Tuesday, July 10, 2007

CBR: Community Based Rehabilitation

APDK also has a Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) program which serves as a mobile clinic and community outreach/awareness. I wanted to go out to the field (to the slums) with them once, but I kept on missing the chance. On Thursday, when I asked again, they decided to go out to the field to check out the workshops that were being held and the daycare they run so that I could see a bit of this program.

First we stopped at a government facility to wait for the field workers, members of the slum community that work with APDK. I had to use the washroom and I was lead down a path between some shanties and lead to a wooden outhouse. The smell was nauseating and it was dark, but at least they had litrines and private quarters (though the same outdoors, open air sewage system seen to the right); a step up from the slums in India.

We attended a workshop in the slums to educate parents of disabled children about empowering their children, getting them treatment, and getting over the stigma of disabled children being worthless and necessary to be hidden at home. We had to introduce ourselves, and they gave us a warm round of applause to welcome us and even sang us a song about disabled children. Granted it was in Swahili so I didn’t understand any of it… but it was still a nice gesture.

We then headed over to a nursery and school sponsored by APDK for disabled children. Mentally disabled children attend this school and nursery and are given a goal when they first arrive. The goal may be to be able to write or to be able to stand or to be able to read. They are also given a goal time to complete this goal by. Once the student has achieved his/her goal, he/she must leave the school which is no problem because by this time they are able to function regularly at a normal school. I visited the nursery where I had a chance to see some of the children (ranging between 3 and 9 I think) and volunteers, all mothers of children that at one point attended this nursery. The mothers clean, train, feed, and take care of these children while their parents look for work.

I had a chance to speak with the mothers about their lives and their problems. I asked them what they did in their free time, only to be met with a blank stare asking, “what free time?” I realized the error in my question, that free time is only for those with the luxury to have it. They explained that with taking care of their family, and especially of their disabled children who need to rely on them for everything, they didn’t have free time. That’s also what they found to be the hardest thing for them… knowing that their child needed them to survive… and when asked what did they want the most, they answered, “food for my children.” Their husbands look for work, and are only able to find work they are qualified for once or twice a week. With this small pay, they can barely feed the family, and often starve. Paying for rehabilitation or medication for their children is out of the question.

The unemployment in Kenya in 2001 was 40% according to statistics online, and I was told by word of mouth that it is currently over 55%. And not by choice. Not because they do drugs or waste money on alcohol… but because of the state their economy is in and the lack of a widespread education. This unemployment is hard enough for regular families in the slums, but for the families with disabled children…. They have no means of paying for rehabilitation which could make the kids able to support themselves after their parents die or even be completely normal, and they have no money for medications which can prevent these disabilities. Another interesting and sad fact…. Over 50% of the Kenyan population falls under the poverty line.

I racked my brain for a way to help, and thankfully, I came up with a plan while I was still there. I asked for the recipes of the food they served the children at the nursery, very simple and basic, and plan to make these dishes back at MIT to sell to the MIT community, sending all proceeds back to APDK to feed the disabled children and their families. We spend about $5 on a typical meal, and this converts to about 300 shilllings which converts to being able to feed more than 15 children. I hope to work with conferences throughout Boston to provide lunches for them with these humble but filling foods which will both make the conference attendees think about the blessing of the food they eat everyday, and be a source of donation: if they donate what they would have paid a catering service for unhealthy, sauce-filled sandwiches, chips, and cookies… if they would’ve paid $5 per lunchbox.. given that 100 people attend the conference, this is $500 which will feed over 1500 children. Or another way of looking at it… It will feed one child 3 meals a day for OVER 1 FULL YEAR. Just because you chose to have a simpler lunch for one meal of one day, a child will get to not starve for an entire year. How much easier can we make it for you?

Excitingly, one of my Sigma Kappa sisters is starting a club on neurological diseases at MIT. I proposed the idea to her to become part of the club’s mission, and she was interested, so I am working out the plans with her. I love the snowball effect that begins with just a little push and motivation to help out!

I love how everything connects together and seems to fall into place. I have explained APDK to some of the students working in India on developing a program for disabled children in the slums of India, and we will be communicating more in the future about what APDK does and how it can be adapted for India. This way they can build off of what works well, and will not have to start from scratch. They can get so much more done and can avoid a lot of trial and error. If we all work together, things can run so smoothly!

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