Paul Harrison joined the AbleChildAfrica Board of Trustees in 2014. Paul’s professional career spans over fifteen years in the global investment management business, leading teams of both investment managers as well as distribution professionals.
Clare Adam joined AbleChildAfrica as a trustee in May 2013. After a visit to our partners in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in September 2014, Clare left the City to join the Legal team at Save the Children UK.
AbleChildAfrica Trustees Clare Adam and Paul Harrison, visited AbleChildAfrica’s partners in Africa in September. This month, they are sharing their experiences in Kenya, where they spent a fascinating three days in Kibera, East Africa’s biggest slum.
Less than 5% of young disabled people in Nairobi are employed, and under 10% have access to education. Against this backdrop, AbleChildAfrica’s partner Action Network for the Disabled, or ANDY, runs a number of programmes which seek to empower young people with disabilities in and around Nairobi. We first visited ANDY’s Kibera field office, where we met a group of nine amazing young people making necklaces, bracelets and ear-rings using Masai beads and locally available materials. Sharon, the youth worker leading the group, explained that the Friday jewellery-making session provided a source of income for the participants, but also a sense of community as they came together and shared experiences while they worked. We spent a great couple of hours with these participants, and were enormously struck by this strong sense of community and mutual support. David told me that he rarely ventured out before he came across ANDY, as people’s attitudes to his impairment had made him shy and withdrawn. It’s a long journey for him to get to the field office, but the friendships and support he has there make the journey well worth it. He told me that ANDY had changed his life.
At ANDY HQ we learned first-hand one initiative ANDY runs in partnership with AbleChildAfrica, a “Sports for Change” programme involving sports such as wheelchair basketball, swimming and table tennis, in a Comic Relief-funded project. In addition to sports, participants receive job skills training and intern with local businesses to apply the skills they have learned in the sports project. As well as educating these local businesses that they have nothing to fear – and much to gain – from employing disabled youth, ANDY is successfully challenging and changing attitudes to disability in the wider community, from healthcare providers to public transport employees; and engaging with community leaders such as pastors, imams and clan leaders, as people of influence, too.
AbleChildAfrica’s partner Little Rock Inclusive Early Childhood Development Centre is also located in Kibera, but serves a very much younger set of constituents. The new school compound, which was built in 2012/13 by AbleChildAfrica with support from our corporate partner Euromoney Institutional Investor PLC, is an oasis in the middle of this impoverished area. Little Rock does vital work: while primary level education is available free of charge in Kenya, the curriculum requires basic skills that most children in Kibera simply do not have, and Little Rock seeks to address this. As an inclusive early childhood programme, approximately 1/3 of Little Rock’s 500 children are disabled.
On our 2-day visit, nowhere illustrated more to us the childrens’ joy in being at Little Rock – and its truly inclusive nature – than the music class we attended. Led by Teacher Morris, the super cool music and sports teacher who has a highly-professional routine on his keyboard, and a limitless repertoire of songs, the children clearly knew all the words and actions and were more than happy to show them off. It was inspiring to see all these happy children participating fully, inclusively, and joyfully.
Little Rock also benefits the wider community. For example, with support from AbleChildAfrica, Little Rock has trained several mothers in tailoring, and provides a workshop for them onsite to make school uniforms and other textiles. Needless to say, this income-generating project has clear benefits for the wider families of students, too.
Unfortunately, though, not all of the children are able to graduate from Little Rock. We met Mary, a very bright student who has consistently passed the entrance exams for each grade at primary level, but has been refused entry to primary school because the teachers there say they can’t cope with her physical impairment. Mary continues to study at Little Rock, where the staff work hard to provide a curriculum for her and a few other older children in similar positions, and Little Rock and AbleChildAfrica together continue to advocate for the inclusion of students like Mary in primary education. But there is clearly much work still to be done.
It was actually meeting people like David at ANDY, and Mary at Little Rock, that showed us so clearly the extraordinary impact the work of AbleChildAfrica and our partners have on disabled children and young people. . And the tireless commitment of people like Sharon and her colleagues at ANDY, and Teacher Morris and his colleagues at Little Rock, is what we must continue to celebrate – and support. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible. It was a fascinating visit to Kenya, made as inspiring as it was by the extraordinary people we met.