Leonard Mbonani Bikanga has been working to defend the rights of children with disabilities in Kenya for more than 40 years. He began his career as a special educator and then a disability assessment officer but 20 years ago transitioned into his current role as the founder and Director of the Kenyan nonprofit organization, Kuhenza for the Children.
Leonard and staff have supported hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities in accessing life-saving medical care, education services, and loving inclusion in their families and communities. As part of this work, Leonard has designed and delivered a suite of disability training programs, tailored to different influential community leader groups including pastors, traditional healers, and government officials. He has also developed these trainings for children with disabilities themselves and their parents. Trainees who complete these workshops go on to advocate for the rights of children with disabilities in their communities by bringing them out of hiding, counseling them, helping them access schools and medical care, and sensitizing their communities on the rights of people with disabilities through public talks and stakeholder meetings. Leonard has also designed and delivered abuse prevention workshops for youth with disabilities, teacher workshops on inclusion, and Disability Awareness Days that sensitize communities through public speeches, performances, and celebrations.
Each year, Leonard and his team train hundreds of community leaders as disability advocates who improve the lives of more than 40,000 children with disabilities. He shares the success of this work in global conferences, technical working groups, and most recently, as the Disability Advocacy and Community Engagement Advisor to Kings College and Aga Khan University’s SPARK Project (Supporting African Communities to Increase Resilience and Mental Health of Kids with Disabilities). Leonard holds a diploma in Learning Difficulties from the Department of Special Education in Denmark and a diploma in Special Education from the Kenyan Institute of Special Education. He also has earned certificates in Primary School Management, Primary Education and Education Assessment and Resource Services. Leonard’s evidence-based disability advocacy approaches are now being used by practitioners in more than 20 countries around the world.
Read more about Leonard’s experience in his LinkedIn profile here.
Lucky is a Kenyan lawyer who has devoted her life to advocating for justice and quality care and inclusion for children living with disabilities. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Law from Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya and then went on to complete a Masters degree in International Human Rights and International Disability Law and Policy from Syracuse University College of Law in New York. Lucky has supported Kupenda and Kuhenza in developing a Disability Law Guide and a Law Guide Summary and regularly facilitates the discussion of these laws during our Disability Advocacy Training workshops for families and community leaders in Kenya.
Read more about Lucky’s experience in her LinkedIn profile here.
Martha has over 30 years of experience as a teacher for students who are deaf. Until 2017, she was also the head teacher at the Gede Special School, the first special needs school supported by Kupenda. Martha’s work and experience helps Kupenda stay connected to the local education system. Her devotion to children with disabilities is demonstrated by the endless hours she works with the Kuhenza team. As Project Director, Martha co-manages the organization’s Advocacy, Education and Medical activities alongside the Executive Director. She also manages the organization’s Child Sponsorship Program.
James holds a diploma in accounting and a certificate in computer applications from Mombasa Polytechnic University. Before joining Kuhenza, James worked for over three years as a bookkeeper for the Marafa Community Development Programme, managing records for both World Vision and the local government. As Kuhenza’s bookkeeper, James is now responsible for recording Kuhenza’s income and expenses, collecting receipts, developing financial reports and preparing for Kenyan government audits. He also oversees the purchase, cataloging and inventory of all materials in Kuhenza’s Resources Center.
Read more about James’s experience in his LinkedIn profile here.
Thomas is a Kenyan pastor, nonprofit manager and child advocate who has been a member of our team since 2014. Initially, Thomas worked as Kuhenza’s office manager for several years, which made him sensitive to the situation of families impacted by disabilities. This inspired him to earn an Education degree with a concentration in Special Needs. After completing his studies, Thomas returned to Kuhenza and was hired as a project officer. In this role, Thomas collects information for the child sponsorship program, assesses and monitors children with disabilities, connects children with special needs schools and hospitals, writes reports, and assists the Kenya director, as needed. He recently also earned a diploma in Computer Information System from Kenya Methodist University.
Joseph Karisa is an experienced secondary school educator and has earned diplomas in information technology and business English. Since 2017, he has also been a member of the Kilifi County Microfinance Fund Board of Directors. Joseph has certificates in peer guidance and counseling and computer repair and maintenance. In his work with Kupenda he assists our Kenyan team with program implementation, reporting, family counseling and disability advocacy training. As a person living with a disability, Joseph is particularly passionate about serving persons with disabilities and enjoys the time he spends interacting with Kupenda’s child beneficiaries and their parents. Joseph recently completing a bachelor degree in business and information technology at Mount Kenya University in Malindi.
Kalu is a licensed, professional driver with experience transporting staff and clients and maintaining vehicles for numerous Kenyan nonprofits, schools, and farms. Prior to his driving career, Kalu worked as a mason contractor in the private sector. In recent years, Kalu has developed a passion for disability work; when not driving for Kuhenza, he often volunteers at the local special needs school. He enjoys helping the house parents there and spending time with the children, who are very fond of him.
As the Mental Health Officer for Kuhenza, Martha provides psychological and psychosocial support to our program participants and their families. She also strengthens community awareness and support surrounding disability by training and engaging community leaders and other stakeholders. Martha has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology from Pwani University. She is experienced with providing psychological and psychosocial support to patients in various health center and hospital environments. She has also provided counseling and educational services to youth with drug addictions and their caregivers. In addition, she has helped to address sexual and gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health concerns among adolescent girls and young women. She is currently the vice-chair for the community-based organization, “Firm Stance,” which counsels, educates, and mentors youth and adolescents on health issues and career development. Martha’s services are a key in enabling our participants to experience the most productive and fulfilling futures possible.
