By Sarah Ooko, Senior Communications & Media Officer, World Vision Kenya
At a primary school in Western Kenya, Isabella, a 13-year-old grade six pupil listens keenly to her teacher during a mathematics lesson.
In front of her, is a plastic table connected to the wheelchair she is seated on. Isabella has placed her textbook and pen on top of it. Whenever questions are asked, she quickly calculates on her book then raises her hand to give answers. During group discussions, she wheels herself and interacts freely with classmates as they deliberate on various topics.
But life has not always been rosy for Isabella. Before receiving the wheelchair, which was donated by World Vision last year, she would crawl on the ground to move from one place to another. This would constantly expose her to dust and germs from different kinds of waste that made her fall sick frequently.
"When coming to school or visiting anywhere, I had to depend on people to carry me. Many times, children in the community would laugh at me, saying that I was being carried around like a baby yet I am a big girl."
Thanks to the wheelchair, Isabella no longer feels like a burden to others. "I can go to church, visit relatives and play with friends just like other people. Those who used to avoid me, now want to be my friends so they can have the opportunity to wheel me and enjoy pushing my wheelchair."
In school, the back and body support offered by the wheelchair enables Isabella to write and read well. “The class chairs used to hurt my back. So I could not listen to the teachers properly. Now I can understand them. I even passed my exams."
She is also able to participate in school sports activities such as ball games and wheel chair races. "Truly, this chair has changed my life. I am now doing things just like other kids and I like it."
As a result of the wheelchair she received from World Vision, Isabella,13, from Western Kenya is now able to play with friends and enjoy life. ©2018 World Vision/Photo by Sarah Ooko.
Isabella is among the over six million Kenyans living with a disability, based on the World Health Organisation statistics. The Kenya National Survey for Persons with Disability indicates that 16 percent of children like her are out of school. Yet, education is a right guaranteed to all children.
James Keitany, an Education Project Manager at World Vision Kenya notes that denying those with disability the opportunity to exercise this fundamental human right propagates their continued marginalisation in the society. "It also limits their economic potential thus making them vulnerable to poverty and other social challenges."
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To address this problem, World Vision has been donating assistive devices such as wheelchairs to hundreds of children with disability across the country. This is one of the ways in which affected children feel included in various life activities, instead of being segrated due to their disability.
"Thanks to the wheelchairs, the children are able to go to school, participate in class actively, play with friends, perform chores independently and enjoy life just as other children without disability," notes Anne Waichinga, the Associate Director for Education and Child Protection at World Vision Kenya.
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According to Anne, Kenya needs to increase the amount of money allocated for the support of children with disability. "This will make it possible for all affected children to get assistive devices and other services such as rehabilitative therapy that will improve their wellbeing and help them succeed in life."
Lilian Awuor, a Child Wellbeing Facilitator at World Vision Kenya (Katito Area Programme) states that more sensitisation is required to break the stigma associated with disability.
Lilian Awour, Child Protection Facilitator at World Vision Kenya (Katito Area Programme) plays with Mercy,9, whose school performance has improved due to the wheelchair she received from the organisation. She is also able to perform house chores independently. ©2018 World Vision/Photo by Sarah Ooko.
"Before, parents were hiding these children. But with the advocacy we've been doing, attitudes are slowly beginning to change. We have to keep on giving positive information about disability so people can stop viewing it as a curse."
Lilian states that disability is not inability. "Affected children just need to be supported, accepted and loved so they can enjoy their rights and excel in life like other children."