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A project by Jiwakilishe Youth Disability Group is giving people living with intellectual handicaps a chance to nurture their talent and become financially independent

People living with various forms of disabilities face stigma and are viewed as a financial burden to their families. With an estimated three per cent of the total population in Kenya living with some form of intellectual disability, the social and economic burden to the affected families can prove to be a real challenge.

A new initiative that is tapping into the intellectual and creative abilities of people living with disabilities is opening up a world of opportunities and changing perceptions.

Jiwakilishe Youth Disability Group, which works under the aegis of the Kenya Association of the Intellectually Handicapped, has been seeking, since 2011 to raise intellectually disabled people to become independent individuals who can use their skills to serve the community.

Kaih’s trainer and support person, Sarah Njeru says for the past four years eight people with different forms of disabilities have been trained in barber work, hairdressing and beauty, baking, beadwork, photography, batiks, tailoring, budgeting and on human rights.

“Kaih’s main goal is to foster a positive attitude about intellectual disability. One of our functions is to train on human rights, utilising guidelines stipulated by United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” Njeru said.

The non-governmental organisation acts as a link to parents and helps them get funding from the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD). They also distribute wheelchairs and offer legal advice to those affected. To support this initiative, NCPD issues cards to persons with intellectual disability, providing exemptions on certain taxations.

Sarah Njeru,  a trainer at the Kenya Association of the Intellectually Handicapped
Sarah Njeru, a trainer at the Kenya Association of the Intellectually Handicapped

This provision is also made for persons with disability, who run small businesses. The card enables them to get cash transfers for funds disbursed through the government.

On September 8, Jiwakilishe Youth Disability Group will showcase their photography and beadwork at Tangaza College in Karen. Kaih has partnered with Open Society Initiative for East Africa, which consists mainly of human rights lawyers.

The exhibition, in conjunction with Kenya IDAY, an organisation supporting education in Africa and Tangaza University College will highlight the need for affordable health services and an inclusive education system in Kenya for self-advocates, another name for persons with intellectual disability.

It will also push for some form of certification for people who go through the initiative because currently none exists. Kaih seeks to offer an alternative solution after the four years of formal training, through vocational programmes to impart skills and nurture talent and to offer them a sense of independence and inclusivity.

The main agenda in showcasing their abilities is to prove that persons with intellectual disability can get employment and be useful to society.

Njeru adds: “They can and should earn an income from their work. The exhibitions will be held in different places since Kaih works both in diverse rural and urban settings, including Meru, Nakuru, Mombasa, Kilifi, Siaya and Migori”.

Intellectual disability comes with numerous limitations such as inability to count and tell time, inability to understand and work with numbers and memory lapses.

Njeru says most intellectual disability cases can master the art of doing simple jobs such as beading, however, it is difficult for financial freedom to occur as most are unable to calculate figures and need constant attention.

This is when a support person comes in handy because they can stand up for the rights of those with intellectual disability and help them make informed decisions.

In addition, vocational classes are designed to train them on how to become transparent in reporting incidences that occur at home for Kaih to take appropriate action.

Some milestones achieved in training intellectually disabled persons has been showing them to count through beadwork, with important classes offered in budgeting, which has to do with counting money and eye-hand coordination.

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