In September, I went on my first official AbleChildAfrica partner visit to ANDY (Action Network for the Disabled), in Nairobi, Kenya. It was great to visit ANDY after having been being involved with AbleChildAfrica for7 years. On the first morning, we arrived at the ANDY office and were warmly greeted by the team which was wonderful. They had recently moved office, and the ANDY colours (orange, green and white) were brightly painted on the walls. The week began with a meeting on one of the ANDY projects called Changing the Game. We were joined by the project coordinator Sharon and the sports coaches Alfred, Caleb and Jane, who all gave very positive feedback on the project’s progress, including wonderful news regarding the changing attitudes of parents and schools. For example, in one of the project schools, which had previously been reluctant to accept children with disabilities, the head teacher’s attitude had changed, and now is aiming to enrol fifteen children with disabilities by the end of the project.
During my visit, I visited different groups being helped through the project. One of the most memorable visits was to a Parent Support Group meeting of two schools, one special school and one mainstream, and we were able to listen to what activities the group does to support children with disabilities. Now almost sixty parents strong, it is a support network for parents to share experiences, ideas and lobby for the greater support for their children. They told us about how they had set up a co-operative to buy produce and provide food for the schools to raise money. I was able to observe the children playing inclusive sports and games, and noticed how engaged they were in their activities. I gave a short talk about my advocacy work and explained why it was important to keep their children in school. Some of the parents said that seeing a person with a disability like me doing what I do gave them hope for their children’s futures.
Another memorable moment for me was doing a home visit in Thika, where we met a seven-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and his mother.. He had been enrolled in the sports project, and as a result he was now enrolled in school. When asked what he liked about school, he said “I love education!” He also said he had made lots of friends and was having a great time. It was interesting to listen to the family’s story, and hear more about the challenges they face in bringing their children to school. For example, his mum cannot always afford local transport. AbleChildAfrica and ANDY are working together to find solutions so he can continue to learn with his friends.
I gave a presentation to a newly formed coalition of disability organisations on my experience as an advocate. This coalition consists of 35 Disabled Person Organisations and Civil Society Organisations who have come together to collectively advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. This was the second meeting, which aimed to consolidate their action plan. My messages were that if you want to have your rights, you have to fight for them, and that it is of the utmost importance to include young people in advocacy. I hope my experiences will help the coalition move forward in an inclusive and sustainable way. There was much to learn at the meeting. I spoke to one woman that told us about the struggles for people for albinism, including the fact that sunscreen is not readily available in Kenya. I think it is a powerful project, giving organisations the opportunity to share their experiences and come together to fight for a more inclusive world.
I was overwhelmed by the dedication of staff to projects that are changing the lives of children with disabilities and their families in Nairobi and the surrounding counties. I was impressed to see how sport was being used to help foster inclusive environments and change altitudes in the community I wish ANDY every success in their work, and hope that the project goes on to change more lives. I believe that projects like these that bring us ever closer to a fully inclusive world where every child is treated as equal and can fulfil their potential.