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Building capacity in rural Kenya to support kids with multisensory impairments

For Abdi, helping his young daughter Samira meant accessing Sense International’s services.
There is pain that comes with having a child with a disability, but that is not what I focus on. If I let myself think about it, I will start asking myself the ‘why’ question which would inhibit me from helping my baby, so instead I think about the future and focus on the positive.
Abdi, a Sense International parent in Kenya

Sense International provides screenings for visual and hearing impairments and early intervention for children with complex disabilities. Until Sense International expanded its services into two rural counties in eastern Kenya with support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), these services were not available there. A three-year project by the organization, which has offices around the world including in Kenya, has sought to build capacity at 44 health facilities in specific areas within Garissa and Kwale Counties.

45,158 kids in these counties have been screened for impairments, more than 100 children with complex disabilities there are receiving support from an occupational therapist, hundreds of health workers and community health volunteers have received training, and four occupational therapists working through the project are likely to be taken on by the county governments, helping ensure sustainability of the services they provide.

kids screened for impairments by Sense International in Kenya’s Garissa and Kwale counties
children with complex disabilities there receiving support from an occupational therapist
occupational therapists likely to be taken on by county governments, ensuring sustainability

Kombo, one of the occupational therapists who works with Sense International in Kenya, treats around 10 kids, following an individualized treatment regimen with each of them two or three times a week.

“We support a child from the moment they come in for a screening all the way to therapy,” he says. “During the screening we isolate their various difficulties through different tests. These involve eyesight, hearing, and speech (if applicable). After this we can give a diagnosis and develop a personalized program for them, and we can also give them referrals for medication depending on the case. In the sessions we work on their program, and I log detailed notes—carefully monitoring each case on their improvement.”

As she moves forward in her program, Samira is making progress. “She has developed her own way of speaking, says Abdi, “and even though others might not always be able to understand, as a household we understand what she means and we attribute these improvements to the therapy.”

While the primary focus is on serving kids, Kombo highlights the benefits to parents, particularly for their mental health. “We also have a phycological benefit on the parents as well, they see us as a beacon of hope,” he says. “Mothers usually go through a lot before they find us…. But we work with them, and we make a difference—this makes me happy. It is meaningful to me to be able to make a difference.”

“I am extremely grateful for what Sense is doing,” says Abdi. “I am not only witnessing the improvements of my own child but the improvements of all the children that come through the program. We come from a very humble background and if this was not a free service, we would not be able to afford it. It has not only opened a channel for people to seek help but also a channel of awareness about disability.”

Photo 1:Sense International client Samira with a guitar
Photo 2: Samira with her Sense International occupational therapist
Photo 3: Sense International occupational therapist Kombo meets with a client and parent
Photo 4: Sense International occupational therapist Kombo outside a hospital in Kenya’s Kwale County
Photo 5: A child receives a hearing screening
Photo 6: A child receives therapy at Msambweni Hospital
Photo 7: Parents in Msambweni, Kwale