Martin is an 11-year-old boy living in southwestern Kenya, now thriving in a special school for the intellectually disabled. And, according to his parents, he loves it. But, that wasn’t always the case. By age 9, Martin had been held back in preschool several times, unable to meet the developmental milestones necessary to promote him to primary school. His 5-year-old peers would come and go, moving on to the local primary school, but Martin stayed.
In 2016, with support from Plan International, Martin was assessed by a disability specialist for the first time. This specialist came to his rural community and set up a mobile assessment clinic—giving his parents, who couldn’t afford to bring him into the city for assessment, their first opportunity to better understand their child’s special needs. Martin’s parents learned that he was intellectually disabled, had epilepsy, and suffered from a severe speech impediment. With Plan’s support, Martin’s parents took him to the hospital for further examination and medication, enrolled him in a special school for students like him, and registered him with the National Council for Persons with Disability—which provides his family with a small stipend each month to support his schooling and health care needs. Finally, at age 11, Martin is receiving the proper care he needs to flourish.
Martin’s story is not unique. One in 10 Kenyans are living with a disability. That’s 4.8 million men, women, and children. In addition, less than 20 percent of those living with a disability receive a secondary education. Most of the disabled population lives in rural communities, with very limited access to assessment services, hospitals, or specialty schools. Oftentimes, parents do not know that their child is suffering from a disability. If they do know, it’s common practice to hide those with disabilities at home—away from school and the rest of the community.
Children with disabilities often go unaddressed and inappropriately cared for due to lack of awareness, services, and resources. Luckily for Martin, Plan and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation have been working in his county for the past five years to enhance access to quality early childhood development services for children zero to five. Using a Community-Led Action approach that supports communities to take ownership over the development of their youngest members, Plan has enhanced pre-primary opportunities for all children, including ones with disabilities.
The Education Assessment Resource Center (EARC), the agency under the Kenyan Ministry of Education responsible for conducting disability assessments and making appropriate referrals as needed, is under-resourced and unable to keep up with demand. In Kisumu County in southwestern Kenya, for example, there are two EARC officers for a population of almost 1 million. As you can imagine, many disabilities go undetected or inappropriately addressed, and many children and families suffer as a result.
Early detection and treatment of disabilities can greatly reduce pain and hardship for persons with disabilities and their families. That’s why Plan has worked so hard to bring early childhood development and assessments for disabilities together. We’ve supported EARC assessment officers to set up mobile clinics, enabling officers to travel to rural communities and assess people in need often for the first time in their lives. Plan and EARC have trained pre-primary teachers on how to detect certain common disabilities, and what to do if they believe a child is in need of special care. This strong partnership has enabled EARC officers to conduct sensitization workshops with parents to reduce misconceptions and stigmas around persons with disabilities, as well as help parents understand certain child development milestones.
There is more to be done. And, Plan is ready for action. In the coming months, we will start parenting support groups in communities for parents of young children with disabilities. We also intend to establish sign language education opportunities for parents of children with hearing disabilities. We are on a mission to ensure that all children with disabilities are enrolled in the right schools, engaged with the right hospitals, and registered with the National Council for People with Disabilities.
In southwestern Kenya, Plan is making strides for children and their families. We intend to keep going until every child around the world, regardless of their specific abilities, has access to quality education.