If you have been following our blog then you know that in August I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya for the Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program. I visited with Naomy Ruth Esiaba, Chairperson of Disability and Women Development Strategies, and Joyce A. Opondo, Chairperson of Pambazulo La Wanawake Magharibi. I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that this was a life-changing experience.
Most of the people I met took the time to look me in the eyes, shake my hand and listen attentively until I finished talking. They spoke with me in soft and gentle voices, with smiles on their faces. It warmed my heart to witness the long distances survivors of gender -based violence travelled on foot over dirt roads with holes to learn about their rights against gender-based violence as girls and women with disabilities Many of these survivors had mobility disabilities such as post-polio, but they were committed to gathering as a group of resilient women, and they received me and my hosts singing faith songs, dancing, smiling and happy to meet us.
Witnessing the barriers that both survivors and my hosts face every day was heartbreaking, and it made me think about the resources that we take for granted. One survivor of gender based violence with post-polio had such an old adaptive boot that I could see the ball of her foot through the hole. Survivors would meet with us all day and have only two slices of plain sliced bread and one soda. One of my hosts traveled two hours each way on the back of a motorcycle/taxi, over poorly maintained dirt roads to meet with us to work against gender based violence.
Naomy shared the story of her life with a physical disability. Her disability did not stop her from going to school, marrying, having a child and getting a job, and she started a non-profit organization to support other women with disabilities. She even used her own money to pay the rent for the location. She volunteered her time as a chairperson, and built her own accessible house. She is now a grandmother, and ready to start pursuing a master’s degree in January 2014. She shared these successes with a group of primary school girls who have disabilities to show them what they can accomplish.
I also met Joshua O. Okundi , a man with post-polio who built his own house and now uses it as a demonstration and replication project for other people with disabilities through his organization, Buogi Mak Buogi. He teaches them to farm fish, clean the water, raise chickens, and plant fruit trees and vegetables. They will take these lessons with them when they leave, and will be able to eat what they produce, sell the excess, and teach others to do the same.
Naomy and Joyce, their employees, and the survivors of gender based violence who have disabilities are committed to having a better, dignified life, free from abuse and discrimination, and they face unimaginable barriers when compared to our Western lives. Kenya’s unemployment rate was about 40 percent in 2011 for people without disabilities, and myhosts live in counties without clean running water, or a sewage system, and sometimes the electricity drops all day long. The people I met were passionate about improving their lives, and the lives of other people with disabilities. Every day, they are making strides in the face of barriers that many of us would find discouraging. And they are doing it with smiles on their faces and in their hearts.
p.s. If you want to learn more about Naomy’s journey, you can read about it in the book, A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities.
This exchange was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, and administered by Mobility International USA (MIUSA).