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Journey to Nairobi

1 September 2013
Posted by Leona Forsyth

Leona Forsyth standing in front of a plane

Arriving in Nairobi, Kenya at dawn, I was greeted by the morning rush hour. The whole city seemed to be on the move and scrambling to get to work.

Cars, bumper to bumper, fill the road in both directions and their horns shout out the frustration of commuters keen to be on time. Beyond the traffic is a gateway to Kibera slum, Africa's largest informal settlement and home to two million people.

From the ramshackle buildings labourers pour on to sandy pathways and trudge to work. At this time of day, my five mile journey took almost two hours, and gave me the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of the city. Within the turmoil of urban life, I wonder how a child who cannot see and cannot hear would experience Nairobi.

I am welcomed warmly at Sense International by my hosts, Edwin Osundwa, Country Representative for Sense International, Kenya, and Geoffrey Atieli, Director, Sense International East Africa. From a small, simple office these dedicated men with a handful of colleagues run programmes and services aiming to reach the region's estimated 42,000 deafblind children. So many children facing such monumental struggles.

deafblindness can result from an overdose of quinine in the treatment of malaria, and rubella is the cause of more than half of all cases.

I soon learn that deafblindness can result from an overdose of quinine in the treatment of malaria, and rubella is the cause of more than half of all cases. Since both diseases are preventable and treatable, Sense International can have a real impact with their programme to lobby government for to immunise against rubella and improve healthcare practices.

In a calm and steady voice that demonstrates his experience, Edwin shares the progress that has been made for deafblind learners and the new, specially adapted curriculum for the classroom. He tells me about the teacher training offered and the materials developed for children with special needs. Whilst many deafblind children can attend schools, such as the Sense International supported integrated unit at Kilimani Primary School here in Nairobi, this is not always the case.

Other conditions, such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy, compound and complicate the condition, and these children need care and consideration in their own homes. Sense International has supported eleven local partners to provide community-based rehabilitation services over the last three years and is now establishing home-based education programmes in partnership with the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

It is inspirational stuff and I begin to understand the transformations that Sense International makes possible with their indefatigable efforts and expertise. However, Geoffrey stresses the financial situation of the office is precarious. They are fundraising for a new team member who will be tasked with income generation. There is much more work to be done.

In these rural communities, children are often tasked with shepherding livestock. How would a deafblind child who cannot bear these responsibilities cope?

The following day, I am relieved that my drive back to the airport is much quicker. As the small plane leaves Nairobi behind and heads to the magnificent Masai Mara I am struck by the enormity of Kenya and the task at hand for Sense International's outreach and referral programme. Dotted across the landscape are tiny villages. Is there a deafblind child living here? In these rural communities, children are often tasked with shepherding livestock. How would a deafblind child who cannot bear these responsibilities cope?

I take in the magnificent view and reassure myself that Sense International would find them and would be able to help. I am reminded of the children Edwin and Geoffrey told me about who have learnt skills in carpentry, agriculture, knitting and weaving. There is no reason why, with support and training, a deafblind person cannot thrive, contribute and lead a fulfilling life. Thanks to Edwin, Geoffrey and their team I am inspired, full of facts, and committed to do all I can in my new role as a Sense International Trustee.

Leona Forsyth is Sense International Trustee

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First published: Friday 7 June 2013
Last updated: Thursday 18 September 2014