By Sr. Mary Akinyi, SNDdeN
A fun day for children – DISABILITY IS NOT INABILITY.
As Program Coordinator of Songa Mbele na Masomo Children’s Centre, I do my ministry in this community based centre which opened in 2009 and began operations in 2010 in the Mukuru Slum, in Nairobi City. The Mission of Songa Mbele is to reduce illiteracy, dependency and improve health care among children, living with disabilities and vulnerable children, in Mukuru Slums. The teachers provide education, promote health care and development.
The pupils, from ages 3 to 18 years-old, are separated into four Units; Daycare, and Units 1, 2 and 3, according to their abilities and type of disabilities. This class arrangement enables the teachers to concentrate on each child in a special way as they support their development processes. The Centre has an annual Exit Program for the transition of children to other schools/institutions which offer more specialised programs for the children. Depending on their differing conditions and ages, children are transitioned to mainstream, special schools or skills centres.
Children with severe disabilities stay longer at the Centre and they undergo therapy services with a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist. There is also a feeding program whereby we feed children with the help of the caregivers and teachers. The children eat a balanced diet with high nutritional value in order to boost their immunity.
Unit 3 students with Sr. Mary and Staff are excited at vocational training for skill development.
Discrimination Against Children with Disabilities
In African towns and cities, a child with disabilities is sometimes considered as a curse or shame. Some children with disabilities are often discriminated against and are hidden in their houses while others are abandoned by their families who consider them as burdens. Some parents deny them basic rights to healthcare, food, education and even the right to play and interact with other children. This leads to stigmatization and they grow up, withdrawn from their peers. These children cannot fit in regular schools and have no options or opportunity for education or well-being. They are unable to explore their talents or abilities.
Due to the extreme poverty that has engulfed Mukuru Slum, the parents are unable to meet the special needs of their children. The children living with disabilities have a huge risk of negligence, abuse, malnutrition, and opportunistic diseases. Most parents are single mothers who were abandoned
by their families or spouses and they have nobody to help them take care of the children, as they seek work in casual jobs. Therefore, left with no other alternatives, some mothers lock their children in the house, and risk their lives in leaving them alone. In order to save the situation, Songa Mbele takes care of these disabled children during the day, as the parents look for jobs to provide an income for putting food on the table. Without the Centre, the households with children with disabilities in Mukuru Slums would face double challenges as they search for employment, while leaving children alone at that time. The conditions of the children would also deteriorate extremely. This explains the great need to continue operations with the Songa Mbele Na Masomo Children Centre as it offers opportunities for the children living with disabilities and supports their parents in managing daily conditions and needs.
Through the Centre we promote children’s rights to education, affection, good health and other basic needs.