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International Day of the African Child – How Sense International supports children in Kenya and Uganda

15 June 2019

Today (16 June), is International Day of the African Child – first established in 1991 the day aims to raise awareness of the situation of children in Africa, and of the need for improvement in education. Sense International strives to improve support for children with deafblindness in East Africa. Earlier this year Alison, Sense International’s Director, and Harriet, the Programme Manager for East Africa, visited Kenya and Uganda to monitor progress.  Here they report back:

Over the last three years, Sense International Kenya has been working with the Kenyan Ministry of Health to set up the first ever sensory screening and early intervention service in the country.  New units have been established in government run health centres so it is easy for parents and carers to bring infants for eye and hearing tests, and therapy if needed. 

A big sign that says Waithaka Health Centre. Underneath the sign a small child stands. At Waithaka Health Centre, Occupational Therapist Elly provides therapy and advice to children with multi-sensory impairment and their parents. Two-year old Blessing first came to the unit in June 2018 at which point she couldn’t lift her head and would only respond to loud noises. She comes to the centre twice a week, has learned to sit up on her own, and her hearing has improved thanks to sensory stimulation. Her mother Mary also uses a tablet, loaded with videos demonstrating therapy by Sense International, to work with Blessing between sessions. Mary told us “the videos at home help so much”. 

Over at Mbagathi Hospital, Sense International has trained Nurse Mark to bring mothers and babies from the Maternity Unit for screening, averaging 15 a day.

A woman sits in a chair, she's hold a baby. A man bends over the baby to do some testingThe first thing Mark does as part of his testing is to go through the risk factor questionnaire. If a risk of visual or hearing impairment is identified through the questionnaire, he conducts a hearing and vision test. If an impairment is identified, then Mark refers the child to a specialist within the hospital for further testing. 

They might also be referred to Occupational Therapist, Marion, who provides sensory stimulation and therapy. She showed us the red ‘roller’ she uses to train infants to control their neck muscles and lift their head. The peg board she has helps children learn to use their hands to grasp, position and let go. There are also coloured lights and a sound system for visual and hearing stimulation. 

A group of three people sitting around an office desk Next on the agenda was neighbouring Uganda where a new piece of legislation, which recognises deafblindness as a distinct disability for the first time, is awaiting sign off by the President. Chris (Country Director, Sense International Uganda) and Alice (Technical and Training Officer) took us to the Department of Disability and the Elderly to discuss next steps.

Then we took the Commissioner for Special Educational Needs out to see how Sense International supports children with deafblindness.

The Commissioner meeting one of the specialist in a Sense International UnitFirst we went to Kasangati Health Centre where Occupational Therapist, Rebecca, explained the screening and early intervention process. Next we visited 4-year-old Sheila at home. She is deaf, blind in one eye, and needs an operation on her other eye. She doesn’t speak. She is a bright girl and is learning sign language fast. She enjoyed following Alice’s hands when she demonstrated the sign for bathing. This home-based learning is a vital step of the inclusive education programme as Sheila needs to be able to communicate first before joining her local school.

A large school building

One of the schools supported by Sense International Uganda is Kasaasi Primary School, a model ‘inclusive’ school with ramps, railings and accessible toilets. The Deputy Head was pleased to welcome the Commissioner and explained how the school supports several learners with disabilities. Zara, who attends the school, is deaf with partial vision. She enjoys drawing and the Commissioner was shown a picture she had drawn of her mother. 

The commissioner in a classroom full of school childrenAt the end of the visit we felt that the Commissioner had been impressed by Sense International’s work. He acknowledged the government’s responsibility to do more for children with disabilities and promised to raise awareness about deafblindness and champion inclusion within the Ministry of Education.

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First published: Tuesday 18 June 2013
Last updated: Friday 6 December 2019