Sisters supporting those with special gifts
By Gerard Gough
A FEW years ago, Missio Scotland had the privilege of supporting Scottish-born Sister Placida McCann and her fellow Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in their work with disabled children in Kenya. Sr Placida explained to us that, in many places—such as Kericho where they work—a disabled child is viewed as a burden and not the blessing that they should be, that families of the child are often ostracised and both the parents and the children themselves find themselves in need of love, support and care.
The sisters—who work of out of the Live With Hope Centre in the Motobo area of Kericho—had prior experience of tackling many similar issues that those affected by HIV/AIDS and their families had to contend with. This stood them in good stead when it came to embarking upon their ambitious project to tackle the stigma associated with disabled children in the country, which they named the Little Angels Support Group.
The project’s aim was very simply: to provide love, care and support to disabled children and their families. To do that, however, there was not only that societal stigma to contend with, but also the fact that disability support is an under-resourced issue due to a lack of government funding and, additionally, that these hidden children are not able to access the healthcare services that are available. For the most part, disability projects and services mainly rely on charities and charitable activities.
At its inception, the project sought to provide: education for children and their parents; clothing and bedding access to health services and medical aids such as crutches; play and exercise activities to reduce isolation and build confidence and food and resources so that families can grow their own produce. Most importantly, the project aimed to build a community again, help to develop relationships and heal feelings of abandonment, anger and resentment, and work to dispel the myth that disability is a ‘curse.’
At the launch of the project, Sr Placida said: “It’s a really unique project. Our job is to remove the stigma and to let people know that these children are blessings that bring out love in people. Little Angels goes deep into villages to find those in need of care and attention. We have a small vehicle that goes all over the region to different areas to let people know that the children who were once locked up and hidden away can now be brought out. It is a support group for parents of disabled children as well as the children themselves.”
In her interactions with Missio Scotland at that time, Sr Placida spoke of the some of the challenges they initially faced, including the shocking fact that some of the children they initially came into contact with were simply malnourished as opposed to having a disability.
They also spoke of assistance provided to a four-year old boy named Amos, who had Cerebral Palsy. His small, frail body was that of a two-year-old, he was underweight through malnourishment and had limited mobility. Each day, he was left alone for up to eight hours. He developed sores because he lay in the same position for lengthy periods. His body ached because he had no real bed—his ‘bed’ was a hard, mud floor. Amos had little interaction with anyone outside of his family and has no access to education or healthcare.
Due to the stigma of having a disabled child, Amos’ parents were forced to leave their home, their families and their jobs and move to Kericho. Each day, Amos’ mother and father faced the most horrendous choice—leave their disabled son alone in a mud hut they call home, or stay with Amos; talk to him, turn his weak body to stop sores developing, and comfort him when he suffered from pains of hunger on top of his already increasing agony. If they stayed with Amos they wouldn’t earn any money for food, if they left Amos alone they were at least able to provide nourishment for him. They had no other option than to leave Amos.
To remedy this, the sisters helped Amos to attend hospital for assessment and physiotherapy and provided a mattress and covers to ensure that he was being kept warm and comfortable. While the latter may be something often taken for granted, a simple comfort can vastly improve the quality of a disabled child’s life by reducing their pain and allowing them to have a comfortable place to rest and sleep.
In another case, the sisters worked with a family who had two children suffering from mental disabilities. They brought them every resource they could, including beds and food and even helped them to rent a piece of land to grow food. As a result, they were able to sell maize, which helped to give them back their dignity and pride, while the children were helped to attend school and are now flourishing.
Since those promising beginnings, the project has continued to develop and grow. It has now changed its name to Limited Ability, Special Gifts (LASG), but its vision is still to help improve the quality of life of children living with disabilities and its mission is still to offer services that empower the community in responding to all aspects relating to disability. As of 2019, it supports 107 children—a similar number who sought support at the project’s inception—and to date has supported some 163 children in total.
The support currently offered through LASG includes: psychosocial support; personal care support for children in specialist clinics, hospitals and physiotherapy departments; nutritional support; payment of school fees; and the provision of wheelchairs.
Its success stories have been numerous and varied too and have included: helping a two-month-old child who has hydrocephalus undergo successful surgery in Kijabe Mission Hospital; providing eight children with wheelchairs (seven for those with spina bifida and cerebral palsy and one standard wheelchair); and helping 12 children receive government support—something that the sisters had previously admitted was a challenge.
Furthermore, the community have taken the project to their heart and been very supportive, providing donations of clothing and foodstuff.
“The Lion's Club have been a great supporter of our work,” Sr Placida said. “It is a group of mostly Indian men and a few women who do charitable works, usually for blind people, but they have been helping us with donations of food and clothing. Two local women named Faith and Hellen have also been fantastic also donated food and second hand clothes.”
Missio Scotland—and our brothers and sisters in the Pontifical Mission Societies worldwide—focus on showing solidarity within the Church and our support for the excellent work of Sr Placida and the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception is one of the many ways in which we are proud to have been able to do just that.