At this international conference on disability in memory of Krystle Kabare, allow me to first of all reiterate one case that is relevant to this event. While working on UK Department for International Development research in Rwanda, Krystle told me that she was touched by the challenges that blind and visually impaired children were facing and had expressed a desire to mobilise her friends to purchase a braille machine – a tactile reading and writing system – for a school for the blind that she had visited. So, in her memory, we are planning to establish a number of initiatives, one of which is today’s dialogue on disability, an issue she passionately cared for.
The challenges faced by persons with disabilities in developing countries are manifold. I grew up with a disabled sister, Emily, who was crippled by Polio at a tender age of five. So, I witnessed first-hand the struggles she went through. While we enjoyed our childhood, Emily struggled and still needs permanent care to date. She needed to walk four kilometres to school, use a pit latrine, take a bath using a bucket, despite mobility impairments. As a result of these challenges, she was not able to transition from primary school to high school. I am sure Emily’s story resonates with many other disabled persons in Kenya. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data, children aged 6-17 years with a disability are much more likely to have never gone to school (one out of six) compared to their peers without a disability (one out of ten). And, this applies equally among residences (urban/ rural) and sex (male/female).
Despite these challenges, there are a number of successful disabled persons. Their capacity to excel in spite of their disabilities inspires many of us. Nicholas James Vujicic, an Australian preacher and motivational speaker was born with Tetra-Amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterised by the absence of all four limbs. Fortunately, Vujicic has led a largely successful life. In fact, he founded ‘Life Without Limbs’, an international non-profit organisation and ministry, in 2005 and in 2007, established ‘Attitude is Altitude’, a secular motivational speaking company. If you have read the phenomenal book: ‘A Brief History of Time’, then you must know Stephen Hawking, who despite contracting motor neurone disease in 1963 went on to Cambridge to become a Lucasian Professor, the chair held by Isaac Newton in 1663. Closer to home, we celebrate the successes of Hon. Isaac Mwaura, who is here with us today, the Senator and the Chair of the Kenya Disability Parliamentary Association and Josephta Mukobe, the first Principal Secretary with a disability. Josephta’s story is particularly interesting. Despite some initial resistance, her parents took her to primary school, where she excelled to join the prestigious Alliance Girls High School. She then proceeded to join University of Nairobi before joining public service where she has had an illustrious career.
Although the stories of successful persons with disabilities are truly inspiring, those who are successful pales significantly when compared to the number who don’t achieve their full potential in life, globally and locally. According to KNBS data, 3.5% of Kenya’s population has a disability. That translates to about 1.3 million people. Importantly, 12 per cent of all households have at least one member with a disability. Globally, the World Bank estimates that one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Further, one-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities. Unsurprisingly, the prevalence of disability is higher among developing countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is an indisputable fact that, when poverty conspires with disability, the outcome is the consignment of many people to lives of destitution particularly in developing countries. Occasionally, our consciences are pricked by livid media stories of inhumane experiences that some persons with disabilities regularly face. I was personally touched by recent media stories of mentally ill persons who are caged by caregivers, the enslavement of disabled persons for monetary gains and the trafficking of persons with albinism to Tanzania to be sacrificed for macabre rituals by witch doctors. These stories should not just concern us. They should jolt us into action, as it did to Krystle. Persons with disabilities are not second rate citizens nor children of a lesser God. And, to the witch doctors, persons with albinism are not medicine for HIV and AIDS. They are human beings that have a right to dignified lives and achieve their potential in life.
I know some of us make small individual contributions in support of persons with disabilities. Occasionally, I also wind down my car window and hand out some money to persons with disabilities in Nairobi streets. However, we all need to do more than dropping a few coins to the calls of ‘Saidia Mzee au Saidia Mama’ on the along Nairobi streets. The tokenism will not solve the problems of persons with disabilities in the long run. Instead, persons with disabilities need concrete policies and solid solutions that are systematically implemented. Our forefathers – and can I also dare say, mothers – had a grand vision for a society that every citizen would be proud of and within which they would achieve their full potential. We all know the three issues that were identified at independence, namely: (i) the eradication of diseases; (ii) the elimination of ignorance; and (iii) the fighting of poverty. I think the founders of this nation forgot to add disability to the list of priority issues. I, therefore, hope that today’s conference will seriously reflect on disability issues with the aim of building a disability-inclusive social protection system for Kenya and the region. Of course, I don’t expect you to develop all the solutions within the next four hours. But, I also do not underestimate your passion, resolve and collective wisdom.
In conclusion, though, I call on each one of you to join us in supporting a child disability benefit. We want to ensure that every disabled child in Kenya is able to receive a regular cash benefit, set at the level of the Inua Jamii Senior Citizens’ pension (in other words, KES 2,000 per month). Let’s do something in memory of Krystle that will be truly memorable. God bless you and have a fruitful discussion.
This is a version of the opening remarks made at the Krystle Kabare Memorial: Building a Disability-inclusive Social Protection System for Kenya event made by Richard Chirchir in Nairobi on 16th October 2018. Director and Senior Management Information System Specialist, Richard leads the design and development of our multi-platform ICT solutions. He has extensive experience in designing management information systems for social protection programmes, including complex integrated MISs. He reads inspiring stories and writes blogs in his spare time.