Today is recognized as the United Nation’s International Day of Friendship, and as I travel back from Kenya, I think of the unique relationships formed between people of diverse backgrounds in this work.
This is exemplified in the parent support group meeting we held a couple days ago. The parent leaders of 13 different disability family support groups came together with the community leaders that helped to establish their groups. Together, they discussed their success, challenges, and ideas for the way forward.
This is the first time we’ve brought all of these leaders together since their groups began. The groups exist as a result of our workshops, sermons, and meetings with community leaders including pastors, traditional healers, and government leaders. They represented over 200 children with disabilities throughout the 7,609 square miles of Kilifi County, Kenya. This does not include the hundreds of families they have educated about disability that are in the process of forming their own groups. There were moments I shed tears at the amazing work they are doing, especially when they spoke of community transformation towards disability inclusion.
One parent leader said,
“The community that once told us our children were cursed and should be killed are now helping to take care of our children (like they do with others without disabilities), allowing single mothers in our group to go to work.”
They also told story after story of families being referred to education and medical facilities. For example, upon discovering that none of the schools in their communities were able to teach children with special needs, two groups took the initiative to start special education classes in their villages. In addition, one of the local government representatives registered more than 250 children with disabilities for national funding support, giving these families (most of whom make less than $1 a day) enough income to support their children.
After sharing their achievements, the groups shared their challenges and worked together to come up with solutions. When I looked around the room I saw so much beauty as mixtures of African traditional healers, pastors, government representatives, Muslims and Christians were all working together to overcome the obstacles to caring for children with disabilities in their communities.
I believe what I witnessed last week sets a precedent for generations to come. I told them,
“You are not just changing the lives of children with disabilities today, you are changing the circumstances of children with disabilities for generations to come.
It is a privilege to be part of these families’ journeys. I hope you feel that too, as each person who supports our work gives children with disabilities opportunities they never could have imagined, while transforming communities for generations to come. Today, our staff, supporters, community workers, and children also thank you for your friendship.