Day for Persons with Disabilities

Happy #feelgoodfriday! Today we wanted to share about a celebration in our small Kenyan town which brought the community together to commemorate persons with disabilities and embrace the spirit of Ubuntu. More than 200 people marched on the streets from the bustling city center where our special needs school is located to the edge of town where Cafe UBUNTU sits nestled in the Great Rift Valley.

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"It was a truly eye opening experience when people turned up in high numbers at 9:00am at the Ubuntu offices on a Sunday morning. Everyone was so excited and energized - the marching band was ready and testing their instruments and when we began the walk the music filled the air, it was as if the entire Maai-Mahiu town came to life. It was so beautiful how people came out of their houses and shops to watch us. Many children danced to the tunes of the band without a care in the world as we marched past them and their families (this actually brought tears to my eyes).

People held out their hands to pick up the fliers we were handing out and everyone in town read the banner held in front which we boldly held high as the procession grew bigger every step we made. One thing’s for sure, the message got home.

"Today is the International Day for People with Disabilities."

It was humbling to see people who were obviously struggling to walk either by themselves or others carrying heavy children pushing themselves as we inched closer and closer to our destination. But nevertheless there was laughter and excitement - the walk had brought everyone closer. For those few hours, everyone put aside their pain and their struggles - we were connected as humanity, as people. It was beautiful.

As we finally reached Cafe Ubuntu you could feel the pride in everyone’s heart for pushing themselves to participate in something bigger than all of us. We culminated the day with words from Jeremiah Kuria (Ubuntu Co-Founder and Kenya Director), Mr. Kinyanjui (chairman of the Maai-Mahiu group of people with physical challenges) and our local Chief representing the government. Hefty issues affecting people with disabilities were discussed but the day came to a close with the same energy we had at the beginning with everyone visibly satisfied with what they’d done for that day.

It was truly a beautiful day."

- Kelvin Chege, Ubuntu Occupational Therapist

Ubuntu Water Dads: Meet Peter

Ubuntu Made is not the only enterprise that helps to fund the Foundations programs and provides empowered jobs in Maai Mahiu. In 2008 one of Ubuntu's employees in Kenya came up with the idea to start bottling water to provide additional revenue and to gain access to reliable clean water for our programs and families in need. We researched natural source points, piping, purification, and packaging. Then with generous funding from donors across the world, we tapped into a nearby well and Ubuntu Water became a reality and has been steadily growing ever since.

One unexpected benefit of the Ubuntu Water program is that we now not only employ mums at Ubuntu - now we have Ubuntu dads on board!

MEET CALEB'S DAD

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Peter Munyingi is the proud father of 5 children, but as with many in our small rural community, he was struggling to make ends meet and provide even the basic necessities such as food for his family. Through his employment at Ubuntu Water, Peter now has the ability to see his family thrive thanks to a steady income, health care, employee benefits such as financial training, and of course access to clean reliable water.

On top of all of that, Caleb's mother is able to take more dedicated care of his younger siblings because she is not walking to the quarry to look for casual jobs to help her husband make ends meet. This means Caleb is now able to attend school every single day - he is one of our star students with perfect attendance almost every week and has benefited immensely from the additional time with our family of occupational therapists and teachers.

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Ubuntu Water has a positive effect across all of the Ubuntu departments, from creating empowered jobs for community members and parents of our students to providing clean water to our offices and Cafe Ubuntu. Even more critically, this clean, reliable source of water is used at all of the Ubuntu Heal medical camps. It is not a secret that there is a water and sanitation crisis in Kenya. More than half of the population of the entire country relies on unimproved water sources, and even more use unimproved sanitation solutions and store water in open barrels, leading to breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

At Ubuntu our hearts are always full, empowered by the strength of our community and the generosity of those who not only understand our vision of committing to this community in an 'inch wide, mile deep' approach but who invest in it and allow us to provide sustainable, scalable growth of our programs and our impact. Caleb's father is a great example of why Ubuntu Water is not just a water bottling enterprise - it empowers the community to thrive, provides the lifeblood of health in our pediatric programs which effect over 300 special needs children and their families, and creates meaningful jobs. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this idea a reality - we cannot wait to share with you as we grow the enterprise and our impact.

