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Catholic Special Needs School Faults Kenyan Media for Sidelining Persons with Disabilities

Children and young people living with disabilities at Orione Community Training Centre in Kenya's Catholic Diocese of Ngong Credit: Orione Community Training Centre

Persons living with disabilities (PWDs) are not receiving adequate media coverage in terms of highlighting issues that surround their lives, an official at Orione Community Training Centre that caters for special needs children in Kenya’s Catholic Diocese of Ngong has said.

Bernard Nyariki who is in charge of the Centre’s communications said that government institutions that have been created to take care of the needs of PWDs in the country are riddled with pointless bureaucracies that require highlighting by media.

He said that it is the “constitutional obligation” of the media to unearth the ills in government institutions to pave the way for efficient service delivery among the PWDs.

“There isn’t much awareness in society of the issues that surround the lives of persons with disabilities. This is because this group is not given any priority in terms of highlighting their lives,” Mr. Nyariki told ACI Africa in an interview at a media event.

The communications expert highlighted the key role of the media in promoting an understanding of disability issues during the Monday, November 29 media event that the school organized ahead of the Friday, December 3 international celebration of PWDs.

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He lamented that though the Kenyan government has established institutions such as the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK), bureaucracies stand in the way of proper service delivery in such institutions. Services such as distribution of funds to improve the welfare of the PWDs are not rendered effectively, Mr. Nyariki said.

“A parent with a child goes to the government offices in search of funds and they are taken in circles, referred to one office after the other until one gives up and goes back home without help. Sometimes, they are asked questions that do not matter at all in those offices,” Mr. Nyariki said.

He blamed what he referred to as ignorance about issues surrounding PWDs on lack of information and the failure by the Kenyan media to provide adequate coverage of persons living with disabilities.

“Parents are given complex terms when their children are diagnosed with various forms of disabilities that get them all worried. This is because the media has not made sufficient attempts to create awareness on all possible forms of disabilities that exist, how they manifest themselves and the specific needs of a person with disability,” he said.

There is also a need for the media to inspect the various government institutions including special needs schools to find out whether or not they are working and if they are well equipped to meet the needs of the learners.

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Additionally, parents and caregivers of children with special needs should be engaged by the media to give them a platform to share their experiences for the benefit of others in similar positions, he said.

Mr. Nyariki noted that PWDs are undergoing domestic abuse, including sexual abuse and discrimination from their family members “behind closed doors”, and without a voice.

“If the media people went out of their way to find out how persons with disabilities are coping, they would discover that a lot of abuse is going on behind closed doors in families. They would capture these incidents for the entire society to know what’s going on and for the authorities to act,” he said.

The communications official at the training facility that is run by the Sons of Divine Providence appealed to parents of children with special needs to be proud of them and to seek intervention for them.

“It starts with parents and guardians. We have seen parents who have not believed in their children with special needs. As a result, the society didn’t believe in them,” he said.

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It was also noted that many families still hide their children in their houses and only seek help for them when it is too late.

“As a result of stereotypes, ignorance and lack of resources, many parents keep their children at home in the early years which are the most important for therapy such that when they bring the children to the centre, it is always a bit too late and very difficult to intervene,” Richard Manyara, the Project Manager at Orione Community Training Centre, said.

Margaret Ngando, a mother of three whose first born daughter has cerebral palsy admitted that it took her two years to accept and love her only daughter.

“She was my first child. I had never experienced motherhood before and to get a disabled one for me was a heavy blow,” Margaret told ACI Africa.

She added, “It took me a long time to accept my own child; roughly two years. And it took a lot of counseling. It isn’t easy, and I can confidently say that 90 percent of parents with children living with disability have had a similar experience. It is sad that some parents never come around.”

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“It starts with us,” the Kenyan mother of three said, and added, “If we accept and love our children, other people will love them. If we get them out there, they will get the intervention they need and the skills they need to be self-reliant.”

James Ayunga, an occupational therapist at the Catholic special needs school said that while progress has been made in urban areas in terms of promoting understanding of disability issues and mobilizing support for well-being of persons with disabilities, a lot of sensitization is required in the country’s rural areas.

“I was among the Pokot (a tribe in Kenya) and I saw children, up to 15 years’ old, who had never seen the outside of their houses. Most of them were malnourished. Their families had never made any connection with them and they were willing to give them away,” Mr. Ayunga said.

To ensure that children living with disability get help while they are still young and “malleable”, doctors from Chile have created an office at the Kenyan Catholic school to ensure that various forms of disability are detected early and addressed appropriately.

The doctors who spoke to ACI Africa on Monday, November 29 noted that intervention in children living with disability is most effective when applied early.

This story was first published by ACI Africa on 1 December 2021