Training across borders
6 September 2016
Sense International’s innovative early intervention programme in Kenya and Uganda will screen children aged 0 to 3-years-old for sensory impairments. Sense’s Head of Children’s Specialist Services, Steve Rose, talks about the programme and his recent trip to Nairobi, where he led early intervention and assessment training for local health and education professionals.
Steve, you visited Nairobi in June – what is life like for children with deafblindness there?
“I found that some of the challenges children and families experience in Kenya – and Uganda – are similar to those faced by people in the UK. People struggle to access the right support and information for their child at an early age, for example. It’s the same across the world; however, the extent of these issues is far more extreme.
“We visited two families living in the Kawangware district of Nairobi. Their priority is where their next meal is going to come from. The issue of limited resources affects every family’s priorities, and impacts on their ability to access and provide support for their disabled children.
“In Nairobi, around 60% of the population live in slums. Our early intervention projects in both countries are predominantly in these types of area and community. The training we delivered, therefore, had to be set within this context.”
How does the training you delivered support the programme?
“The early intervention programme itself is made up of three key elements. There’s the initial screening of infants, which will take place in hospitals and health centres. Then there are the assessments for children believed to have a multi-sensory impairment (MSI) and the weekly interventions for those identified, which was where our focus was. Then there’s a research project aiming to identify the extent of MSI and congenital rubella syndrome.”
“Our goal was to give people an overview of early intervention, and support the development of the three key elements of the programme.”
What did the training involve?
“The training was based on what we offer professionals in the UK. Over two weeks we looked at a range of topics, including an introduction to deafblindness, the role of the senses, assessment and the deafblind perspective – including practical sessions, which always go down really well.
“The difficult but important part was adapting everything to the Kenyan and Ugandan contexts. Unless you’ve worked in the country, seen where families live, or understand the health care system, you’re grasping at straws. In the UK, for example, our early intervention support is based around daily routines, such as bath time and ‘objects’ – we talk a lot about books, for instance. For families who only have one or two toys, however, this is completely irrelevant. The whole time we were learning from people and re-evaluating what we were doing.”
What was people’s understanding of deafblindness?
“It was mixed at the start. We worked with occupational therapists – four from Kenya, as well as the head therapist for that team, plus four from Uganda. They will all be working in an early intervention role.
“Some of the therapists were newly qualified; others were more experienced. People had experience of autism and physical disabilities, but less around multi-sensory impairments. So there were some quite groundbreaking moments in terms of thinking about the loss of both sight and hearing, and what that actually means.”
What did you learn from the training?
“While we face some of the same challenges in the UK, we’re actually very fortunate. We’re extremely well resourced in this country. It showed me that it’s not all about resources – money, books, equipment or expensive schemes – you can achieve a lot with not very much.
“Simply taking the basic principles and being creative and resourceful, rather than focusing on levels of resource, can have a huge impact. Actually, human beings are the most interesting things for deafblind children. My team are going to hate me, but they’re not buying anything ever again!”
What’s the next stage of the early intervention programme?
“The teams of occupational therapists will go out, meet families and put the knowledge they gained into practice. We’re going to run some online sessions via Skype to continue the training and we’ve set up a WhatsApp group so that people can ask questions.
“Personally, I’m so intrigued to see what happens next. It’s a screening programme that joins things up; it’s really innovative in the way that it brings together screening, identifying physical, hearing and visual impairments and risk factors – everything combined – and assessing whether a child is deafblind.
“We’ve probably got more advanced screening programmes in the UK, but do we gather information together in such a structured way? I’m not sure we do.”
Sense International is working with local partners, including hospitals, health centres and national medical research organisations, to deliver sensory screening and early intervention programmes in Kenya and Uganda, which get underway in September. Over the next three years the programme supported by individual donations, UK aid and Jersey Overseas Aid will provide vital health services for children and their families, leading to improved developmental outcomes and quality of life.
First published: Tuesday 18 June 2013
Last updated: Friday 6 December 2019