By, Cynthia Bauer, Kupenda’s Founder and Executive Director
Zainabu’s story demonstrates how Kupenda is activating government officials, local leaders, and parents to come together and improve the lives of children with disabilities in their communities.
Six-year-old Zainabu does not walk or talk because of her cerebral palsy. Although her family longs to help her, their small farm plot generates less than a dollar each day, like 90% of people in her home village of Lango Baya. Many community members believe Zainabu’s cerebral palsy was caused by witchcraft, causing the family further alienation and lack of assistance.
The first time I met Zainabu, I was impressed by her joy and incredible potential. We met while I was leading a group of American medical volunteers to assess several vulnerable children with disabilities in Lango Baya. One of our volunteers used her experience as a special education instructor to teach Zainabu how to use a simple communication device that recorded sounds. After recording the Swahili greeting “Mambo” into the device, the volunteer passed it to Zainabu and showed her how she could press the button to make the greeting herself. Within a few moments Zainabu had managed to press the button and say “Mambo” while looking at her mother. Her mother flashed a wide white smile and responded “Poa.” Tears welled up in my eyes at the realization of what I had just witnessed: this was their first conversation.
Zainabu’s first conversation came about because of Kupenda’s outreach to community leaders and families in her community. Over the last two years we’ve conducted disability advocacy workshops in this area with pastors, traditional healers, and government representatives to change the stigma of disability and encourage them to act on behalf of families impacted by disabilities in their community.
After our workshops, these community leaders identified 76 families impacted by disabilities, none of whom had access to proper education or medical services. They then brought these families together for a parent disability workshop where Kupenda gave them a safe space to share their challenges, teach them about the causes of disabilities, and inform them of their legal rights. Although the families were motivated to sign their children up for specialized education, we soon discovered that the appropriate schools were far away and too full to accommodate their children.
Fortunately, the parents and community leaders used what they had learned in our workshops to begin meeting together and fighting for their children’s right to specialized education.
In just a few months, their group has inspired the local government to donate 10 acres of land for a new special school. The government also committed to paying the salaries of the school’s teachers once the facility has been built.
Kupenda is now working to fund the first two classrooms for children with cerebral palsy while a local Kenyan business is reviewing our proposal for construction of the dining room, kitchen, occupational therapy room, and dormitories.
Once completed, this new special school will serve Zainabu and 140 other children like her. Zainabu and her mother are excited to think that one day soon they will have access to education, therapy services, and medical care. Our occupational therapist has told them that these services will improve Zainabu’s functioning and one day she may even be able to walk and communicate.
Zainabu reveals how our work with community leaders results in sustainable and locally-led change that benefits families with disabilities and transforms communities. We might be the spark, but the community is the flame.