Joshua Kitonga is among the 789 million people globally who are left-handed.
Research shows approximately 10 per cent of people in the world are lefties.
Estimates by real-time statistics platform worldometers.info indicate that today (August 13, 2021), the world has 7.89 billion people. Ten per cent of that population, is 789 million, a group that research estimates show is made up of left-handed people.
Being the minority group, left-handed people experience distinct challenges, benefits, and quirks of daily life that most right-handed people usually never even consider.
Myths, theories and stigma have been part and parcel of the lefties’ lives.
Joshua Kitonga, 34, is among the left-handed people who have faced challenges growing up and working in a society dominated by right-handed people.
Kitonga, a teacher by profession, came face to face with the challenges of being left-handed when he was posted to North Eastern, a region dominated by members of the Islamic faith.
Among Muslims, eating or greeting people using the left hand is highly discouraged.
The English teacher’s first day of work at a Mandera primary school in 2016 remains etched in his memory, as he faced accusations of engaging in taboo – eating or greeting people with the left hand.
“Being a largely Muslim-dominated society, teachers at the school would gather at the staff room during lunch hours and eat from one large tray. All the teachers ate using their right hands, except me. Consequently, they’d look at me condescendingly, while asking why I was engaging in ‘taboo’,” said Kitonga.
The school’s head-teacher, however, assisted Kitonga to integrate with the rest of the teachers by raising awareness on left-handedness.
To make Kitonga feel comfortable, the head-teacher made sure the English teacher ate from a separate plate.
“Some of the teachers, however, would laugh at me, wondering how I was using the left hand in the washroom. With time, however, they came to accept me, and I give credit to the school’s head-teacher for raising awareness.”
His stay at the Mandera school lasted two months, after which Kitonga initiated transfer to another school.
“At the new school, it was the pupils, and not the teachers, who were in shock over my left-handedness,” he said.
Kitonga taught at the school for three years, and, thereafter, made a permanent switch from teaching to Christian ministry.
Kenya Council of Imam’s member, Sheikh Abdullatif Abdulkarim, said people are only not allowed to eat with the left hand, as per Islamic customs.
“They (left-handed people) are, however, free to use their left hand in all the other activities, given it’s their nature, and nothing much can be changed about that,” said Abdulkarim.
The 34-year-old comes from a family of ten children, comprising five boys and five girls.
“My mum is left-handed, while my father is right-handed,” he said.
“Among the children, all my sisters use their right hands in daily activities, while my brothers use their left hands. With the pinpoint balance, it was easy growing up,” added Kitonga, who is now a preacher at the Jesus Celebration Centre in Matuu Town, Machakos County.
According to Kitonga, being a lefty, he was prejudiced at school, and not at home.
“My teachers would punish me for using the left hand instead of the right hand. It was my mother who’d often intervene, asking them to let me be,” he said.
Kitonga’s sentiments were echoed by another left-handed person, Waridi Waridi, who remarked on a Standard Digital’s Facebook post, asking Kenyans to share their experiences growing up as left-handed people.
“My mother, who was yet to accept me as a left-handed person, would often beat me for using my left hand in daily activities. At school, my teachers too punished me for using my left hand. They perceived me to be a defiant and tough-headed child,” said Waridi, stating despite the spirited effort to change her, she remained a lefty.
Waridi’s remarks mirrored those of another lefty, Mwangi Ndirangu.
Some of the Facebook users, who faced concerted efforts to convert them into right-handed people, said they grew up “confused” on which hand to use in their daily activities.
Some said they’d write with their right hands but use their left hands in all the other activities. The lefties who eventually switched to right hand, said their handwriting was affected by the shift.
Jacqueline Gathu, a child psychologist, says most parents coerce left-handed children to shift to the right hand because of “pressures to appear normal”.
This, Gathu says, traumatises the child, reduces his or her self-esteem, and in some cases might result in depression.
“Most of the children forced to switch hands end up having poor handwriting, which makes them shy,” said Gathu.
Gathu advises parents to accept their left-handed children as they are.
Left-handedness: Six possible causes
Just why one in 10 people favour their left hand is a mystery.
Science, however, explores the reasons. A straightforward genetic link hasn’t been proven, and it is possible for two right-handed parents to have a left-handed child.
A single gene might be passed from parents to children to influence which hand a child favours. If a particular version of this gene is inherited, the child may be more likely to be left-handed, depending on reinforcement and other environmental influences. However, more recent research suggests it is more likely that lots of different genes “add up” to produce a left-handed person.
Slightly more boys than girls are left-handed. This suggests to some researchers that the male hormone testosterone has an influence on right and left-handedness.
Some researchers believe that handedness has more of an environmental influence than genetic. They propose that environmental factors in the womb (including exposure to hormones) may influence whether we favour the right or left hand later in life.
Children learn to choose their right or left hand by copying parents and other significant caregivers. However, this doesn’t explain why right-handed parents sometimes have left-handed children and vice versa.
A small percentage of researchers theorise that all human beings are meant to be right-handed, but some type of brain damage early in life causes left-handedness. For left-handers and parents of lefthanders, it is important to note there is no hard evidence to support this rather controversial theory.
Some people who are naturally right-handed become left-handed because of the need to adjust to injury.?