Letter from the Co-Founder: Jeremiah Kuria

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I have attended a few fundraising dinners but never one organised by me.  It was daunting task - hosting for the first time with lots of unfamiliar territories to be covered, but we are glad we did! Kenyans are generally generous even though supporting charities is still new for many here.  Not to mention that the pool of philanthropists in Kenya is still small compared to the needs that face the country.  Giving fellow Kenyans an opportunity to support and give to Ubuntu Kids was a great task and we got a good number of friends who came through to support us.  Thank you friends for your love and support. 

We have served children with special needs for 9 years now.  Over 34 children have successfully been transitioned to programs where they can unlock whatever potential they may have.  For some, it is something as basic dressing independently, while others like Ruth with lots of physical challenges and has to walk with support continue to nurture the dream of becoming a doctor.  Ruth is a smart girl and our pride and can't wait to see her mental ability serve our country as a doctor. Currently the Ubuntu kids program is serving over 50 children under our care and the number could be bigger if we had the capacity.

Talking to a parent of a child with special needs in Kenya only gives you a glimpse of the huge responsibility and the many challenges that a family with no resources faces. We continue to struggle with stigma around disability and many children continue to languish in the dark as they are hidden from the community. For some it's the rejection that they face, while others its the shame and financial burden they have to carry of this child who nobody knows what to do with.

It has been a great joy to serve these little angels at our Ubuntu Special Needs Centre.  The Centre continues to be a source of hope and joy to many and continues offer great services that are so much needed.  

Until Friday, we had not had a rallying moment to give our Kenyan philanthropists an opportunity to help with this need. We met with the Kenya Ubuntu team and agreed that July 14th would be an amazing date to bring friends together and do our first fundraiser.  We had a great night, delicious dinner, wonderful music and the best ambiance possible. 

In our preparations for the day, we reached out to as many people as we could and talked to many friends and companies that we thought would be willing to join us. It was a great joy to be able to connect all the efforts of Ubuntu to these friends, and some have now committed to become partners.  The benefits of these fundraising efforts are more than the finances we received.   We raised awareness of our work and made friends and partners with people who had not known that Ubuntu Kids program exists. We have enjoyed the generosity of our Kenyan partners and will keep growing the donors and partners list in preparation for next years event.

What a joy it was to receive a huge support from our international friends. Our board members, our Tribe members, and even Ubuntu family members.  Amazing response to our request! I want to thank all of you who joined and supported our efforts to support these vulnerable children.  We promise to keep you updated regularly on the progress of our Ubuntu kids and continue to give opportunities of supporting as the needs arises.

Lets #liveubuntu

Ubuntu: I am: We are

Thanks and God bless

Jeremiah Kuria, 
UBUNTU Co - Founder and Kenya Director

Honoring Fathers and Family

On Father's Day, we honor all fathers and those who act as fathers. This year we asked Kelvin Chege, our occupational therapist at the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre (SNC), to tell us about his experience with the family of children at the SNC. As an individual who cares for these amazing kids with limitless potential and who helps restore hope to dejected families, we consider him an honorary Ubuntu father.

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The Journey to parenthood here, (Maai-Mahiu, Kenya) as with other cultures is always held with so much joy and expectation. When a couple is expecting a child, the society too expects with them. The hope is always to have a beautiful healthy baby who will carry on the family legacy while making a life for themselves.

Sometimes, this does not happen and the child arrives a little ‘different’ than had been hoped. Sometimes they arrive healthy but certain circumstances later make them ‘different’.
Having a child with disabilities in a rural setting such as ours (Maai-Mahiu, Kenya) can be one of the most daunting experiences there are to parents.

Parents have found themselves disoriented, alone, without a clue of where or whom to turn to or maybe even thrown to a point of despair. They find themselves, by no fault of their making, neither by choice, in new territory, none that they had ever seen or imagined. A once bright and hopeful future now becomes bleak, dark and unpromising. The society that had at one time hoped and expected with them now turn their backs, ostracize and even shame them ,breaking them down even more.

My name is Kelvin, an Occupational Therapist working with Ubuntu Kids Centre, a centre dedicated to kids with special needs and their families in our Maai-Mahiu community.
In my daily encounter with these kids and their parents, I have listened to numerous parents express how our centre has influenced them; taking them from a point of desolation to a point of purpose.

They have said:
- They were shunned by the society for having a differently abled child.
- They were denied work opportunities because of the strain raising their special child had on their productivity.
- They didn’t know how to accept their new status.
- They didn’t know how to properly handle and raise their special child.
- They didn’t know how to get back their joy and life purpose.
- They witnessed their own family dynamics crumble just because of the new special family member.

