Vision Africa’s Special Needs Programme enables children with special needs to realise their potential, be valued by family and community and ensure they have dignity, opportunity and hope now and in the future. This is why the programme reaches out to support groups too as many parents of children with special needs hide them from public view as they are branded as curse and sometimes they are hidden from the society or even neglected.
In some cases there is ridicule from the community while sometimes members of the society come up with various reasons that they attribute to the cause of the child’s special needs, thus affecting the parents psychologically. Sometimes the extended family and friends may not understand the situation and resort to blaming the parents for not managing the behaviour of their child with severe special needs and thus the parents may decline to participate or attend family and community events. The family members may also feel that the child with special needs is taking a lot of attention or accorded special treatment.
Such barriers that result from social attitude can be addressed by community outreach programs that raise awareness and dismiss myths. These programmes include forums to address the issues and concerns affecting them, awareness of special needs, access to services, importance of family support, support groups and group therapies among others to create acceptance of these children rather than their parents relying on vague or inaccurate information from members of the society.
It is for this reason that Vision Africa has supported parents of children with special needs to form support groups. The programme has so far identified and reached out to a total of 44 (20 female) children with special needs through a pre-school programme out of which 30 parents have been guided to form or join a support group. As a result, a total of seven support groups were formed. The groups include Githumu, Kibereke, Naro, Sabasaba, Maragua, Makuyu, Engen and Kambiti. The groups meet once in a month with three out of the seven groups being very active. The three groups have been very influential to other parents as members have become ambassadors of change. The groups started with two or three members and later extended to a point where Kibereke group has ten members.
Activities of support groups include holding meetings to discuss underlying issues affecting them, their children and the community at large. The forums offer a platform to share experiences and refer each other for services such as donations. This gives them an opportunity to learn that they are not alone in their situations and their feelings are critical to a healthy attitude and the ability to cope and encourage each other. This has supported most of the families to overcome stigma/ignorance.
To facilitate the smooth delivery of activities, we employ creative methodologies to offer training sessions. So far the topics covered include; causes of special needs, parent’s reaction, parents support, daily living skills, positive parenting, child development, positive discipline, play therapy and life skills (self-awareness and self-esteem).
A total of 5 parents (2 from Kibereke and 3 from Githumu) have managed to access social protection support after joining the support groups. One member of Kibereke group always encourages new parents to be active members as this is the only forum to share their experiences.
As the Vision Africa Special Needs Programme Officer, my work is to ensure that children with special needs enjoy the rights and opportunities they deserve by closely working with their parents in support groups. Key to parents support group is long term sustainability to ensure that parents are able to support their children and support other parents through peer mentoring, fostering positive impact on the lives of their children. Vision Africa looks forward to empowering the support groups to become ambassadors of change where their children will reach their full potential and be self-reliant. Therefore the parents should focus on child’s strengths, gifts and talents to nurture activities at which the child excels.
There has been some fantastic feedback from parents participating in the groups:
“The support group has helped me to appreciate my son.I have realized that my son has the ability to achieve more than even other children with special needs.The support group has also reached to more parents and as a group we are able to refer and support each other to available services and support.” (Sinfrosa Karimi mother to Samuel who has cerebral palsy)
“The group reaches out to those unreached or without information. I have managed to follow up for my sons support from government fund on social protection after joining the support group.” (Purity Wangui mother to Zacharia)
“I have learnt how to play with my son and become the first teacher. This has improved his mobility and he is able to recognize me unlike before.” (Grace Muthoni mother to Brian)
To support our work with children with special needs, please check out our Ways To Give page.
Post by Alice Macharia, Special Needs Programme Officer