James Irungu, Clinical Program Manager at Advocates and Director of Advocates Kenya Outreach Project grew up in Kenya, so he knows firsthand the challenges facing Kenyan children with disabilities. “When I saw how advanced special needs care is in Massachusetts, I thought there is something we can do,” says James. So he and four staff who are also from Kenya approached the late Bill Taylor, Advocates’ long time CEO and President, about reaching out to Kenyan school children with disabilities. In response, Bill wholeheartedly embraced this challenge and appealed directly to Advocates employees.
The Kenya Outreach Project decided that the best way for them to help those with disabilities in Kenya, was to partner with a local Kenyan school and work together to support the needs of their students with special needs. Kiriko Special School, located in the Central province of Kenya, supports students of varying ages and developmental abilities, and the staff and leadership of the school wholeheartedly embraced the partnership.
The Project’s greatest accomplishments include a shoebox campaign, construction of a clean water tank, and an agricultural training program,
The first initiative completed, back in 2009, was a successful shoebox campaign. Nearly every department and program from across Advocates participated in the campaign, with over 70 staff members volunteering their time and talents. In the end, Advocates sent 99 shoeboxes stuffed with school supplies, first aid items, and other desperately needed supplies to the Kiriko Special School. Along with the shoeboxes, the Kenya Outreach Project shared training materials to teach basic CPR and help Kiriko staff differentiate the needs of students with various conditions, from autism to cerebral palsy.
The next priority for the school and the Kenya Outreach Project was the availability of clean water. The school had been getting their water from a polluted source upstream. After weighing several options, a local Kenyan suggested building a holding tank – with sufficient capacity to sustain the school through the short dry season. Volunteers held a dinner-dance fundraiser and successfully raised the $6,000 needed to build the water tank. Today school staff and students have sufficient water for cooking, drinking, laundry, cleaning, bathing, and personal hygiene—all year long. “The water tank is serving its intended purpose and has achieved its goal of creating storage for enough clean water to meet the school’s needs,” says James.
Upon completion of the water tank, the staff of the Kiriko Special School turned to the Kenya Outreach Project to help develop a vocational training program for students. With funds raised by the Kenya Outreach Project staff and from local churches in Massachusetts, the school was able to purchase 200 chickens, construct handicap accessible chicken houses, and hire an agricultural expert to assist the students and teachers with proper care. The 200 chickens produce an estimated 1,400 eggs per week, This initiative has multiple benefits—students learn valuable vocational skills; the eggs are a reliable source of nutrition; and the school raises revenue by selling some of the eggs to the local community.
As the Kenya Outreach Project continues to grow, “we hope to continue sharing the wealth of knowledge that we have here [at] Advocates [in] the areas of Autism and behavioral health with partners in Kenya,” says James.
After a hiatus, the Kenya Outreach Project team is revitalizing and will continue its work with the school. Their next project is supporting the construction of an additional dormitory for boys, as there is a great need for more space at the Kiriko Special School.
If you would like to support the Kenya Outreach Project, please visit our donation page.