Story 79

Changing attitudes in Kenya

I grew up in Voi, which is a small town in the Taita-Taveta County of Kenya, in the early 1980s. At that time children with disabilities were largely marginalised.

The church remains an important supporter of people with disabilities in Kenya and at the time they sponsored a degree of inclusivity at my primary school and other neighbouring schools.

Children with disabilities had their own classes within the primary schools, and generally they had their own programmes too. But I saw what was possible in terms of integration.

Hostility towards children with disabilities and the fear of the unknown is still, to a large extent, very real today. And, as regional representative for Leonard Cheshire Disability, it is unfortunately something I come across frequently – but also something we are working hard to change.

Poverty is a key reason why children with disabilities can fall through the cracks in the system and fail to get a good education. Parents don’t necessarily want to leave their children – sometimes locked or chained – at home, but they have to work in order to fend for their families.

However, sometimes they do so because of a deep fear of their children being subjected to the kind of bullying and potential violence that still exists if they go to school.

These issues are particularly heightened for girls with disabilities, who face double discrimination due to both their gender and their disability.

Since 2014, Leonard Cheshire’s Girls’ Education Challenge project has been working in the Nyanza province or Lake Region of Kenya to enrol girls with disabilities in school. So far, over 2,000 girls have been supported into 50 primary schools.

In Nyanza, reports show that we have the highest prevalence of disability in the whole country. It has been amazing to work on a project that is potentially life-changing for the girls that we are able to support.

We work with people from across society to make sure girls with disabilities can have the opportunities they deserve, from local administrators to parents, community chiefs, support workers and the children themselves – raising awareness and developing a structure of community support we can build on.

There’s still so much work to be done across society to before girls with disabilities have a genuinely equal opportunity to access education.

I’m confident that we can continue to change attitudes generally and the life chances of all children, particularly girls with disabilities.

There’s still so much work to be done across society to before girls with disabilities have a genuinely equal opportunity to access education.