On the other side they said,
- Our Centre had renewed their strength and given them a new spirit in handling the change as a result of joining the psychosocial support groups that we organized.
- By providing the therapy services, individualized education programs, daily living skills training and social inclusion opportunities to their children, they had witnessed firsthand just how unfair  it was to set limits for their children’s abilities.
- They participated in numerous workshops that gave them capacity to communicate, feed, educate, and nurture their children to their full potential, the dream that every other parent has.
- They have learned how to be entrepreneurial hence self reliant in economically supporting the needs of their child with special needs and their families.
- Our Centre was a beacon of hope even for their kids self esteem. They felt appreciated even for the little stuff. Nobody here cared whether you wanted to be a pilot when you grew up, we cared that you were comfortable enough to hold a spoon and successfully take it to your mouth even if a little food spilled back to the plate.
- By joining our centre, they feel like they became part of one big family.

Ubuntu Kids Centre is growing even more and we are looking to reach even more kids.
We aim at creating a bigger impact on the lives of kids with special needs and their families in our area and beyond."

Human Centered Design: The Ubuntu User Experience

Early in 2017, Ubuntu became a finalist in a challenge put forth by IDEO.org with the goal of using Human Centered Design to fuel a global effort to increase understanding around disability and inclusion. Their call to action was to answer a question central to the mission of the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre – ‘how might we reduce stigma and increase opportunities for people with disabilities?’ They reviewed 480 proposals, fueled by participation from all 27 eligible countries around the world. Of these proposals, the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre was chosen as one of 84 finalists to move on to the next phase.

What is Human Centered Design?

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with innovative solutions that further your goals to assist with their needs. It is all about building empathy for this end-user, generating new ideas and ways of thinking, evolving your approach, building upon your idea, and eventually putting this new solution into place which is truly rooted in people’s actual needs.

The Ubuntu SNC User Experience

A tenet of human-centered design is truly understanding your end users and the community your product or service aims to serve. As a part of this challenge, Ubuntu was tasked with creating a User Experience Map. This process allowed us to break our concept of the SNC experience into bite-sized pieces – to visualize the end-to-end experience a child might have with the Centre over time.

Meet Prince

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Prince is an example of a child who would benefit from the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre. He has suffered from cerebral palsy and grand mal seizures since he was born. Both have limited his mobility and muscle development preventing him from being able to walk. Due to his disabilities, he has been unable to attend school or socially integrate with his community. His mother is unable to secure full time employment and rarely leaves home due to Prince’s around-the-clock needs.

When she does, she is the target of stigma and abuse from members of the community lacking an understanding of PWDs. The family is therefore restricted financially, socially, and physically - unsure of where to turn.

The Awareness Phase

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Prince’s family learns about the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre (SNC) when they see information about the project on the back of an Ubuntu water bottle. They also hear from neighbors about community events at the Centre geared towards awareness and inclusion of children with disabilities. The family now has an anonymous hotline number, email address, website, and an awareness of Ubuntu’s presence locally.

Initial Contact and Counsel

Prince’s family reaches out to the SNC staff by calling the discrete phone number listed on the back of the water bottle. They speak to an SNC staff member who assesses Prince’s disabilities and needs, explains how the program can help, connects them to key resources, signs them up for the next medical clinic, and sets an appointment for Prince to visit the Centre.

Assessment and Care

Prince’s family visits the SNC and enrolls him in the full-time classroom program. The SNC staff creates a specialized plan to tackle his physical issues associated with cerebral palsy, educational gaps from inability to attend school, and social development needs. The staff keeps his family involved in the process so that even at-home the biggest roadblocks are being removed.

Medical Clinic Visit

Prince attends an Ubuntu medical clinic to identify the long term cause and severity of his disabilities. He is started on medication for his ongoing seizures which would otherwise significantly impede any progress. His treatment is tracked in the medical clinic database to inform monthly care from a local pediatrician.

Independence and Life Skills

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Prince attends classes 5 times a week, gaining confidence and engaging in life skills trainings with his peers. He learns everything from hygiene basics to social training, all centered on peak performance instead of perfection. Through individual sessions with an Ubuntu occupational therapist, Prince increases mobility to the point where he can walk for the first time in his life.

The Socialization Phase

Prince builds comfort interacting with SNC peers and the Ubuntu community. Through social inclusion events he also feels comfortable with other children and in seeking help from adults when necessary.

As he develops physically and socially he is prepared to join the mainstream school curriculum and the gradual integration process is started working alongside local teachers.

Final Phase: Advocacy and Employment

Years later, Prince has successfully integrated into and graduated from a mainstream school. He is able to secure a job with one of Ubuntu’s many business partners and is now an advocate for PWDs and an example to the community of what intervention programs can accomplish. As he attends SNC events alongside other program graduates, he helps his community to better understand disabilities and reduce associated stigma.

What’s Next?

The process has been enlightening for our team in considering how to adjust our programs and how to gain feedback from our beneficiaries more effectively. The nature of the Centre's work has required us to actively collect feedback from our beneficiaries and the community but not with the specificity provided by focusing individually on each step of our user experience. This level of focus unlocked valuable feedback on how to amplify the impact of the Centre beyond our classroom and at-home work. The families we surveyed expressed a need for even more points of interaction between the Centre's team and the community so as to make it easier for them to reach out. 

