Disabled Children

An Acorn...

"Small investments over long periods of time make great change."

For ten years now, our friends have been partnering with us to bring specialized education to many deaf children in Kenya. Lives are being changed and hope has been springing up from the ground over the last decade. Small investments have brought incredible changes, not just in the lives of deaf children, but also the families and communities around them.

"Though the acorn is quite small, over the course of years it grows into a huge oak tree…" Jesus

Thank you to May Bouchert for creating this short video. Thanks to our partners for continually planting and watering these seeds of change.

Hope for Cyprian

Cyprian
Cyprian

Cyprian is faster than most boys his age. His faded, striped jersey is his only shirt, but he sports it proudly. It hugs his distended belly, evidence of chronic malnourishment. He is subservient, but on the soccer field his passion and strength are unleashed. He pursues the ball as a tiger would chase its prey. He forgets he is deaf. He cannot hear the shouts of the other children or the patter of his own steps on dry clay, but he can taste the sweetness of his momentary splendour and sense the adrenaline fueling his lithe limbs.

Thump.

His teammate swipes both the ball and Cyprian’s glory in one blow. Reality startles him with a slap.

Taunted, teased, rejected since birth.

The boys’ words bounce off, but their caustic sneers seep into his core. He knows he is not their equal. He is not allowed to forget it, not even on the soccer field where he outpaces them all. Cyprian is forced to rely on his fists, his only ally. This boy, for one, cannot use his words. Not with hearing children, and not with deaf ones either. He has never been to school, nor has he learned sign language.

Cyprian has no known history. No children’s home would have him because of his disability, so he was sent to a home for juvenile delinquents. He was too meek for that crowd, so he was shuttled to Johabeto where I noticed him meandering cat-like in the shade. He joined the others for their games outside, then, excluded from the classroom, returned to the quiet recesses of the yard.

That was Wednesday. Today, he enters the gates of St. Anthony’s school for the deaf. His hands slap his chest in a fountain-like gesture: joy. He gives me the thumbs up sign and beams. We accompany him to his homeroom. He is twice as tall as the students in his pre-primary class, but he does not seem to care. In his mind, he is no different from the other children for the first time in his life.

Patrick

This week, I watched a video that, although not created by ReACT, gives a glimpse of the transformation that happens when a deaf person finds a deaf community and education for the first time. (You can view the video here.) We have seen this transformation over and over again and it is simply not possible to put into words how not only students, but also their families and communities are radically changed by the education of a deaf child. In Kenya, the deaf are seen as cursed and are not treated as regular citizens or even family members. The government does not pay for the education of deaf children and so most are hidden in rural communities and subject to manual labour for the duration of their lives. Many deaf children are not even permitted to eat with their families.

In 2005, ReACT started by sponsoring 7 deaf children at a local, government recognized deaf school. In 2006, I, Michael, was invited to a meeting of the families of these 7 deaf children and was moved to see the smiles and hear the stories of transformation, not only in the children, but also in the families and communities. Parents came to me with tears in their eyes and through an interpreter I heard story after story of how this education impacted everyone that came into contact with them.

In 2015, we will see the first of these children write the government exams for their grade 8 equivalent and then most will move on to learning a trade. To witness the change in children over 10 years is incredible and one of the most rewarding things we have seen in our lives. Today, ReACT is sponsoring 34 children, all at various levels of education. The school fees have remained virtually unchanged in the past decade and at $250 per year, a child receives a uniform, books, room and board for the entire year. This Christmas, if you are looking for the "gift that keeps on giving", consider sponsoring a deaf child in any number of countries through several trusted and researched programs, not just ReACT's.

Truly, the deaf can hear!

Sewing Machine

Here in Canada this sewing machine would be something my friends and I would swoon over, something we would celebrate as 'retro' and wish we had to show off in our living rooms.

For Carolyne, this sewing machine is a chance.

For the past six years Carolyne has attended St. Angela's trade school where young people who are deaf are given training in trades that are relevant to them. ReACT was able to partner with Carolyne and her mother and help with the school fees for these past six years. At St. Angela's Carolyne studied dress-making and when she recently graduated, ReACT provided her with a sewing machine and material so that she can start her own business.

We look forward to seeing Carolyne when we visit soon and to sending you stories of her adventures in sewing!

The Deaf Hear!

Kenya-2012-195-1024x574
Kenya-2012-195-1024x574

You may be wondering what you are looking at in the above picture but this is one of six solar powered hearing aids that Dave and I took to Kenya in January. In our attempts to help the deaf children that we are sponsoring, I wondered last year if it were possible to integrate deaf children into their local communities instead of isolating them in boarding schools. If this were possible, then children could live at home with their families and begin to function in their home environments instead of living isolated from them. This coming year is an experiment to see if we can invest in a practical hearing aid and possibly eliminate the need for specialized schools. Don't get me wrong, the school in Webuye, Kenya is doing wonderful things for these children. Hearing aids will not be the answer for all the deaf children of Kenya since many of those with severe hearing loss would not benefit. But for the cost of school fees for one year, a hearing aid could be purchased and these children can learn to function in the safety and comfort of their homes.

