Kupenda means “love” in Swahili. It means an ongoing state of love or the action of love. Through our advocacy interventions, we aim to create communities of love and support for families impacted by disability in low income countries. Most of these families experience widespread stigma and discrimination by people who believe disabilities are caused by curses or witchcraft.
“There’s this concept [that people have had] for so long that disability is a medical issue. And it’s almost like you’re trying to get people to be more ‘normal’—as opposed to the social model that says it’s the society that needs to change, not the individual, so that people with disabilities can have more access. And that doesn’t just mean wheelchair ramps and elevators, which are important. It also means how society views people.”
~ Cynthia Bauer, Kupenda’s co-founder and Executive Director
Leonard Mbonani, a Kenyan special needs teacher, met Cynthia Bauer, an American graduate student, while she was conducting wildlife research on the Kenyan coast in 1999. Cynthia was born without her left hand and discovered that many people in Kenya believed disabilities like hers were caused by curses and she may have even been killed if she had been born there. This knowledge inspired Cynthia to respond when Leonard introduced her to children with disabilities who did not have access to medical care or education. In addition to providing educational assistance, Cynthia and Leonard supported medical interventions and worked with families and communities to change superstitions connected to disability. Because of these efforts and needs, Kupenda for the Children was registered as an official U.S. nonprofit in 2003 and Kuhenza for the Children was registered as an official Kenyan nonprofit in 2007. Together these two affiliate organizations have a vision of a fully-integrated society where people of all abilities have access to health, education, and a loving community. Over the years, Kupenda and Kuhenza have expanded their direct service model to include an Advocacy Program. Through this program, thousands of parents and community leaders have been trained to act as advocates who provide counseling and care for children with disabilities in their communities.
We transform harmful beliefs surrounding disability to those that improve children’s lives.
In low-income countries like Kenya, religious and traditional leaders have a strong influence on community attitudes and health-seeking practices. Although some support children with disabilities, others conduct harmful “healing” practices on these children such as exorcisms, burials, and skin cutting/burning. Some even encourage families to stop medical treatment as a sign of faith in God. These beliefs and practices lead many families and communities to neglect, abuse or even murder children with disabilities.
In response, Kupenda has trained hundreds of religious and traditional leaders on disability definitions, causes, treatments and laws and equipped them with skills and resources to support children with disabilities in their communities. As a result, thousands of children have been able to access education and life-saving medical care and experience loving inclusion in their homes and communities. You can read more about the impact of this work here: https://kupenda.org/results/.
Our innovation center is in the Kilifi region of Kenya but our model and materials are also being used in parts of Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Malawi, and Haiti and can be adapted for use in all low and middle income countries. Learn more about our global programs here.
Kupenda uses the United Nations’ definition of disability:
“The term persons with disabilities is used to apply to all persons with disabilities including those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various attitudinal and environmental barriers, hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
The existence of varying attitudinal and environmental barriers mean that a person may be regarded as having a disability in one society but not in another.
No. The founding work of Kupenda was based on providing education to children with disabilities. The primary focus of Kupenda’s work continues to be with children, youth, and their families. According to the United Nations, individuals are considered to be youth up to 24 years old. However, because many children with disabilities start school much later in life due to multiple barriers, Kupenda sometimes supports youth past 24 years old. Kupenda’s work reducing stigma and sensitizing communities about disability justice also benefits people with disabilities of all ages.
Kupenda for the children was founded and is led by Cynthia Bauer, a woman living with disability. Kuhenza was founded by and led by Leonard Mbonani, who is a cancer survivor, which is also considered a disability in his country of Kenya. Eighty percent of Kupenda’s board members have disabilities.
Kupenda also works with area Disabled Person’s Organizations (DPOs) and ensures that our program beneficiaries, graduates, and other people with disabilities and their family members are involved in designing and leading all of our workshops and program activities.
Your donations support children, youth, and families impacted by disabilities in low income countries through activities related to education, health care, and advocacy. Kupenda and Kuhenza both report regularly to their respective governments to maintain our nonprofit status in each country. The up-to-date financial summaries are available in our most recent annual report.
Yes, your donations are secure. The safety and security of your personal information and donations are extremely important to us. We do not share your information with any other parties and all of our online donation systems are secure.
Kupenda uses third-party services to make sure that your donation and information is kept secure. Our online donation page uses Stripe, which exceeds the most stringent security standards:
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Kupenda’s affiliate organization is Kuhenza for the Children. Kupenda for the Children is registered in the U.S. and Kuhenza for the Children is registered in Kenya. Both organizations report to their respective national governments, manage their own operational funds, and are overseen by their own Board of Directors. Each year, Kuhenza and Kupenda collaboratively fundraise to support their joint projects. We have been co-designing and co-implementing disability programs since 2003.
Kupenda implements the following 3 types of programs:
“I believe these children, had they not been coming to school, their lives would be very miserable. But when I see them enjoying being in a school interacting with other children, it makes me so proud and it gives me the encouragement to continue working for these children.”
~ Leonard Mbonani, Kupenda’s co-founder Kenyan Director
Yes. Kupenda was founded and continues to operate as a Christian organization which means we believe in and demonstrate the love, justice, and compassion displayed in the life and death of Jesus to people of all faiths or none at all. We follow the biblical guidance of loving all people as ourselves, especially families impacted by disabilities who are often the most vulnerable, marginalized, and abused.
All who desire to be a part of this work are welcome, regardless of religious preference or background. We welcome recipients, volunteers, and supporters from all religious beliefs or none.
We also have a Non-Proselytizing Policy which states we will not proselytize. This means that Kupenda will not offer assistance on the expressed or implied condition that people must 1) adhere to or convert to a particular faith or 2) listen and respond to messaging designed to induce conversion to a particular faith. Nor will Kupenda work with entities or individuals who insist on proselytizing as part of their work with us.
Communities always contribute to Kupenda’s development projects and have a real sense of ownership and true participation. Community participation is integral to transformational development.
Kupenda’s disability advocacy programs focus on engaging and mobilizing local leaders and residents to care for children with disabilities in their communities. Using a human-centered design approach, we develop advocacy best practices and tools with regular, in-depth feedback from these leaders and residents to ensure our programs are culturally sensitive, relevant, and effective. These community members are design partners and lead implementers committed to sustaining our disability outreach programs in their county.
“[We rely on] partnerships with people on the ground, and the communities themselves, and with people with disabilities themselves—to actually tell us how we can best come alongside them as they create solutions to be more inclusive of people with disabilities in all aspects of life.”
~ Cynthia Bauer, Kupenda’s co-founder and Executive Director
No. Kupenda’s work is funded by both U.S. and Kenyan foundations, businesses, churches, and individual donors. We also rely on our Kenyan staff, volunteers, community leaders and families to design and deliver our programs at the community level. By working hand and hand with our Kenyan counterparts, we ensure that our work is locally-driven and sustainable.
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