Some goals we hope to set as a result of this challenge:

  • Grow our events and create an additional education event targeting siblings of special needs children
  • Increase our initial consult capacities by way of providing greater points of contact and allowing anonymous call in consultations via a hotline
  • Grow our at-home treatment capacities

We look forward to sharing what we learn from the Disability and Inclusion Challenge and how the process will help guide our understanding of the community that we serve, children that we work with, and the service that we provide.

Happy Mother's Day!

 

The generosity, comradery, and zest for life that epitomizes our Ubuntu community were instilled by the amazing women in our lives that taught us to love, care for others, and never take ourselves too seriously. Here's to all the mother figures in our lives!

I am humorous because my mother made me laugh at the silly things at home.
— -Veronica Njuguna, Community Health Worker-
I am a writer, because my mom taught me how to be a good storyteller.
— -Tribe member, Eric Webber on LaNelle Webber-
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I am open minded because my mother showed me how to be quick to forgiveness and acceptance.
— - Sarah Schroller, Ubuntu Made Intern -
I am a good listener because my mother, Naomi, taught me how to be attentive when others are talking.
— - Esther Mwangi, Ubuntu Made Mum
I am a loving mother because my mother, Esther, loved me unconditionally.
— - Emily Akoth, Ubuntu Made Mum
I am humble because my mom showed me how much fun it was to laugh at myself.
— - Valerie Cox on Betsy Henderson, Tribe Members -
I am patient because my mother, Hannah Njeri, taught me how to tolerate others.
— -Teresiah Nyokabi, Ubuntu Made Mum-
I am a good mother to my children because I learned motherhood tips from my mother.
— - Aidah Ngina, Community Health Worker-
I am a much better person, citizen, and friend because my mom, through her words and actions, taught me to:
never hate no matter the situation or the person,
recognize and accept people for who they are,
lend an empathetic ear to those who need it most, and
always greet others with a genuine and sincere smile.
My respected and beloved mom, Martha Lee Melonson; may she rest in peace and guide us all to be better people.
— -DJ Melonson, Tribe Member-
I am a keen follower because my mother, Lucy, taught me how to pay attention.
— -Beatrice Nduta, Ubunti Made Procurement & Inventory Manager-
I am a God fearing woman because my mother raised me and instilled Christian values in me.
— -Maggy Wairigia, Finance Clerk-
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I am a believer in love’s ability to conquer all because my Mother’s life is a testament to how much happiness one person can create for those around them when they truly open their heart to the world.
— -Damon Hartye on Mary Anne Hartye, Tribe Members-

Ubuntu Kids - Spreading the Love

Ubuntu Kids, previously Malaika Kids, was one of our first programs and is a cornerstone at the heart of our organization. When we first came to Maai Mahiu, we found a community of children with special needs and their mothers being mistreated and secluded. We created the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre to combat this stigma and injustice by providing therapy, education, and vocational training to youth with special needs in the region.

In order for the children at the Centre to become independent, they require a combination of therapy and holistic education not available in regular schools. We, therefore, provide our students with physical therapy and rehabilitation (in our classrooms and at home) as well as an individualized education program that includes daily living, social interaction and communication skills. We also provide training for the parents and families of children with special needs on how to understand their needs, access the resources that are available to them and combat the daily stress of stigma.

Sadly, it is estimated that 1.3 million Kenyan children, between the ages of 1-19, suffer from developmental impairment. Over 100,000 children with special needs are out of school due to a lack of disability friendly facilities, an unfortunate reality that prevents more than 70% of children with disabilities from becoming literate. To expand our reach across Kenya and to combat stigma, we focus first on tackling the lack of understanding surrounding special needs through our social inclusion and community awareness events.  On the national level, our team also pursues advocacy and political action surrounding disability awareness, rights, and services. 

Our impact has blossomed in the community and our capacity continues to expand. We currently serve over 280 children with a variety of special needs through our full-time classrooms, at-home visits, and specialty medical clinics.

Our impact has blossomed in the community and our capacity continues to expand. We currently serve over 280 children with a variety of special needs through our full-time classrooms, at-home visits, and specialty medical clinics.

The kids at Ubuntu are a shining example of what proper intervention can accomplish for children that are otherwise written off. Three graduates have secured full-time employment with Ubuntu's enterprise programs. Last year three others transitioned to vocational training and five students graduated from our program able to join their peers at mainstream schools. As these numbers grow each year, we infuse our communities with a belief and an understanding that disability does not mean inability.

We deeply believe that investing in these children is not only about their dignity, it is about the health and potential of the entire region. The only way that we can all truly move forward is as a healthy and whole community that accounts for everyone. By providing an example of what resources like the Centre can accomplish and advocating for those who don't have a voice, we are living into this belief and making our communities whole again. Please join us in spreading love and strengthening communities holistically throughout Kenya.