Sidelined and stigmatized: How Special Olympics Kenya is helping parents of children with intellectual disabilities

NAIROBI, August 17, 2019 – “Among one hundred women, only one woman will accept to take care of a child that is not hers and has intellectual disabilities. This is the reason why I have decided not to remarry after my wife’s death and devoted myself to taking care of my child.” These are the words of David Mukabi, a father of two from the Mashimoni slums in Kajiado County, Kenya.

During a visit by the Golisano Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States devoted exclusively to supporting programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and who works with Special Olympics Kenya, Mukabi welcomes us to his single, iron sheet structured house with a smile of hope holding his elder son Zadock Mavinda’s hand.

Mavinda, now 16 years old, was born with an intellectual disability and according to his father it has not been an easy journey bringing him up especially after the death of his wife.

Zadock Mavinda sitted in their house during the Golisano Foundation’s visit.

“Things have not been easy. When my wife gave birth to a child with intellectual disabilities, a lot of people discouraged us. Others termed our son cursed. It became worse when my wife died. My son has been sidelined. I am a single parent with no employment. I go out to look for casual jobs to ensure my kids eat but I cannot give up on taking care of them.”

The introduction of a special needs unit at Nkaimurunya Primary School located a few kilometres from the slum and a beneficiary institution of the Golisano Foundation, has given hope not only to Zadock but his father too. Zadock’s health has gradually improved through participation in the health programs provided at the school via the partnership of Special Olympics Kenya and the Golisano Foundation.

“I want to thank the teacher (Samson Ngugi; a teacher at the special unit who led the tour).  Since my son joined the school, I have seen great improvement in his health. We have been getting food from the school. My son can now cook, he even participates in games at the school,” said Mukabi.

A few meters from Mukabi’s house we meet Lilian Atieno, mother to Irene Mwangwizi who also has intellectual disabilities. Irene, who is just seven years old is forced to do the house chores since her mother is a victim of HIV and AIDS.

Lilian Atieno, mother of Irene Mwangwizi

When asked about her husband, Lilian says, “My husband is history. I don’t want to talk about him since I don’t even know where he is. I am a single parent and it’s hard for me to do even my house chores because I am sick. Despite her disability, Mwangizi helps a lot. I don’t have a job so I depend mostly on friends and the school for food and support.”

Besides facing stigma due to her condition, Atieno has had it rough from some community members who believe a child with intellectual disability is a curse. The family health program offered at the school by Special Olympics Kenya in partnership with the Golisano Foundation has not only helped Mwangwizi, but also her mother.

“It’s now one year since my daughter joined this school. I have not been attending much of the programs because I am weak, but I am grateful. Besides helping my daughter, through the school, I am able to access medication and can now get out of my house and make a few steps. My daughter loves running and she even participates in the school games,” stated Atieno as she prepared to follow us to the school to attend a family health program.

Irene Mwangwizi

It is evident that Nkaimurunya Primary School is changing many lives, especially for athletes with intellectual disabilities. With a total of 66 children at the special unit, Charity Marinda, the school’s head teacher, is eyeing to recruit more children with intellectual disabilities who have been hidden by their caregivers.

“I joined the school a year ago and we have seen a tremendous change in the special needs class. With the introduction of Special Olympics’ Family Health Programs and Healthy Athletes, more parents in the community now value the children. Most of the children were being mishandled, and we have witnessed and dealt with horrible cases such as rape and child labour. Our aim is to bring in more children with intellectual disabilities, as they have a right to their education as well as their health,” stated Mrs. Marinda.

The Golisano Foundation has been working with Special Olympics Kenya since 2015 and it was first launched in Kajiado County.

Golisano Foundation Director Ann Costello, Samson Ngugi a teacher at Nkaimurunya Primary School with Irene Mwangwizi and her young sister.

Through the Golisano Foundation, Special Olympics Kenya has been able to offer year-round inclusive health services for athletes with intellectual disabilities as well as follow up care, with many athletes being seen at hospitals for medication.  Additionally, athletes have improved their overall fitness, enabling good performance in Special Olympics competitions.

The Golisano Foundation is now planning to expand their health programming in Kenya. The Foundation sees the Special Olympics program in Kenya as a model not only for Africa, but for the entire world.

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