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Ubuntu Mum Makers: Meet Josephine

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Avery Parducci / HungerFree Quarterly
Before the opening of the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre, special needs children in Maai Mahiu were unable to receive an education and their mothers would care for them during the day. Once built, these grateful mothers had more time but lacked skill training and faced stigma in the community. They wanted to use their free time to earn money to support their family. Through listening to people in the community, we realized the next step was helping with skills and employment. This was the start of Ubuntu Made. Beginning with ten mothers, they learnt to sew. Two years later, after partnering with Whole Foods Market, these women were selling high-quality products to customers around the world. Suddenly, these women were no longer outcasts; they have a voice in their families and in their communities. In addition to being able to feed their children, many of the founding women have created their own side businesses, with others in the community coming to them for employment opportunities.

When Josephine’s daughter, Abigail, was born, she had a deformity. Abigail was born missing an arm. “It caused a lot of chaos in the family,” says Josephine, “it created a kind of blame game with my husband.” At the age of two, Abigail was enrolled into Ubuntu’s Special Needs Center. Shortly after, Josephine was one of the first mothers to begin working with Ubuntu. Learning how to sew was not easy at first. She says that nine out of ten of the products she made were rejected, not good enough to be sold. But she quickly progressed in her skills.
Life for Josephine and her family has changed significantly since she started with Ubuntu in 2008. Their family has reliable income, providing food for the family and allowing her children to go to school. They bought land and built a house. Outside of her work at Ubuntu Made, Josephine purchased a sewing machine and sews in the evenings and weekends, creating school bags which she sells to other families in the community.

Since at first she did not experience seeing other kids with disabilities, it took Josephine a while to accept Abigail’s condition. Through working at Ubuntu, Josephine has connected with other parents of children with disabilities. They share and learn from one another. Ubuntu has given a good image to the community on disability and a reflection on one-ness, working with the mums and kids no one else would accept.

Josephine says she has learned lots of things in her nearly ten years with Ubuntu. She knows now that she has something to share with her community. While she came in knowing nothing about sewing, Josephine is now able to train other people in the community, sharing her knowledge, skills and experiences with the other mothers. “We always say ubuntu, and we say that it means ‘I am because we are,” says Josephine,

“I need you and you need me, and that’s why we are working together. We need each other besides our differences and our families. We are one and we need each other to survive.”

I am Because We Are: A Letter from Beth Hadi

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I have been a pediatric critical care nurse for over 15 years, and have had the privilege of working as an Ubuntu HEAL volunteer since hearing about the organization in 2010.  I became a nurse to help vulnerable children and those who were too sick to care for themselves.  I wanted to serve in underserved communities here in the US and Africa.  I wasn’t sure how to start in another country, so I began searching for organizations involved in Africa in local communities. 

I researched and worked with different global health organizations over a period of a few years.  I could not find one that had health as a primary focus or that focused on sustainable projects.  I was discouraged and put the idea on hold until I was invited to listen to a presentation explaining an organization that was looking for medical partners to help with their “inch wide, mile deep” concept.  It was there where I met Zane Wilemon and hearing him speak about the history of CTC International (CTC, now Ubuntu) was what I had been looking for. 
 
After a few conversations with the CTC team, I joined a needs assessment medical team going to Maai Mahiu in May 2011.  It was there where my entire life changed.  The team assessed well over 600 patients in 4 days.  The patients were all ages, from different tribes, and with many different needs.  It was our first time holding a clinic, and we did not have everything needed to care for most of the issues we encountered.  The feeling was overwhelming.  I know some were discouraged but the love I witnessed from the people in Maai Mahiu completely inspired me.
 
