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Feb15ThuIn Kenya, Salvation Army schools and children’s homes are growing hope. February 15, 2018 by Major Brenda Murray and Major Donna BarthauPhoto: The Joytown Primary School in Thika provides education, vocational training and extra-curricular activities for children and youth with disabilities (Photos: Joel Johnson)
In Kenya, children with disabilities often have no access to treatment or education—many are confined to their homes, with no help, no hope. When a corps officer in the Bunyore Division, Kenya West Territory, learned of one such child, he approached the family to tell them about The Salvation Army’s Emuhondo Special School, which provides education, vocational training, physical therapy and extra-curricular activities for children and youth with disabilities. Today, the child is flourishing at the school, and has a bright future.
This is just one of the success stories we heard when we visited Kenya last year to see the ministries of the Army’s Brighter Futures children’s sponsorship program in action. We believe every child matters, and because of this we are actively involved in schools and children’s homes in many territories, caring for children who might otherwise be left behind. In Kenya, The Salvation Army was a pioneer in offering special education for children with disabilities. Former students are now contributing to their communities as farmers, carpenters, shop owners, shoemakers, teachers, elders, lawyers, nurses and government personnel.
Joytown and Joyland, two other schools for the physically disabled, are also “home” to children throughout the school year, a place they can grow socially, spiritually and relationally. Children with multiple disabilities find a caring and therapeutic environment in which to grow and learn to their individual capacity. When we visited, what impressed us most was the way children looked out for and helped each other. The children who could walk took responsibility for pushing their friends in wheelchairs as they moved from classroom, to dorm, to various activities. You could see how they—especially those who shared a room—had become extended family.
Schools for the visually impaired in Likoni, Thika and Kibos—from the east coast of Kenya to the western border of Lake Victoria—offer braille and teach independent living skills along with core subjects. They also provide a safe and secure environment for albino children who are at risk of being kidnapped by human traffickers. As we walked around Likoni, we spoke with various teachers, some of whom were also visually impaired, and caught some of their joy in helping children reach their fullest potential. We also saw the new computer lab in action and watched as the children learned how to use this equipment.
At the end of our day, we gathered together in the main hall, and the children sang. We can’t even begin to describe the joyous expressions, beautiful harmonies and excitement in the room. We were so proud of the children and their approach to life. Elizabeth, the school headmistress, was radiant and her personality infectious. Her joy ripples through the school at all levels— she believes in the children, and so they believe in themselves.
We also visited children’s homes in Mombasa and Nairobi, where orphans and vulnerable children are cared for and receive an education. They gain good health and hygiene habits, independent living skills and basic agricultural training, along with a spiritual foundation. After spending several days at the Mombasa Children’s Home filming for FUSE, our territorial youth initiative, we thought it would be nice to throw a pizza party. When the pizza arrived, each child was given their own box. Forty children sat in the dining room, but it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Happy smiles were all around, but the pizza was just too good to stop and talk. We were happy, too, to be part of the Mombasa family for a short time. We made another special memory at the children’s home in Nairobi. The students left early in the morning to go to school, all dressed in their school uniforms. At the end of the day, the routine included washing their clothes, shining their shoes, some time to play outside and then off for supper and organized homework time. We watched the way the house mothers interacted with the children, and how the children interacted with each other.
It always amazes me (Brenda) how the children help each other. As I sat on a chair watching the children play soccer, one little girl came into view. She was about three and had come to the children’s home only recently. A boy, not much older, joined her and the two played soccer, emulating the older children playing in the field. Suddenly we heard the sound of the supper bell and everyone scurried inside, leaving the little girl and me together. As we made our way into the home, her little hand reached up to take mine, and it was at this moment that I said a little prayer—Dear God, protect this child, keep her safe from harm, help her to know that she is precious in your sight and that she is loved.
This is our prayer for all the children in our homes and schools. We pray that we can provide skills and education that will carry them through life, help them to be independent and, ultimately, break the cycle of poverty. There are so many stories like these repeated every day as The Salvation Army globally seeks to care for children so no one is left behind.
Major Brenda Murray is the director of the world missions department. Major Donna Barthau is the sponsorship co-ordinator for the Brighter Futures children’s sponsorship program.