinoblastoma, a malignant tumor of the eye. It is was not painful, so by the time it was discovered, and the boy rushed to Mulago and Kenyatta University hospitals, it was too late. The last born in a family of 11, Muhumuza was showered with endless love.

“So I grew up thinking life is normal but later realised it was not so. Kids used to laugh at me, some people don’t think you are worth anything, so it was very challenging, but I was lucky, I’ve strong parents who care and took me to school.”

There’s no trace of resentment in his voice when he speaks about what it means growing up blind. He has accepted his situation so much that he does not long to regain his sight.

“My belief is that God does everything for a purpose,” he says jocularly. “If I was sighted, you would not be here covering this story, so I look at my being blind as a miracle in itself.”

A man of majestic physical stature, complete with a paunch, Muhumuza speaks contemplatively. His equanimity drifts into boy-like affability when he begins to speak about his love for soccer and good company.

“The English soccer bug has not spared me either, I support Arsenal and we’re taking it this time round,” he laughs. “I love dancing too, and one day you’ll catch me in a club having some wild times on the dance floor.”

Mr Muhumuza is pursuing a post-graduate diploma in legal-practice at the Law Development Centre.

“I have a passion for human rights,” he says. “I want to contribute all I can to create a perfect environment for people with disabilities; help them know their rights and benefit from the policies, laws and structures that there are.”

The son of Mr Pancrius Bazaara and Ms Florence Tibifumira has certainly proved that disability is not inability but ability and possibility. He has given meaning to Whitaker’s words in the movie that the education of the child is the most important job. Most of all, by letting his academic light shine, others can step out of the darkness and follow suit.

--Daily Monitor, Friday January 21, 2011