“I had been so consumed with Dennis’s physical handicaps -trying to train him to walk and sit up, and had never thought his hearing and speech were issues too. If only the nurse had been more sensitive with her delivery of the news to me. I felt terrible and cried so much. All along, we only know he had physical disabilities. I’d taken him for his regular clinics when he was young and no one had ever mentioned any other problem he had. No tests had been done on him to reveal any other challenges with his health. I just didn’t know.”
When Dennis turned five years, his parents enrolled him in a special needs school in their Kangemi neighborhood. But after two years, the school closed down and he had to stay home as his parents searched for another school that could accommodate his disabilities.
“We were keen on helping Dennis at least get some kind of education –just like our other three children. Despite his challenges, his schooling was a priority for us,” says Regina, who was at that time a housewife –a decision largely informed by the demands of looking after Dennis, who needed constant care and attention.
At the age of seven years, his parents finally got him placement at a special needs school.
“The challenge was that the school was 20km away from our Uthiru neighborhood. We didn’t know how we would manage but thankfully, a Good Samaritan –a matatu driver offered to pick Dennis from our doorstep, doing the same for two other children with disabilities in the neighborhood, and drop them at the school. He would also drop them back home in the evening, without ever asking for any extra pay for this. He was an angel.”
However, after four years, the teachers asked the couple to search for another school for Dennis, one that could better utilize his skills.
“The teachers told me that Dennis had made some progress in those four years and it was time for him to move on and create space for other more deserving children with disabilities. They said Dennis was now able to hold a crayon and draw. I was told to take him to another special needs school where those skills could be enhanced. But I didn’t know of any other school, and even after pleading with them to let Dennis stay on, they refused.”
Hence began her search for another school. But she would face yet another difficult patch in her life when, after 22 years of marriage, Regina’s husband –the sole bread winner, left her.
“His departure left me completely distraught as I had all along known we had a good marriage. I became sick –physically and mentally, to the point of depression. With no financial resources since he stopped supporting us, I had no means to support myself and my four children. At some point we moved back to my rural home as I tried to figure things out.”
But life in the village was no better due to the hardships there, and she eventually returned to Nairobi with her children. She rented a single room in Dagoretti and began rebuilding her life.
“I found placement for Dennis at a special school in Dagoretti, but it would take me five months to figure out how to get Dennis to the school from home. You see, Dennis is a big and heavy boy, and I’ve always had to carry him on my back wherever we go, since I’m unable to afford a wheel chair. The little money I used to make from doing casual jobs would go towards paying school fees for my other children, food and the rent.
It was only when my first born daughter got a job that was paying her Sh10,000 a month that she offered to facilitate transport for her brother Dennis to and from school. A boda boda picks him and drops him from school, at a charge of Sh100 per day.
I’m glad that Dennis goes to school. He is 16 years old, but I’m told he’s doing standard 2 work now, which is fine with me. As long as he is in school I’m happy. Dennis is good in drawing –especially cartoons, and I pray that he will get an opportunity someday to explore this skill.”
Despite the challenges, Regina’s other children have all managed to complete their education up to form four, though she has been unable to educate them any further than that.
“I encourage my children to work hard and look for work opportunities. I tell them to apply for any jobs and save so that they can pay for a post-secondary education. I strongly believe that education is the key to a better future so I continue to give them hope.
I guess Dennis knows this too, because I have observed that he loves school very much. Whenever he misses school for some reason, I see how gloomy he becomes. There is something good that school does for Dennis, and this is my joy. I’m grateful that there are special schools for children like Dennis. I pray that God will help me keep Dennis in school, to the highest level possible.”
And that is Regina’s story, one of a mother who soldiers on despite the challenges that come her way. Regina represents thousands of mothers and parents across Kenya who are determined to offer their children the best in life, including their special needs children. The life of such parents is made easier by some organizations that are focused on the needs of children with disabilities like Dennis.
One such organization is Action Network for the Disabled (ANDY), which is involved in efforts to ensure that as many special needs as possible go to school and access an education. ANDY does so by increasing the accessibility of scholarship opportunities for children with disabilities. The organization also plays a key role in the modification of regular schools to ensure they are sensitive to the needs of children with disabilities, for example ensuring there are ramps, rails and disability-friendly toilets.
Mummy Tales is a blog dedicated to empowering its readers on different aspects of maternal and newborn health, as well as various issues surrounding motherhood and women. Read more motherhood experiences of Kenyan moms here. Follow Mummy Tales on: FACEBOOK l INSTAGRAM l TWITTER
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