Society Urged to Support Children With Special Needs
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, more children with disabilities are found in poor families and minority ethnic groups in African countries.
The report states that children with hearing, vision, and intellectual disabilities perform worse in school than those with physical disabilities.
At the same time, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that one out of every twenty children under the age of 14 in the world has a disability.
In Kenya, the number of people suffering from mental health problems and children with special needs has continued to rise, with inadequate information on the effects and economic impacts of disabilities complicating matters.
Because of the pervasive poverty among families with special needs children, the children are seen as a nuisance by most parents and are sometimes locked in lonely places such as cages while the parents go to work.
Some parents neglect their children who are fortunate enough to attend special schools because the learning equipment and other basic necessities are too expensive for them to afford.
There are very few schools in Kenya that cater to children with special needs, and the few that do exist are unable to accommodate a large number of disabled children.
Pangani Special School in Nakuru, for example, has been a safe haven for hundreds of children with various forms of disabilities for decades.
Mrs. Arubina Mukobe, the school’s principal, stated that it is difficult to work with children who have various forms of disabilities, with each day being a learning experience as she learns something new about each of the 168 students who she prefers to refer to as “differently abled.”
Mukobe, who has interacted with them, reveals that the institution’s over 15 teachers and support staff have come to understand that mentally challenged individuals can learn and become responsible people through constant training and practice.
She expressed her displeasure with parents who were uninterested in the education of children with special needs, claiming that many mentally challenged children were more talented than ordinary children and that it was unfair to waste such talents.
“The special needs children have proved that what others can do, they too can. You just have to be patient and understand them,” said Mukobe.
The learning classes at the school, which is a haven for children with Down Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, other developmental disorders, and children with multiple disabilities, are divided into Nursery, Pre-vocational, and Vocational training wings.
The nursery class is for ‘toddlers,’ who are taught to scribble, doodle, and color, whereas Pre-vocational students are taught basic life skills such as toileting, speaking, and feeding themselves, among other things.
Learners are offered courses in haircut, weaving and beading, hairdressing, ornament making, and weaving at the vocational training wing for physically and mentally challenged children, where they can earn a living after completing the course.
Despite significant efforts to rehabilitate the students, many obstacles have hampered the efforts, including a lack of medication for epileptic children, insufficient tools for the physically challenged, funds to purchase food staff, and other basic necessities such as diapers and sanitary towels.
Mukobe expressed concern about the children’s deplorable living conditions, adding that the majority of their donations came from foreign donors, who she claimed withdrew their support when the COVID pandemic hit the country in 2020.
She is now appealing to governments and well-wishers to come to the children’s aid by donating diapers, sanitary towels, medication, and wheelchairs to keep the institution operating.
The head teacher stated that nearly 90% of their students are epileptic and require regular medication and attention, which most parents are unable to afford. She bemoaned the loss of seven students since the school’s inception in 2013 due to irregular medication and a lack of proper attention from their parents.
She stated that county governments must support Educational Assessment Resource Service centers, which are critical in evaluating specific education needs of mentally challenged people in terms of personnel, office space, and equipment.
She revealed that grassroots advocacy, sensitization, and mobilization of education for children with disabilities was lacking, and she urged parents and guardians to be actively involved in the education of their disabled children.