Jane Juma Ochola remembers being plagued with headaches in fourth grade and being completely blind within a week.
Ochola, who attended Hijiri Oda School for the Visually Impaired from 1988 to 1994, said, “My parents couldn’t accept it. My mother cried all the way until I entered this school. On the day she brought her here, she learned that there were many other visually impaired children.At first, she thought she was the only visually impaired child.
At a school run by the Franciscan Sisters of St. Anne, Ochola had to relearn basic skills such as how to move around independently, daily hygiene, and reading and writing Braille.
Today, Ochola is a teacher at St. Oda School. St Oda School is one of her six congregation-run institutions in Kenya that prioritize the education of children with disabilities.
“I really benefited from this school. They made me who I am,” she said. “Without them, I wouldn’t have been successful because I come from a very humble family.”
The Franciscan Congregation of St. Anne also operates St. Anthony Integrated School of Awasi, St. Joseph Nyangoma Nyangoma Technical Training School for the Deaf, St. Martín de Poles Special School for Learners with Cerebral Palsy, and St. Dymphna for the Disabled. I’m here. Niko Hauser Secondary School for the Disabled and Blind.
Located in Kisumu and Siaya counties, the schools also host children with special needs from neighboring countries such as Uganda.
“In many families, children with disabilities are hidden from people,” said Matilde Omondi, the regional director of the congregation in Kisumu. “They don’t get any attention. They grow up neglected and some even die. Many parents with such children don’t want them to go to school.”
According to the 2018 National Survey of Children with Disabilities and Special Needs in Education, children with disabilities make up about 11% of Kenya’s population, mostly coming from rural areas of the country. The study also found that both enrollment and dropout rates in this demographic were disproportionately high compared to healthy children.
For 50 years, the Congregation of St. Anne Francis of Kenya has been working to change this situation.
Senior Marcella Auma, administrator of St. Anthony Integrated School in Awasi, Kisumu County, is always on the move.
In addition to the typical pupils, the Franciscan Sisters of St. Anne have 37 children with disabilities, including those with physical disabilities, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other deaf and blind ( 7 to 20 years old) are in her care.
Some of these children can learn to do some tasks independently and even attend regular classes, while others are dependent on their parents around the clock. I’m here.
St. Anthony Awasi was established in 2014 as a comprehensive school for both disabled and non-disabled learners. According to Auma, this was a favorable factor for children with disabilities.
“Normal children love them, walk with them, move with them, feed them, talk to them,” she said. “This helps them out of loneliness.”
Four years after the Franciscan sisters arrived in Kenya from Holland, they teamed up with a missionary priest from Millhill. In 1962 John va de Ouderaa founded St. Mary’s School Nyangoma for the deaf. This school accepted hearing-impaired children from kindergarten age through 8th grade. (The sisters later helped found the Fr. Auderer Secondary School for the Deaf, in honor of the priest.)
“At that time, the sisters would go to the village to pick up deaf children. St. Joseph Technical Training Institute for the Deaf.
The school was established in 1965 to provide secondary education to deaf students.
“After completing primary education, they would go back to the same house and their parents would not evaluate them,” Mangiti said. ”
So the sisters realized they needed to start a vocational training center.
“We don’t just give such students courses to get them through the system,” Mangiti continued. We are giving them something that will enable them to acquire skills and make a living.”
Today, the institution not only accepts non-hearing students, but also students with other disabilities. It’s the natural environment,” Mangiti said.
there is a problem
One of the biggest challenges facing congregations is that most children with disabilities come from poor families and few can afford school fees.
Still, “we can’t send the child away,” Omondi said, adding that the sisters sometimes have to rely on support from donors and other institutions.
Another challenge is that the administration of some schools has been taken over by ordinary people who do not understand the vision of the institution intended by the congregation, Omondi said.
“Schools have become public, so we’re not entirely in charge. Some of us were being groomed to take over, but the requirements are changing, too.”
The congregation also works to overcome the stigma that children with disabilities face in their communities.
“In many homes, blind, deaf and lame people are hidden from people and not given any attention,” Omondi said. “Many parents of such children are reluctant to bring them to school.”
Charles Oyenya, a senior teacher at St. Oda, who is also blind, said Africans often “believe that disability comes with a curse. They believe, ‘This man must have been cursed.'” Told. Then they identified you as the blind mother, [that] You must have done something wrong. ”
In the past, schools held white cane days, schools introduced activities that blind people can do, such as cooking and cleaning, and then discussed educational practices for visually impaired children. Oda’s sponsors no longer fund this event.)
“At the time, we saw a lot of enrollments as a result, because there were a lot of people who realized they were blind and still kept their children at home,” he said. Oyienya said. take the kids to school. ”
student became teacher
Both Gabriel Okech and Ochola were St. Oda students turned teachers.
Okech joked that enrolling in the Hijiri Oda School for the Blind opened another door for him. He had lost his sight, so he said, “And they knew I couldn’t even ride a bike as a boda boda. [bicycle-taxi], so I had to study hard. ”
He and Ochola believe that being a teacher motivates students.
“Learners see us teaching well and want to be who we are today,” said Ochola.
Mangiti believes that every student can learn. “Some of our graduates are now teaching even deaf people since childhood, even in secondary schools.
“Parents should not write off their children.”