I have seen with my own eyes that hearing aids can be problematic even here in Canada. My father has used them for years. Even in the West, they are sensitive and must be treated with care in order for them to function efficiently. Imagine the escalated problems that arise in bringing them to a Majority World country. There is the issue of weather conditions and dust that these units will be exposed to. They will be used by children who are not necessarily as conscious of caring for delicate units like these. In addition to that, there is the problem of having steady power available for these units in a place where hearing aid batteries are rare if not too expensive for the average person. The unit that you see above is a re-chargeable, solar powered with 2 sets of batteries. In rural areas in particular where power is scarce if not non-existent, powering up rechargeable batteries is almost impossible. We hope that making use of the sun will change that.

Our one year experiment will determine several things. First, what is the life span of the hearing aids themselves? What is the life span of these batteries? How well do they re-charge during the rainy season? How does the weather and dust affect the performance of these units? There are many questions that we hope to have a better understanding of over the coming 12 months.

While we were there two months ago, we met with Agrai, a government official that performs hearing assessments not only for the school we are involved with but for a large part of Kenya. He makes assessments on the children prior to registering them at the school and so I had his contact information before we arrived. I had made a meeting date with him and on that date, we met Agrai to assess the hearing aids as well as several children that are being sponsored by ReACT. It was wonderful to see some of these children really hear for the first time in their lives! Many gave groans of delight to hear a voice for the first time! Upon assessing several of the children, Agrai decided on 6 of the children who showed the most potential for their use who will use these hearing aids over the coming months. (The pic below show some of the children being assessed.) A teacher has also been assigned to monitor these children as well as do speech therapy with them.

So this has become a branch of one of the trees we've planted in Webuye and we are excited to see if this branch grafts with the rest of the tree. Thanks for all your interest and prayers for this project. Thanks too for those who sowed seed directly into this project. We are excited to see what this year brings!

Kenya-2012-192-1024x574
Kenya-2012-192-1024x574

Kids like Eric

In 2005 and 2006, my wife and I were spending an extended time in Kenya. During the Christmas season, we had the privilege of having my in-laws with us for Christmas during which, we made the long travel to the Masai Mara to see the famous safari as a break. On our travels, we stayed in an area called the Kakamega Forest, one of the last stands of jungle in this part of the world, and literally stayed in a tree house for the night (no joke!). We slept well but occasionally wondered what would crawl through the wall in the dark.

The evening before we crawled into bed, we met some locals, one of them being what appeared to be a mother and child. What we found out was that Eric was deaf and orphaned. He was staying with his Aunt in a typical Kenyan home. My mother in-law took a phone number and we carried on our way the next morning.

Let me paint a picture of the way persons in Kenya (among most Majority countries) are treated with any kind of disability. In Kenya, the government pays for Primary education, unless you are disabled in any way. The culture largely still believes that if a disabled child is born into a family, it is mainly because that family carries a curse on them. As a result, not only does the child not receive the education that his or her siblings would be entitled to, they are often shunned even within the family. The parents fear the stigma that these children being. Many do not even eat with the rest of the family. The parents will do their best to hide the child from the critical eyes in their community.

When we returned from our trip to our home in Kitale, I pretty much forgot about Eric but Mami, my mother-in-law, did not! As the rest of that year past, we found ourselves partnering with a Kenyan friend, Martin, in the sponsorship of Deaf and Handicapped children at a school that boarded deaf children. Eric was one of the first ones ReACT started sponsoring back then.

Just a month ago, I had the privilege of visiting Eric and the rest of the 77 handicapped students that ReACT sponsors between two schools in a town called Webuye. As we walked through the facilities with the Head Teacher, Eric showed up to our delight. Eric's face was bright with a wide smile when he saw us. We were told that Eric was one of the most responsible students at the school and had been given various extra responsibilities such as being a mentor to the younger boys. We were shown the room where about 25 younger students slept and were pleased to find out how Eric has been changed in his years there. Not only is he receiving a recognized education (he is in grade 5 now), but he is also growing as a young man with the confidence to be a mentor to those younger than he. What an amazing thing to witness!

There are many "Erics" at the school who have been given a second chance at life. No longer are they restricted to a life of carrying water living in isolation within their communities. The smiles attest to their new lives and hopes for the future. Their school marks and network of friends, teachers as well as many of you have brought them to a new place in life. Most of you will never know how far your support goes for these children until the next life but I have witnessed it and can wholeheartedly encourage you to continue the sacrifices you are making to see change come for the underprivileged of Kenya.

Its a simple thing to support a child in such a setting. Networking with the local people to care for their own is the most culturally relevant and cost-effective way we know of of seeing lives changed. Most of the children do not recognize us when we arrive since we are there so little. Our Kenyan friends Martin, Ruth and Mark are the links for these children and they are the ones who have developed relationships with these children. We have thought in the past about starting our own school for these children but our heart is to keep things as simple as they can be. Starting schools is just not cost-effective and too often not culturally relevant when the locals do it so well for so little. Our friend Steve is known for saying "Complicated things break down. Simple things multiply." We are delighted to keep it simple, be an unknown face visiting the school and yet witness other transformed lives like Eric's! Thanks for partnering with us to Reach African Children Together!