When You Have A Disability

This week I’m going to share what it’s been like for Liz while living here and also what it’s like for other kids in Kenya with disabilities.

Liz is classified as being mildly mentally disabled, along with speech and language disorders. That means she can’t produce sounds correctly and she has trouble sharing her thoughts, ideas and feelings. There’s no known cause and at this stage, we’re not worried about that as much as where we head to in the future. We tell people that Lizzie has Aspergers, because she strongly exhibits many of the characteristics of the spectrum.

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If you want some examples, she didn’t learn to do her shoe laces until she was about 17 and to this day doesn’t have the finger strength to do them tightly. Liz struggles when it comes to understanding her left and right. When talking with her, you will notice she won’t look you in the eye and sometimes blurts out something that has nothing at all to do with the general conversation.

When people look at Liz today they have no clue of her (or her familys) journey to get her to this point. The endless tests, reports, requests for assistance, occupational therapy, speech therapy, special needs classes – it goes on and on.

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There were two critical times in her life that deeply impacted us. The first one was when we were informed of her ‘condition’. We were distraught, and in those days there wasn’t as much information at hand (think pre-internet). The other time was when she was a teenager and could see her sister doing all the normal things teen do (get a job, have friends and a great social life). Liz was depressed for quite a few months and it was awful to go through. But go we did. With some help of some amazing youth leaders, life came back into Liz.

Then we moved to Kenya.

It’s not easy for a kid like Liz to make friends here. She likes to wear jeans and a tee shirt, and a tee shirt and jeans. If she has to wear a dress you think you were sentencing her to jail. She won’t ever be able to drive. It’s unsafe for her to catch public transport. She can’t get to youth events during the week because it’s a 90 minute drive each way.

And her volunteering options are slim.

For the past 4 years Liz has been helping at a pre-school about a 5 minute drive away. When we returned from travelling they said they wanted her back. One week in they said they didn’t need her any more. Let’s think about that one, you don’t want free labour????

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Now we’re in the very long process of trying to find somewhere else for Liz to volunteer. It’s hard to convince people that her amazing personality is a bonus to their workplace. Give Liz the same role day in, day out and she handles it really well. Okay, she’s not great in a crisis situation, but thankfully that doesn’t happen very often.

Last week we took Liz to Riding for the Disabled. I was hoping it could be something Liz could volunteer at. It was also something she went to when she was small so it was good to give back. The kids who came were from a special needs school run by the government. These were severely disabled kids. When they were carried off the bus, they had to wait their turn by being put in a car seat. To me most looked like they had cerebral palsy. The teachers were amazingly patient with them and everyone worked together to get the kids their turn on the horses.

When I look at them I worried about their future. Unless you have money here then kids like this will end up staying at home by themselves and maybe a neighbor coming by to give them some food while the parents are out looking for work. They will be neglected and end up with more health problems because of a lack of money. Some will end up being abandoned.

There’s no government support for them, nothing at all.

On the side of the road you’ll see the odd person in a wheelchair or placed on the ground to beg. On a couple of the roads blind people and their carers will be there with a cup in their hands asking for some change from drivers. For most families though, disabled children are ignored, not given hope, and alas they don’t have much of a future if you don’t have money.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some compassionate people who are visionaries here in Kenya to transform the lives of children with disabilities. There’s a long way to go for these kids but at least it’s a start.

For Liz, her future is bright. I just hope the kids we see at places like RDA get the same chance.

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