Many tourists enjoy their holidays in Kenya having the most typical experiences recommended by guide books: safaris, beautiful beaches, delicious seafood and some historical monuments.
But one of the most rewarding experiences is visiting the Tom Mboya School for Cerebral Palsy which is located in the port city of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean. Their motto is “Disability is not inability”. The school was started in 1995 by parents of kids with CP with the help of the Kenyan Ministry of Education. In an area with a population of about 3 million people, Tom Mboya is the only school in Kenya that specifically serves these children. At the moment, it can only accommodate 90 children.
Many of the children have multiple disabilities in addition to CP such as autism and developmental disabilities. Some are bright but because of their CP cannot talk or control their movements. Yet, they are learning to read, do arithmetic, and articulate their needs, thoughts, and desires with the help of dedicated teachers and staff. The school also provides physical and occupational therapy and feeds all the children lunch. Tom Mboya School´s goal are to encourage independence, build confidence and social skills, develop their mobility and speech and language skills at the same time that they receive an education.
The school receives some funding from the national and municipal governments (Kenya does have free primary education) but is not enough to address the needs of the school so parents are requested to contribute 2000 KSH per term (about £ 18). Most families cannot afford this but the school never discharges a student if the parents cannot pay.
The deputy head teacher `Chizi John´ showed me around the school. She was extremely proud of the school, was warm and friendly. She had come to be a special needs teacher as she had twins and one boy was born with cerebral palsy. She persevered in teaching him at home as there was no CP school then and saw the progress her son made. She joined the school because she wanted to share her knowledge to help families with CP children.
Chizi says “born poor is bad luck but to be disabled in Kenya is unfortunate because there is very little help and old traditions are still in place on children born disabled”. According to old African traditions, disability is a curse, caused by terrible wrongdoing, a punishment from God for bad deeds. In rural communities a disabled child can be feared like an evil spirit.
Thomas Ogot, driver of Tom Mboya School, comments on old traditions. “In villages parents are ashamed to produce a disabled child, so the child is hidden away at home, isolated, even abused”. The problem in villages is that people have not adapted to the present. They still live like centuries ago. Ogot explained to me what mostly happens in cities when a disabled child is born. Children live at home but mostly come from single parent families, namely the mother as fathers tend to desert when a disabled child is born.
Ogot took me to one of the Masai village which is situated in the outskirts of Mombasa about 6 miles from the school. There Ogot is going to pick up the only disabled Masai child who goes to the school, Duncan Abasi, 8 years old. Before we are going back to the school, I met his father Isaac, who is the son of the chief in the village and has 9 wives and 36 children. Isaac says that “almost all the members of village had the chance to be educated, it has been very important to understand that some old African traditions are wrong”. But, many Masai villages have not the luck to receive education for different reasons: money, schools too far away, or children have to work in the village.
Isaac showed me around the village and described some facts about Masai tradition. Masais live in huts made of dung. The dung keeps the huts cool and it does not smell. There is one bedroom for the children with soft animal skin to sleep on and one room for the adults. Masais have to travel half km to collect water from a well and 14km to obtain special wood they use to make fire.
There is one physiotherapist that attends to all the children and has a physiotherapy room that is very limited in equipment. Students are taught keyboard skills on an old typewriter because there are not computers or laptops available. Some of the wheelchairs of the students are so basic i.e. a plastic chair with wheels attached.
Students have break time in a room that is bare with no toys or play equipment. Lunch is in the same room where students sit on the floor to eat unless they are in a wheelchair. The pupils eat quite a large portion of lunch consisting of rice, boiled potatoes and vegetables. Staff feed those students that are unable to feed themselves. They are then washed in a bowl of water.
The school did not ask for a donation of any kind and when I asked Chizi what they needed I was told in a very humble way that they would be grateful to receive anything! I have sent my old laptop to the school so that some of the children can develop their keyboard skills and Victoria Education School in Poole has donated some sports tops after having seen my photos.
Unfortunately, once the children leave the school there are no specialist colleges for them to go on to and there is limited employment for them. There are a small number of craft workshops for disabled people to make and sell goods.