It feels like a lifetime ago since I was in Kenya with Sense International looking at the work the charity does to support deaf blind children and their families.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen the adverts on TV that tug at the heart strings, showing lives a world apart from my own, and sometimes I have thought “but there are so many causes here in the UK that need support too”. Being with those families though, playing with the children, talking with the mother’s made me realise that their lives could have easily been mine. Had I been born anywhere other than the UK, who knows what life would have been life for me and Harry who has visual and hearing impairment. More than that though, these families don’t want anything more than I do; to love their children and have the chance to give them the best lives they can lead.
So, I make no apologies at all for the tone of this blog. I want you to ‘meet the families’ that melted me so much that I still have photos of them on my fridge at home so that I never forget how fortunate I am and how rewarding , important and easy it is to make a difference to the lives of others.
3-year-old Bravin claps along to the music and begins to laugh, and as he does, his mother, Naomi, begins to laugh too, bringing him closer to hug. As the two of them embrace, it’s difficult to believe the devastating impact Bravin’s birth initially had on the family.
Bravin was born blind with complex needs. In parts of Kenya, a culture of stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities has led to pressure on families to give up their children to orphanages.
Naomi was adamant that she wouldn’t leave her son, and as a result, Bravin’s father abandoned them. Very soon, Naomi’s friends also distanced themselves from the family.
Isolated, emotionally overwhelmed, and realising that she couldn’t raise the money for Bravin’s therapy, Naomi spiralled into depression.
Fortunately, Naomi found the support she needed when a nurse introduced her to the Sense International Kenya team at her local health clinic.
Naomi says: “Meeting the Sense International Kenya team was a game-changer for me. The therapist at the clinic counselled me out of depression and helped me accept my son for the way he is”.
A support group which Naomi continues to attend, provides an environment for Naomi to meet with other mothers and share their experiences of raising their children.
For two and a half years, Bravin has benefitted from therapy, learning to explore his surroundings, and communicate with his mother. The family are also visited by a Sense International Kenya trained occupational therapist, who is supporting Bravin to learn how to walk without support.
Naomi says: “I could not have afforded his therapy or this support. If it were not for Sense International Kenya, Bravin would not be what he is today.
Three-year-old Charity holds her head up and begins to smile. Physiotherapy is improving her physical ability and movement, and now she has started speech therapy. Charity’s mother, Linet, smiles back at her child and begins to sing.
It was very different two and a half years ago shortly after Charity first started showing the signs that something was wrong with her body, when Linet felt alone and afraid.
A culture of stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities in parts of Kenya makes life difficult for families caring for disabled children. When Charity fell silent, her body stiff, and movement jerky, her father felt the family should give up their child to an orphanage.
Linet refused to give up on her daughter, but without access to medical professionals, she sought the help of local herbalists. They took her money, but weren’t able to make a difference to Charity.
A year and a half had passed. Most of her money had gone, but there was no improvement in Charity’s condition. Linet was desperate, and it was at this moment that she heard about a new clinic that was supporting families like hers.
Sense International Kenya’s team diagnosed Charity with cerebral palsy and partial blindness, and very quickly started a programme of specialist therapy.
“I am appreciative of the support Sense International has provided to my child. She has improved so much and the therapy sessions are so much fun,” says Linet.
Linet is proud of the progress her daughter is making and is finally beginning to look to the future with hope.
“We were heartbroken after learning that our baby was deaf and could not develop at the pace of other children.”
Sospeter was born deaf, with complex medical needs. The diagnosis left the parents desperate for answers, feeling alone, with no-one to support them.
Tabby, his mother says: “You are so desperate for answers, yet nobody has them, and it feels like the majority of people do not care.”
“Meeting the team at Sense International Kenya was the turning point for the family,” Tabby says. “They gave us a new hope and purpose for our baby.”
Sospeter’s parents were introduced to other families in a similar situation, and discovered that with the right support their son could enjoy a fulfilling life.
Through therapy, Sospeter has learnt to walk independently, feed himself, and communicate with his mother. Now, aged nearly four years, Sospeter continues to improve and his future looks bright.
Elly, his occupational therapist, says: “It is such a satisfaction watching a child improve and seeing their parents smile once more.”
In Kenya, children with deafblindness rarely get the support they need. Many will lead short, lonely lives, hidden away by parents who may not know how to support them and are fearful of the reaction of the local community.
Without support, these children will face a lifetime of loneliness and isolation, struggling with mobility and communication, unable to form the most basic connections with those around them.
Building on over 20 years of experience working with people with deafblindness, Sense International will transform lives by establishing sight and hearing tests for children in rural Kenya. Those children identified with deafblindness will be provided with vital support in the early, crucial years of their development.
Just £3.50 can cover the cost of testing one child in rural Kenya for sight and hearing impairments. That’s one sandwich from Subway! (other sandwich providers are available)
There is more information on the Sense Website on this specific appeal, the difference that your donations will make and other ways that you can contribute such as taking items to Sense Charity stores (after Christmas is the perfect time to have a clear out), but I really want to stress that every pound you donate becomes two until the 31st of March. This is the chance to double the difference you can genuinely make.
I have photos on my fridge to prove how lifechanging our support can be!