Since the 2011 trip, Ubuntu HEAL has formed and has had twenty medical teams from Austin, TX go to Maai Mahiu specializing in pediatrics and pediatric sub-specialty care.  We have children with complex chronic diseases who are managed well by these teams along with follow-up care from the Ubuntu Community Health Workers (CHWs).  The CHWs tireless dedication and passion focused on providing excellence in pediatric care is incredible. 
 
Ubuntu HEAL has had pediatric neurology, cardiology, dermatology, infectious disease, and emergency medicine sub-specialties in Maai Mahiu, Kenya.  Many families travel from all over Kenya to come to the clinics.  Providers from outlying hospitals now refer kids to these clinics.  So an area that did not have pediatric care is now leading the area with pediatric sub-specialties.
 
I have had the honor of witnessing our patients do amazing things.  Some who could not walk due to their condition are now walking.  Kids who have had seizures every single day for years have become seizure free.  Kids who could not talk are now talking, and kids who could not go to school because of their condition are attending because they now have their disease under control.
 
As a volunteer for Ubuntu HEAL, I am privileged to have worked with so many wonderful people in Kenya.  These experiences and people have strengthened my faith, helped me become a better mom, and have improved the way I practice as a nurse.  Ubuntu has changed my life and I am forever grateful.

Older and Wiser: A Reflection on 15 Years from Jeremiah

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It’s hard to imagine that 15 years have passed while working for Ubuntu and doing community work.  There are lots of great memories of all that has happened in our lives and within the community. 

I met with Zane when I was just a simple soul working hard to improve the lives of 140 children in an orphanage.  He noticed me but my face was too preoccupied with the overwhelming need of the children that I was serving.  Zane was touched by the poverty and wanted to come again and learn and also explore ideas of how to help.  I am so glad we have kept the friendship going strong and have continued to do lots of good things together. Although I refer to him as a tick that grabs and never leaves yet we have enjoyed the ride together. 

When you care about humanity and a community that is struggling to make ends meet, the desire is always to make a difference in your own small way. 

Zane and I decided to have lunch every week and we did for a whole year.  The rest of the story is what we are celebrating now. 

We learned about each other and also learned about the community culture and needs. 

We knew we were going to do something and also wanted to do it right. We tried many things and I can say in 15 years we have done it, we have succeeded and we have also failed enough times. We have felt the pain and the challenging side of doing community work.  We have almost shut down the company for lack of resources, but one thing has been very clear and convincing without a doubt.  That all the lives we have touched and impacted are worth every dime we have spent.   We have learned that we are all connected and there is need for everyone to do their part. 

As a result of staying true to the call, fifteen years later, many children have gone to school and have successfully graduated, many lives have been saved through our health care program, many families have acquired property and now have a place to call home while many others have started side businesses as they work for Ubuntu. 

We have seen company growth and also personal growth on all our staff.  We have witnessed needs being met from the very basic need of food and shelter, to greater needs being met of self esteem and a sense of belonging. It has been a joyful ride despite all the challenges. 

Our program for children with special needs continue to be a winner in every aspect.  Children are now living with dignity and receiving training and support to run their lives independently.  The kind of transformation we have seen in some of our children is incomparable. The moms have a great self esteem and huge appreciation of the efforts to appreciate the special gifts of children who they had always considered as a curse. And not to mention that due to consistent income, the moms have a voice in family decisions, something that was only a dream is now a reality to many. 

I am thankful to God for the far he has brought us and I am thankful to many Tribe members and friends of Ubuntu that have stayed faithful from the very beginning until now. For all your love and sharing of your resources with us, we say God bless you abundantly. 

There are many more families who are still in need of a hand to be able to do and live as expected. They need the love, care and the opportunities that will improve their lives. 

I urge our Tribe members to stay the course and continue to be our ambassadors of the good work going on here. 

Thank you all and Asante Sana. 

I have grown older and definitely wiser. 

God bless!