Mwanhawa is an occupational therapist who works at the Gede Special School and leads regularly mobile clinic therapy training sessions for parents and caregivers of children with disabilities.
As a Project Officer, Loice manages the Kuhenza’s child sponsorship program, assesses and monitors children with disabilities, connects children with special needs schools and hospitals, and facilitates disability trainings for families and community leaders. Loice has always had a heart for people with disabilities and believes the church is key to improving the culture around disabilities in Kenya. Loice serves on the Board of Directors for Kakayuni Special School. She holds certificates in Primary Education, Secondary Education, Computer Maintenance, and Computer Software. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion and a Master’s degree in Religious Studies. Loice is also the lead researcher and author of “Christian Response to Challenges Faced by Children with Disabilities” a journal article that was published in the Kabarak Journal of Research & Innovation in 2019.
Reverend Robert Mangi has been a pastor for over 30 years leading congregations at eight different Anglican churches in Kilifi County. He currently serves as the Archdeacon for the Anglican Church of Kenya in the Malindi Diocese. His church was the first one Kupenda worked with to include children with disabilities early in the organization’s development. The programs at this church serve as a model to other churches seeking to be more inclusive. Reverend Mangi’s work and experience helps Kupenda connect to other pastors in Kilfi County.
Gabriel has over 20 years of experience working as a teacher for children who are deaf. He was also the head of a special unit at the Gede Special School for children who are deaf or have physical disabilities. His extensive experience and attention to detail make him a strong Board Treasurer and great asset to the Kuhenza team.
In Kenyan nonprofit organizations, the executive director typically holds the role of secretary. In his role as board secretary, Leonard is responsible for ensuring that accurate and sufficient documentation exists to meet the Board’s legal requirements. In order to fulfill these responsibilities, Leonard records minutes of meetings, ensures their accuracy and availability, proposes policies and practices, submits various reports to the board, and maintains membership records.
Read Leonard’s full biography here.
Linnet developed epilepsy at the age of 26 and by 27 was unable to walk to talk due to the paralysis caused by her seizures. She was bedridden until the age of 35, when she finally received medicine to manage her seizures and began working with a physical therapist to improve her mobility. After ten years of medication and PT, Linnet finally began to walk again and now is able to walk independently using a cane. Her journey through disability inspired her to join the Kuhenza Board and found the Matunda Disabled Women’s Group, which has 15 members who have been meeting together for 10 years. She also acts as a role model and counselor for people with disabilities and advocates for the rights of people with disabilities through speeches at rallies, ceremonies and chief meetings throughout her county. Linnet has a certificates in Rights of the Girl Child and Counseling for Stroke Victims. She also has a Certificate in Early Childhood Education from the Kilifi District Education Center
As the CEO and founder of the organization, Cynthia continues to hold a position on the board. She provides the board with updates on both the U.S. and Kenyan operations in addition to financial reports. Cynthia facilitates the board’s strategic planning, decision making, evaluation and fundraising efforts. Read Cynthia’s full biography here.
Julius Robert Katoi Kalu has been the Bishop of Kenya’s Mombasa Diocese Anglican Church since 1994. In addition to providing spiritual guidance and counsel to the Kupenda/Kuhenza teams, Bishop Kalu has extensive teaching and nonprofit management experience. He has served as an executive member of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, a council member of the Technical University of Mombasa, Executive Chairman of the Shanzu Teachers’ Training College, Executive Chairman of Godoma Secondary School, a council member of the Coastal Interfaith Council of Cerics, a board member of the Mama Nguni Girls High School, Executive Chairman of Kilifi County Leaders Association. He has also been in charge of relief food distribution in Ghanzi, Malindi, Taba Delta, and the Galole Constituency for more than 10 years. Bishop Kalu has earned multiple diplomas in education and theology from Kenyan training institutions and a master’s degree in theology from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has also completed vocational training programs in advanced adult education, ecumenics, and AIDS awareness in both Kenya in the United States. Bishop Kalu is fluent in Kiswahili, English, Kigiriama and Hebrew.
Jacob has been a primary school teacher for nearly 40 years and a pastor since 2012. He has also served as the head teacher at Magarine Primary School since 1995. Very early in his career Jacob met Kuhenza’s founder and director, Leonard Mbonani. Leonard and Jacob were teaching together and began to fundraise to pay the school fees of high-performing, impoverished children in their classes. Over the years, Jacob developed a deep passion for vulnerable children, particularly those with disabilities, and agreed to join the Kuhenza Board as an advocate for these young people. Although he will retire soon from teaching, Jacob wants to continue supporting these children through Kuhenza and a farming project he has started to provide nutritional support to special education schools and units in Kilifi. Jacob holds certificates in Primary Education and Theology, as well as a diploma in Education Management.
Susanne King has more than 30 years of experience working as a social pedagogue (a teacher and social worker) in Denmark, Tanzania, Zambia, and Kenya. She served both the Danish Council and Danish Refugee Aid as a family counselor and worked as a development professional and nutrition group coordinator in Zambia. Susanne also served as headmistress at the Nordic School in Dar es Salaam and as Deputy Head of a Nature at a kindergarten in Denmark. She has experience working with teenage mothers, families with alcohol issues, and young adults with special needs and has earned diplomas in adult education and business administration.