As the only guardian left to raise her granddaughter who became disabled due to menengitis and stroke, working or just running an errand was a daze. Following her predicament, she got inspired to start daycare services for children with disabilities and a well-deserved break for caregivers
Roy Lumbe @lumbe_roy
Finding a suitable children’s daycare facility within Nakuru county is a daunting task for most working parents, but when it comes to children with special needs, the options are virtually impossible.
Grace Mukami, a former civil servant and in her late 60s, has sacrificed everything in her life to establish a specialised daycare centre that accepts children with disabilities and other serious medical ailments, becoming the first institution in the county to offer that service.
Mukami started Malaika Initiative for children with disabilities in early 2016 after a life-changing struggle when her granddaughter Ruth Mukuiya became disabled.
Ruth was diagnosed with meningitis and stroke while in Form Two at Menengai High School forcing her to drop out of school.
According to Mukami, her granddaughter, an orphan, was born normal and was poised to be successful due to her exemplary performance in school, but all these became a mere fantasy after she fell ill.
That was at the lowest point of her life as she had to stop working to take care of her granddaughter, who was bedridden at home for close to six months.
She points out that taking care of a disabled child is a daunting task adding that sometimes when she had to run an errand, she locked her grandchild in the house since there was no one to take care of her. It is out of this experience that Mukami came up with the idea of putting up a daycare for children with disability to assist other parents in her predicament.
While many of her peers would be thinking of farming and enjoying their pension after life’s work, Mukami, a former primary school tutor has dedicated her life to children who can barely understand the magnitude of her devotion. “No amount of money can buy this service,” she says.
In the heart of Bondeni slums at the AIC church, Mukami has rented a home where she hosts over 16 children with severe neurological disorders and physical disabilities daily.
Though most of them are completely oblivious of their surrounding, her presence in the room brings pleasant excitement from those who can see her. With flapping and noises, the children seem eager to narrate the day’s events to her, although some cannot say a word.
The facility hosts children from all over the county servicing the slums of Bondeni, Manyani and Kaptembwo areas. She says the name Malaika (angel) came from her work as an angel sent to assist children with disability.
Mukami says that the society deems children with disability or persons as unfit adding that most of them are locked up at home and are not even able to see the light of day.
“There are mentally disabled children who are hidden by embarrassed parents and sometimes the children end up being mistreated by house helps,” she says.
Bringing up a mentally challenged child is expensive and since Mukami does not have a stable source of income, she relies on well-wishers, the community and churches.
Together with four other dedicated workers, including a therapist, Mukami welcomes to the home parents who cannot take care of their children with disability from 7am to 6pm and they can pay whatever they can to support the children.
She observes that most mothers who take their children to the centre are unmarried. She encourages fathers not to abandon their children with special needs and their mothers.
Peter Tanui, a physiotherapist at the facility, says that physiotherapy is an important part of enabling patients to function at their optimal physical level and often complements other therapies and treatments.
He says that most of the children who suffer from rickets and polio tend to require more therapy to enable them regain their normal movements. Mark Njugu, a pediatrician says disability in children can have a lifelong impact on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health, as well as their social situation.
He says that children with disabilities may have special needs, particularly regarding health and education, and may need to negotiate significant social and environmental barriers in order to fully participate in everyday life.
“Disability can have a lifelong impact on a persons physical, mental and emotional health, children who are disabled require more attention in order to fully take part in day-to-day life,” said Dr Njugu.