Fredrick Ouko was chosen to carry the Paralympic torch because of the way he and his colleagues use the power of sport to change the lives of young people with disabilities in Kenya. He describes the reality of the prejudice and scorn which they still have to overcome
Our journey through Regents Park lasted just a few very precious minutes, but those minutes can genuinely change the lives of tens of thousands of Kenyans with disabilities. The story of the disabled Kenyans being cheered through London has appeared on our national newspapers and television stations; a game-changing event in a country where people with disabilities can go their whole lives without meeting or seeing a positive role model who looks like them.
AbleChildAfrica's relay team included three others who, like me, lost the use of their legs to childhood polio in Kenya – including Team GB's wheelchair sprinter Anne Wafula Strike whose husband is a former miner from Tyneside. Growing up in poverty-stricken Western Kenya where everyone is battling for opportunities, a disability makes life even tougher. A lack of equipment, inaccessible buildings and public transport mean every task and journey can be longer and harder.
But the hardest thing of all was the attitudes of my fellow Kenyans, most of whom saw me not as a person, but as 'Viwete' or 'Kiguru' – meaning 'thing' in Kiswahili, or a burden, something to be ashamed of. In Kenya most people would never even consider that we have any potential, aspirations or talents.
The employer interviewing us for jobs, the teachers in schools, the bank manager considering whether to give us a loan for business, even the parents deciding whether to spend money sending their disabled child to school – few will see us as equals. Our former President Moi this month denounced the appointment of a highly educated, experienced blind public servant to an important government commission because he 'cannot see' the issues. Many agree with him.
This prejudice denies many the tools we'd need to escape poverty; consider that 80% of the world's disabled live in poverty, and most estimates state over 90% of children with disabilities in the developing world do not go to school. In a country like Kenya, where education is so valued, only an extraordinary few can play catch-up with their able-bodied peers.
Myself and my fellow torchbearers were united not just by our disability, but by another vital factor which made our tough journey's easier. We had parents who believed in us and encouraged us to aim high. My Dad has told me of the many questions he was asked by friends and family on his decision to support my education. He could have invested all his time and money on my siblings, as they thought I was not a good enough investment venture due to my disability.
We work with AbleChildAfrica to give other young people with disabilities the same encouragement, aspiration and opportunities we were lucky enough to receive. Our Sports for Change programme gives young people with disabilities in Nairobi the chance to take control of their own lives. Taking part in team sports develops their self-esteem and the skills, like teamwork and leadership, which they need in the work place. They can then graduate to internships or receive support to develop a business plan and access start-up credit. Over 100 members have now gone through the programme.
The stigma is reducing as the participants are recognised in their communities for more than their disabilities; as athletes, entrepreneurs, and professionals ranging from civil servants to IT specialists.
We did not think that we would be selected to carry the torch. We know there are many inspirational stories associated with the Paralympics; incredible people doing incredible things which deserve to be recognised on such a huge and prestigious stage. But we hoped, dreamed and prayed, and were overjoyed when the selection panel decided to recognise our work with AbleChildAfrica, using the power of sports to help young people in Nairobi develop the skills and self-belief they need to find work and escape a life of dependency
Carrying the torch has helped us turn up the volume on our message, to reflect the spirit of the Paralympic games back to East Africa. It has been a breath-taking experience and a privilege. We have all been overwhelmed with messages from home; people who have felt inspired and energized by our journey, and many who did not believe that Kenyans with disabilities could be celebrated at a global event. We will honour the Paralympic legacy by taking that magic back to Kenya, our torch a symbol that we should all dream of a part on the biggest of stages.
We bring you the stories of five participants who have benefited from our work which you have supported in one or the other,we thank you for your continued partnership in making it happen.Our resolve is to change one life at a time by providing the necessary environment free of barriers for a person with a disability to thrive.
