Having worked closely with this community for the last eight years I was shocked when suddenly faced with a harsh and unexpected reality: a situation that had previously never occurred to me. But now, looking back…. I realised that, yes, I had never seen any disabled children around.
Why? Sadly, these children, if they survived birth, were regarded as cursed and a shame to the family, and are hidden away from the community. Some were living in awful conditions of neglect and squalor, others clearly loved, but just existing, with their families not having any access or even basic knowledge of how they should be cared for.
Kenya is a highly Christianised country, but in amongst this ‘modern’ influence runs their ancient culture of witchcraft, still deeply embedded – particularly where I work – in this remote, marginalised and very conservative tribal society.
This came to light when we were showing an educative film about accepting children with cerebral palsy, in schools and communities in our area. From the first showing onwards, people approached our team with information about families with disabled children – the hidden ones were at last being brought out into the open.
Our first visit was to two brothers, Silas (20) and Salesio (16). They were helplessly and hopelessly wasting away from muscular dystrophy. Their stick-like legs could no longer carry their weight. They squatted listlessly in the dust, shuffling when they had to move. Silas was angry – you could actually feel it radiating from him. He turned his back on me when I squatted next to him and tried to engage. He had overheard some thoughtless neighbour saying that 20 was the age he would die – so, he was just waiting. And their middle brother had already died.
Their parents were bitter, quarrelsome, divided and neglectful. But we stayed with the boys for some time, giving them some smart clothes and stylish caps – until the ice began to crack – they both raised a glimmer of a smile when I took selfies of themselves.
Then there’s beautiful Natasha, 6 years old, with cerebral palsy, as a result of a botched, late abortion, abandoned by her mother, and being cared for by her loving granny. Cerebral palsy is prominent – usually a result of difficulty in giving birth through damage caused by FGM. So we also met Hilda (18) and Christine (16), both being cared for by loving parents, but again, just existing.
And then we went to see Tysy, aged 5, with brittle bone disease, again being looked after by her granny. The sweetest, brightest little button – fragile as eggshell, whose greatest desire is to go to school. This is just the tip….
Even as a small charity – and although extremely daunted by the prospect – this was not something that we could just walk away from. So we have put together an action plan. We will utilise the wide network of parish catechists and our many micro finance ladies, to identify the hidden ones, and create a central register at St Peter’s. We have established a small emergency fund from which urgent needs can initially be met. We will ensure that these families are at least visited regularly, to maintain contact with them, reassure and comfort as best we can, spending time with them, especially in prayer.
We will concurrently start a wide education programme in the community to dispel the dark shadows of witchcraft and curses. We will encourage these families to get together, and share their problems. Hopefully, over time and our action, they will become the ‘visible ones’ – who are loved and accepted by the community at large. We are in the process of enlisting specialist advice and help.
We need funds to start a professional therapy/care programme.
But also on our visit there were many highs – there always are. Two come to mind. We were visiting our primary schools’ lunch time feeding programme, at a new school at which we had just started. I asked a lad if he was enjoying his lunch. He nodded enthusiastically, paused… and then asked anxiously, “Will we get the same tomorrow?” I reassured him the programme would continue. “God bless you” he replied.
The other was the great pleasure to be able to present, with my co-founder daughter Susie, the 2,000th loan to one of our micro finance ladies, Susan Kanini. Susan is married with three kids. She runs a grocery shop at Kajuki. She told us, “Two of my children are at school, and the profit from my business helps with their education. I am also saving towards having a new family house built.”
St Peter’s Life-Line is helping to lift families out of poverty and providing hope through education. To lean more about their projects and to support their work, please visit their website.