This morning was another early one…we got up at 5:30 and drove to Nairobi with Ken. We had scheduled a meeting with the director of the Star Disability Training Center–a boarding school for children with special needs. arriving at the school, i was immediately struck by how small and cramped it was, both outside and in. we were warmly welcomed by the staff, who showed us around the school. i literally gagged when we went into the kids’ bedrooms. the stench of urine and feces soaked into the thin foam matresses was overpowering. there were small bunk beds, hardly the size of baby cribs, lining all four walls. we were told that these four small bedrooms somehow housed 60 children and around 10 caregivers. doing the math, i figured out that there must be at least five children per bed. the caregivers sleep on the floor. the staff there face extremely challenging situations every day. for example, they wrote a grant proposal to the US embassy because they did not have enough staff to keep up with all the work (especially the clothes-washing). instead of giving them the money they could have used to hire more staff, the US embassy gave them a washing mashine which is now sitting unused as they cannot afford the water and electricity required to run it. this, to me, is such a classic example of inappropriate aid.
meeting the children was incredible! there were only about six there today, because the school is actually closed for summer break. we found out later that these 6 kds were simply not picked up when they should have been. their parents do not care about them, and the school director always has to physically drop them at their houses. he said some of them are neglected and some abused at home. the parents often chain them up and lock them in a room because they are seen as an embarassment to the family. there was a law passed recently banning people with disabilities from riding the matatus (cheapest form of public transportation), so this makes it really hard on the families. all the injustice i felt in this place was infuriating. the more i heard and saw, the angrier i became. children with special needs are not accepted in public schools, so one goal of this center was to find these kids, take them out of their current situations, give them the structured, individualized education they need and deserve, and then try to help integrate them into a public school. this is very difficult for SDTC, as they have to send staff members to the public schools to take the kids to the bathroom, change them, feed them, etc. the teacher would kick the child out of the classroom if he or she is disruptive, so the SDTC staff have to been on call for all their “inclusion” students.
another thing i found hard to believe was that these staff members are sometimes not paid at the end of the month. the donations and school fees go to the running costs (electricity/water), the teachers, and food. the other staff members get what is left at the end of the month. the director told us that last year, they went 3 months without pay because the school had run out of money. and yet, they seem so happy to be working there, and so full of compassion for the children. it was a real challenge to me.