Wednesday 20th August, the day arrived after much planning. Invitations had gone out to many parents in and around the village and Likoni inviting parents with children who had special needs to come to Tumaini for an afternoon of fun and information. We had no idea how many parents would come and as we prepared the room, parents gathered at the gates. There were so many mamas and children we had to let them all in early, two mamas were waiting from 9am for the 1pm start. A total of 30 children attended the afternoon.
Molly had invited Dr. Ang’ullo to speak, he is a local missionary doctor who lives in the area and has recently got involved in work within Tumaini. I was also invited to share with the parents some of my experiences of adopting and bringing up four children who all have Downs Syndrome.
The afternoon began with a play session for children and a ‘get to know each other’ time for the mamas. We set out some sensory toys, a table with a shaving foam activity and some sticks for mark making and exploring. There was an opportunity for mamas to try their children in special chairs that are available if they apply to Association of Physically Disabled in Kenya (APDK), unfortunately like everything the waiting list is long. There was also opportunity to watch and try the exercise balls which Molly uses in her one to one sessions with children, she also reminded the mamas that a blender, bought from fund raising in the UK, is available in school for them to use to blend fruit or vegetables to feed to their children.
After the play session I told my story of how and why I had adopted my children and some of the hardships and barriers we faced as parents. I hope the mamas were encouraged to know that they are not alone, that prejudice and stigma happens everywhere in the world but that their special children have a right and a need to explore the world around them and build relationships with other children and adults. I felt very privileged to share how we coped through the good and the tough times.
Dr. Ang’ullo then spoke to the mamas, he asked them where they felt they needed help and where their expectations were, they gave him a list including Stigma, Feeding Options and Accessing Hospitals, Education and Support. One parent had stated that no one had ever taught them how to look after their special child, but my hope is that they will support and learn from each other as I know some do already. Dr. Ang’ullo was very patient and listened and talked for nearly an hour, after which there was a question time, many many questions for the Dr. for myself and Molly. Molly told the mamas the times she is available for one to one sessions to show them how to do gentle exercise with their child, some massage, therapeutic play or just for help and support. Dr. Ang’ullo then went around talking and advising individual mamas and children.
Time for a break, tea and biscuits and homemade banana smoothies for the children.
What really touched my heart was the cost of nappies here. Children are not allowed to wear terry nappies in their schools, they have to use disposable ones and the cost for children of 6 to 10 years is huge, 800 Kenyan Shillings (£5.50) for 10 nappies, and for adult size 1,200 shillings (£8). That cost out of the average Kenyan wage is horrendous. In contrast, it breaks my heart that we are able to access so much in the UK for our special children. The mamas here have to pay for all their children’s education, medical needs, doctor’s consultations, x rays, prescriptions, dental, nappies, everything. Most are unemployed single parents, there are no benefits for families, no work and no money.
Despite the struggles these mamas have at home, seeing each other together, rather than as individuals began to develop a growing strength among them, not only through friendships building but having the confidence to stand up and speak on behalf of each other.
Wednesday 20th marked a new beginning, a new team of mamas that are being united as one. I am excited to see where this will lead.