Canadians Give Kenyan Children a New Lease on Life

— Kelsey Waisanen implementing rehabilitation techniques through play.

A Canadian team has forever changed the lives of some Kenyan children with disabilities.

A Better World Canada organized a rehabilitation team consisting of four physiotherapists (including a pediatric therapist) plus two occupational therapists to visit project sites in November 2014. They hailed from Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Alberta.

Eric Rajah, co-founder of the volunteer-run, international development organization governed by Lacombe’s College Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church, said the team created some “very touching experiences.” He recalled when two children were given an important educational tool, thanks to the creativity of the therapists. Both boys have no use of their limbs and live at Ndanai Small Home for the Physically Challenged in Ndanai.

Karen Leung, a physiotherapist from Lacombe with 35 years’ experience, visited the boarding school previously, so she was familiar with Jefferson, a boy of about 12. “He’s like a person in a body that doesn’t work—he can write with one toe, but that’s all he can do,” said Leung, a member of the Lacombe church. “He can’t push a wheelchair.”

The therapists were keen to see Jefferson use a computer. Their idea involved an old headlamp with the light removed. “It had a gear in front that moves a little bit,” said Leung. “They fixed it up with an old dowel and attached it to Jefferson’s head.”

Jefferson touched the computer keys using the dowel. He immediately began to write about his life story. “He took to it so quickly and was so thrilled to be on the computer,” said Leung. “It opened up another opportunity for him to be able to do something in the future.”

The other boy, Nickson, was set up in the same way. A computer teacher from another school will teach the boys on a voluntary basis for a one-year period, said Leung.

The therapists treated 35 children living at the Ndanai boarding school. They also organized a week-long clinic at Ndanai for about 23 families of young children with disabilities. Parents learned how to move their children, many of whom have spina bifida, so they can become more independent.

“We sent instructions home with the mothers, mostly in picture form,” said Leung. “It was a great way for parents to come and say, ‘We need help,’ because so much of the attitude is that there is nothing that can be done for these children.”

The team visited two other ABW-sponsored schools where children with disabilities live: Nyamonye Small Home school in Nyamonye and the Nyaburi school in Kendu Bay. The team held one- or two-day clinics in both places. Staff learned from the Canadian team. Equipment was given away, including walkers made from PVC pipe purchased in Kenya. “The goal was to teach some of the local people how to make these walkers; . . . it’s easy to do using local materials,” said Leung.

Although numerous therapists have travelled with A Better World, this was the first time a focused rehabilitation team trip was organized, she added.

She’d like to see the team of therapists expand to include speech-language pathologists as well as nurses to teach health. “Having a variety of people looking at different areas makes it more wholistic,” said Leung. The team also worked with Kenyan therapists and encouraged them, she added.