African countries should leverage on their progressive culture to fill the gaps and facilitate socio -economic development for its people.
Little Light House (LLH) Director of Global and National Impact (a US based NGO) Ms. Linda Steed described Kenyan culture as more advanced than that of the USA yet people dwelt more on lack of resources and inadequate education to justify the slow growth.
She said it was unfortunate that Africa has been referred to as composed of developing countries, owing to persistent lack of resources and poor educational background that contributed to slowing down all the sectors of the economy.
Ms. Steed was speaking on the side-lines of an International Conference held in Kisumu County for social workers, persons with disabilities, nurses, CBOs and teachers handling children with special needs drawn from ECDs in all the 47 counties in Kenya.
She said the programme that has organized the forum for children aged 6 years and adults with developmental challenges was spearheaded by a Christian ministry over the last 50 years with its headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the USA.
The programme was started way back in 1972 with 3 children but this has since grown tremendously located on 6000 sq. feet of space with 10 classrooms and additional programmes for parents. It is serving over 220 families who come to LLH for the unique services.
“We are aware that in the past children with special needs lacked necessary support to hasten their academic and general growth and this is why we took up the challenge of doing everything to add value in their lives,” Ms. Steed explained.
The Seed Power programme first kicked off in Oyugis, Homa Bay County before scaling it up to cover several counties across the country. She added that they also focus on adults with developmental delays alongside the children with special needs.
However, soon after the successful organization of a similar conference in Oyugis, those who spearheaded it stopped temporarily owing to the Covid- 19 pandemic which hit the entire globe leaving a trail of deaths and destruction.
She said every human being has an obligation to contribute to the well-being of such children hence it should not be left to the government alone but also those who feel philanthropic enough should take up the challenge by contributing to the noble initiative.
“We are not here to reinvent the wheel but already there are a lot of good things going on in Kenya. However, stakeholders should supplement the good work,” Ms. Steed said as she singled out Maseno University and Kisumu County government for playing an active role.
She commended local community leaders for reaching out to better the lives of everyone including people with disabilities, children and adults while giving each a chance to reach their maximum potential.
“Every government and country still has a lot to do in terms of improving the lives of their people. However, they still have a long way to go by giving such children equal opportunities in society,” the director observed.
“We do screening for such children and when we realize they are behind developmentally we conduct tests to determine what their needs are before including them in the programme. We target the moderate to severe and profound disabilities but we start with the mild like those with dyslexia,” she said.
The Executive Director Seed Powder Foundation Beldon Okeyo who is the brainchild behind the programme in Kenya said the situation of children with special needs in Kenya required immediate intervention through the multi-agency approach.
Okeyo said although we have successfully advocated for children with disabilities, our governments (county and national) are overwhelmed by the biting economic status as we operate on a limited financial base.
He said Kenya has wonderful policies and strategies which are perfect on paper but very few of them (18 per cent) have been implemented as the rest continued collecting dust on the shelves.
“The 82 per cent still needs to be done. We targeted 350 of such children, many of whom turned up for the conference alongside teachers for special needs and those in Early Childhood Education (ECDs),” he stated.
The programme has had to contend with challenges like inadequate funding to ensure the much needed resources reach them.
He called for ideas that could facilitate locally made wheelchairs as opposed to the more expensive modern ones which required heavy funding to deliver to those living in rural and slum areas in the informal settlements.
“What is important for us at this time is not even the resources but the skill set we impart to the children in both public and private schools. We picked teachers at the ratio of 3: 2 from public and private schools,” he said.
In Kisumu, we have 34 NGOs through whom we want the voices of the children with special needs and those vulnerable in society heard so that we could reach a bigger population, including the early intervention teachers from all the 47 counties.
Okeyo attributed their success to Christian faith and hope from the larger community who have for decades contributed immensely towards programmes that aimed at bettering the lives of the less fortunate in society.
Ms Steed and Okeyo poured praise on the retired Executive Director of LLH Jean Windfrey for her remarkable role in setting the organization on a more progressive path that they have followed to date.
“We have done two community based water projects in Oyugis and Nyakach at a cost of Sh5 million (US$50,000) each even though we don’t have a stable source of funding,” they argued.
Ms. Steed added that it was through faith that LLH has been in existence for the 50 years transforming lives for the less fortunate in the society including Africa, where they don’t charge parents for the school feeding program, tuition or sustainability of the projects.
By Joseph Otieno and Evangeline Mola