“Before joining ANDY back in 2008, I found myself having difficulties in socializing due to my disability; I later joined a Reach-up programme that sought empowering persons with disabilities with ICT skills where I acquired basic IT skills. Through my continuous involvement in ANDY’s programme, I joined the sports for health project where am now participating in swimming every Saturday”
Benson Isaboke aged 28 years is full of praise for the exposure he got at ANDY, through the programme, he managed to secure an internship opportunity at Prince institute Professional, a computer college in Nairobi where he worked as an assistant administrator. His performance in sports has built his confidence and self esteem when interacting with the public. Presently, Benson is awaiting a job confirmation thanks to a network ANDY has built with International Child Rescue Institute-Africa, an International organization that seeks to equip communities to fight poverty and assure the health and safety of children and families. He believes that conducting more seminars will reach out to more persons with disabilities throughout the country.
Joseph Gitau Wairimu
“I used to work as a hawker here in Nairobi, the payout was not impressing as I suffered constant arrests and exploitation from the City council officers, after doing the business for 7 months, I decided to quit the job and later joined ANDY’s sports for health project in January 2012 where I started my training on wheelchair basketball.”
Joseph Gitau secured a business grant from ANDY and decided to set up a Retail kiosk, a business that has a turnover of KES 400/= a day which he now supports his family with. Through his involvement in sports, he has improved his physical fitness and has managed to build a network of friends who previously found it difficult to interact with previously. He proposes more outreach programmes for persons with disabilities has this will be the only way to engage more people in the programme.
Cecilia Wangechi, 21 years got news of ANDY sports program from the Table tennis coach Mary Nakhumicha.. Since she was energetic and had participated in sports while in her high school, she obliged. She started training in Table tennis and excelled; this earned her a sport in the Nationals Try-out and excelled to be among the top contenders though she didn’t qualify to represent the country. That didn’t dampen her efforts as she went for National try out in field sports due to her frequent training at ANDY she qualified to represent Kenya at the Africa Paralympics in Tunisia in March, a fete she excelled and won a Gold medal. She is hopeful of representing Kenya in the upcoming Olympics in London. All this she says would not have been possible without the ANDY sport program.
Bernard Omondi, a 34 year old started a food kiosk from the grant he acquired from ANDY, a business he runs together with his wife and has managed to hire assistance from two waiters. On a good day, he says, he accumulates a total of 1,500/= Kenya shillings in which he pays his staff and the rest is for expanding his growing business. He thinks that persons with disabilities should be trained on setting up micro-trusts and encourages more on the need to join Sacco so as to be able to secure their livelihood in a long-term basis.
Nicholas Ngonde Mungai
Nicholas Ngonde, a 33 year old wheelchair basketballer has no regrets in joining the sports for health project. He first joined ANDY in the year 2009 and according to him his fitness level was week because he hardly engaged in any sporting activity and this made him work for 3 days in a week. After securing a grant from ANDY, Nicholas decided to set up a food kiosk, a business that earns him 3,500/= to 4,000/= KES a day. Through the sports, he has been able to have a vast network of friends and this has enabled him to bond more with the other members of the public.
Your efforts are truly rewarding if you read through the stories above,we can do more of this and will continue updating you as we move on with this important work.
We also wish to inform you that,our former VSO volunteer;Gareth Wilce is running the Leeds Half Marathan on 13th in our support,you can help him reach his fundraising goal by donating today
Thank you for your continued support
It has indeed been a good year at ANDY that finally wraps up, a lot of good things did happen and that means our impact in communities that we work in has been increasing day by day.
Different projects were implemented to help change the lives of youth with disabilities in Kenya, this is a success that we cannot take alone; all of you have been there in furthering this objective and we want to THANK YOU for the great contribution is has been.
As a young and growing organization, we wish to share with you in this journey as we get into the New Year to even do greater things that shall bring meaning to the lives of thousands of youth with disabilities in Kenya.
We request that you continue your partnership with us through supporting our various projects and encourage your friends, colleagues and family to consider joining hands with us to make a difference in the lives of those who are in need of our support to make it in life.
In this year alone, we were able to reach over 300 youth with disabilities and we know that with your support, we are able to surplus this number in 2012.
We take this opportunity to wish a prosperous New Year and look forward to working together to Make it Happen and Make a Difference!