“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
(2 Corinthians 1:3 – 4)
As Mother’s day approaches I think of mothers of children with disabilities loving their children through joy and tears. Of course I think of my mom who inspired Kupenda’s existence by living out the words of the poetic advice the nurse gave her on the day I was born with only one hand….”If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.” I also could write pages about my friend Carissa, whom I met through Kupenda, who mothers 4 children with disabilities. Though she did not birth her children, her “good and hard” experience encourages other mothers with similar challenges. Instead of focusing on the stories of these two beautiful mothers, I am highlighting a Kenyan mother they inspired…who in turn is strengthening others like her. It’s a bit of an advocacy chain reaction. My friend Lelia exemplifies Kupenda’s mission of empowering local communities to enable children with disabilities to meet their God given potential.
The two youngest of Lelia’s four children have autism. For years she was confused and overwhelmed by her children’s behavior. Believing they were bewitched, her extended family took her children to witchdoctors for healing against Lelia and her husband’s wishes. Instead, Lelia took her children to church for healing, which is a common practice for Christians impacted by disabilities along the Kenyan coast. When this also failed to heal her children, she started to believe that God had forgotten her. In spite of her discouragement, Lelia did her best to raise her unique children while the community continued to judge her. There was some relief when she discovered what their condition was.
Although her children were officially diagnosed with autism there were very few resources for teaching children like hers and she knew no one else in her situation. Therefore, she was excited to participate in a one week class, facilitated by Kupenda, based on Joni and Friends “Beyond Suffering: A Christian View of Disability.” It was the first time Lelia had a place to speak openly about her children without fear. Through the class material and examples like my mom and Carissa, Lelia said her life was changed. She learned God could use her children for His glory. Lelia started including her children in all aspects of family life and church. They no longer go for healing, but to be full participants in the worship of God. The most impressive thing Lelia did as a result of this class, was start the first autism support group for parents in the region which is still going strong today.
This autism parent support group consists of up to 15 mothers from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds. They meet regularly to support one another as they learn how to navigate the unique minds of their children. Many of the women are single mothers so the family feel of this group has been life-changing. In addition to getting guidance from professionals in the field of autism, they learn from one another and work together to advocate for their children’s needs like a specialized class for autism. This group has had an especially strong influence on Sada, a mother of a teenage boy with autism.
Although Lelia is a Christian and Sada is a Muslim the bond of mothering children with autism is stronger than their differences. When they first met, Sada was throwing away the little money
she had on witch doctors promising to cure her son and keeping her son chained to a tree. Lelia became so protective of Sada’s son she threatened to arrest a man she found beating him. Through Lelia’s friendship, and the support group, Sada is able to help her son navigate the world with kindness. She now believes God has good purpose for her son and her. I believe Sada will also influence other mothers who will also set examples for generations to come.
This autism support group model is being replicated throughout the coastal region of Kenya and changing lives like Sada’s. Like so many of the people Kupenda touches, my friend Lelia is advocating for the rights of her children while empowering others like her to do the same. Without examples like my mom and Carissa, Lelia would be unlikely to be such a powerful influence on so many other women. Kupenda’s role is to be the spark that sets a blazing fire of change that positively impacts children with disabilities. I am so grateful to mothers like Lelia for spreading the fire and changing the world. Your support continues to spark fires like these.
Would you honor the mothers, or mother figures, in your lives by giving to Kupenda today? Donate here and change lives that change more lives….
With much love and gratitude,
Cynthia R Bauer
Kupenda for the Children
PO Box 473 Hampton NH 03843