When schools reopened for the second term, Milicent Akinyi also began her weekly empowerment programme. However, unlike normal students who are in school as boarders or day scholars, Akinyi waits to be taught the basics of daily living at home.
At 26, Akinyi can neither wash her hands nor feed herself, which means she can’t enrol in regular schools. And to ensure she continues learning, her teachers, Maureen Nyela and Pamela Onyango, visit her regularly at her home in Kochogo village in Nyando Sub County, Kisumu County.
Her lessons start by washing of hands followed by feeding.
“Feeding and washing of hands may appear simple tasks to a normal person, but to Akinyi, these are complex tasks she has had to learn for over two years — and she’s yet to fully master any,” explains Pamela, the principal of Ombaka Special School.
Other activities on her learning list include toilet training, bathing, dressing and physiotherapy.
Like Akinyi, many children have been locked out of regular schools due to disability and other medical conditions.
Akinyi’s mother, Monica Onyango, says her daughter developed her current condition after a measles attack when she was just five years old. Visits to various hospitals could not save her. Not long after, she lost her speech — it’s been close to 20 years and most of that time has been spent lying on her back as seating is a problem.
“Her teachers have done a wonderful job, taking her through her lessons. The physiotherapy programme has helped her and now she can sit well,” says an optimistic mother in reference to the Community Based Education (CBE) sponsored by Sense International East Africa to help children with severe disabilities like Akinyi.
Yasin Bakari from Chirimani, Kwale County, had problems sitting, poor vision and distorted speech, but after being taken through the CBE programme, “he’s started improving. He’s also started to understand when you talk to him,” explains his mother, Hadija Kazungu.
Joyce Ngara, a special needs teacher visits Yasin for lessons on mobility and other activities of daily living, which is part of his inclusive education.
The programme “is proving that children living with severe disabilities, and who cannot fit in schools can be empowered,” says Edwin Osundwa of Sense International East Africa, which started the programme in 2014.
Sense now collaborates with Education Assessment Research Centre (EARC) to link children with special needs to teachers from the nearest public schools. These teachers have been trained in the provision of home-based education.
The programme, which started in 2014 already has 400 children in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kwale, Kericho and Bomet counties, from an initial target of 300 beneficiaries.
“This programme is proving fruitful. We however don’t have enough teachers. There is also the problem of inadequate learning materials and clear structures. Currently, teachers only visit during their free time, or as an extra activity,” says Owen Orinda, the EARC’s Education Assessment Coordinator for Nyando, Nyakach and Muhoroni areas.
Special needs teachers who visit homes told The Nairobian that their main challenge was balancing between school and special needs duties. In their various schools, they are assigned duties like the rest of teachers, and only given a lesson in the afternoon for visits.
“Afternoon lessons are very short because these children need a lot of time. You have to explain a concept like washing for months before they understand. Some live several kilometres away and you need to use a vehicle,” says Michael Obiero, a teacher at Abwao Small Home.
Maureen laments that they have to spend a lot because “we are not facilitated and use our own money on transport. Matters are made worse because we’re yet start receiving special duty allowance.” The costs are compounded because one has to “have a proper and continuous rapport to identify what excites the child. We buy sweets, toys, fruits, drinks and other foods they like. I have to use my money to buy all these items,” adds Maureen.
Obiero adds that some of the children have severally rejected him until he learned how to interest them with toys and foodstuff before striking a relationship that requires one to be passionate, patient and kind-hearted.
Konerwa Juma, the coordinator EARC in Kwale County cites poverty as a major problem facing parents of children with disabilities as “they cannot afford proper shelter, clothing and food.” Sense International has had to donate mattresses, wheelchairs as well as hearing, sitting and walking aids.
Stigma is another challenge as children with disabilities are viewed as cursed or haunted by spirits and are avoided, which calls for community empowerment campaigns. Akinyi’s mother was one discouraged parent, but interaction with other parents has moved her out of denial.