Rising Above Challenges: Charles Kibe Mwangi, A Blind Kenyan Tailor
Few things are as amazing as a tailor who can't see. Meet Charles Kibe Mwangi, a Kenyan Tailor who was determined to not let blindness discourage him.
Few things are more remarkable than a blind person making a living in a profession where eyesight is one of the most important factors. Meet Charles Kibe Mwangi, the blind Kenyan tailor who found a way to sew despite the loss of his eyesight.
Charles Kibe Mwangi: The Beginning
According to TUKO, before Kibe lost his sight, he had been a tailor for 29 years, but then in 2014, he became partially blind. Kibe sought medical help at Kikuyu Hospital, but he ended up completely losing his sight three years ago. Speaking to Lyn Ngugi, he said that the optician ran some tests and found out that he had glaucoma, a condition that permanently damaged the disc inside his eyes. Before the diagnosis, Kibe insists that he had no symptoms, no lingering problems to point to this condition. Up until then, his eyes didn’t experience anything abnormal, not even something as minor as itching.
He recalled: “I never experienced any problem with my eyes, not even itching. I just started experiencing challenges identifying people and operating my phone in 2014 and sought medication at Kikuyu Hospital.”
How he dealt with the loss and began sewing again
Kibe was intent on not letting the loss of his eyes end his career in tailoring. One can see right away that such a huge challenge might have seemed impossible to Kibe at the time. This is because being a tailor demands a lot of exactness for a blind man. Putting the thread through a needle, setting the hem under the needle, and cutting all required the use of his eyes. Regardless, Kibe set out to devise ways to overcome these challenges, so he took some time off to meditate and plan.
“The first thing I did was to put some marks on my tape measure so it could look like a braille machine. The next challenge was how to put the thread through the needle. I was shown how to do it using a broomstick,” he explained. Next, he began to learn how to ensure that his sewing thread remained straight by practising on his old T-shirt. Soon he overcame this challenge too. “I began by doing a test on my old T-shirt which I trimmed. From there I gained confidence and began the work,” he said.
However, there were still other challenges like convincing his customers and knowing how to arrange the clothes in a way that helped him remember the work each one needed. He said: “When a client comes, I ask him or her about the problem with clothes then I request him to pick the colour of the thread he would like me to use. Those who ask why I do open up and tell them about my condition.”
The loss of eyesight comes with many challenges, which in this case includes movement to the shop, inside the shop, and locating customers’ clothes. But Kibe has this under control by using his senses to detect activity around him. Also, he relies on his sharp memory in the arrangement of his shop and knows exactly where everything is. “Even if you brought me 30 clothes with different problems, I will listen and place them somewhere according to the explanation given and I will not forget,” said the tailor.
Charles Kibe Mwangi has dealt with the loss of some of his customers by remaining focused and attracting new customers who trust in his ability. It is quite impressive how Kibe rose to every challenge, including getting to his shop at Nairobi’s Umoja Two estate. The blind tailor insisted that he believes in himself and doesn’t need sympathy from anyone. Instead, what he wants is encouragement from the world. “I tell people not to sympathise with me but to encourage me that I am able and I can do better…Because without [God]I won’t be here. I also want to encourage everyone to work hard, let no one sleep hoping that he will be helped, we must work,” Kibe concluded.