Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guest Post: Love for the children of Kenya


The following post was written by a friend of mine who started Kupenda for the Children, it is based in Kenya and it's purpose is "to enable children with disabilities to achieve their God-given potential.  Ultimately we want them to understand, along with their families and communities, that they have value and are deserving of love." (Purpose statement taken from their website:  www.kupenda.org.)
 

When I first met Holly over 11 years ago, I was trying to get friends and family to support a few children with disabilities in Kenya with educational assistance.  This was just something I did while working full time as a wildlife biologist.  I didn’t really expect it to be a registered organization both in Kenya and in the U.S. called Kupenda for the children.  I now am the full time executive director and we support about 600 children with disabilities on the coast of Kenya through advocacy, medical intervention and education.  Kupenda is Swahili for love.  We are called this because children with disabilities need love more than anything else.  These children are often abandoned, neglected, abused or even murdered because of their disability.  Therefore we want these children to be loved and enable them to reach their God given potential.  


Cindy with a group of students and children Kupenda serves.

We have several Kupenda staff members who run things in Kenya including physical/occupational therapists, teachers, director and social workers.  All are Kenyan and amazingly hard workers.   I travel there twice a year for a couple weeks at a time but my job is to tell the stories of these amazing children, develop the organization and ensure we have funding for our operations.  I do nothing in Kenya without the approval of the board of directors in Kenya.  This is sometimes challenging but I believe it is important to empower the local community to take care of their own children.  If I was a constant presence I think there would be an increased dependence on foreign assistance.  Of course there are challenges with this method as well but we are seeing an increase in local support which I think is more successful in the long run…like a crash diet verses a slower life style change that will last. 
When we met many parents of the children we support they wanted to rid themselves of their children entirely...some asking Kupenda to take them.  We’ve had some volunteers and supporters ask us if we would ever consider having some of these children adopted, which just gives me an incredible sense of anxiety.  Foreign adoption of these children sounds like a good idea. They would get a loving family, access to amazing resources for their special needs and so much more.  However the attitude towards people with disabilities in this Kenyan community would not change.  If we facilitated a foreign adoption of even one child with a disability, I predict we would have families lining up at our office doors with their kids’ bags packed so that they could be relieved of the “burden” of care for their own children.  We would be creating just one more way for these children to be eliminated from Kenyan society.  

The class consisting of pastors and parents of children with special needs plus a couple community leaders that had already shown initiative in the area of disability, so that they can speak into their communities. 
 
Kupenda has some overlapping objectives to Reeds of Hope though we do not work with orphans in particular (some are but most are not).  Many of the children we support attend special needs boarding facilities where they live except for school breaks. While at school they get three meals a day, proper education, therapy, and health services.  We also work with the parents/guardians of these children to encourage them to be more involved in their children’s lives.  Kupenda leads many outreach activities and the families see how much their children are benefitting from schooling.  Many are now contributing what they can to their children’s needs and showing much more involvement in their children’s lives.  Some parents have started support groups for other parents of children with disabilities.  One father literally walks throughout the rural villages (very difficult for our small staff to reach) looking for other families with children who have disabilities telling them about their value and where they should go to school.  Additionally, local churches have started programs to reach out to the communities of the children we support to teach the biblical responsibility to care for them.  We are seeing giant changes in community attitude and quality of life for these beautiful children because we did not remove them from their society.  

A recent photo from a church service in a church that was one of the very first churches Kupenda worked at to try to change atitudes and hearts towards children with disabilities. 
I’m not against foreign adoption.  I speak as someone who is a very strong supporter of it especially since my little sister is adopted from the Philippines.  There are many children who are in need of loving homes because of abandonment, death, or many other reasons that their birth parents/families/communities are unable to care for them.  However, we need to be sure that, whenever possible, we help families to properly care for their own children.  When it is not the only option, I think that removing children with disabilities from their families for a “better life” would ultimately be a detriment for their society and for the children themselves.
This little girl's family was sad that she was never going to be able to carry water.  Cindy showed the family it could be done.

Thanks for letting me share a little with you all.  I am grateful for Holly and all that she is.  Keep up the great work! 
Cindy

If you are interested in learning more about the amazing work being done through Kupenda in Kenya, check out www.kupenda.org.  Consider sponsoring a child or just giving to their general fund.   Their website is full of stories of hearts changed and love shown to children that were previously rejected.  The model of Kenyans leading the way and going out into their ccommunities is also inspiring as well.  

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