At a one-room house outside Nairobi, a 23-year-old girl with disabilities claps her hands and throws herself at Sr. Rose Catherine Wakibiru, who has been visiting girls with disability at their homes since the Kenyan government closed schools last month over coronavirus.
The girl, referred to as Faith, “is deaf and dumb,” Sr. Rose Catherine of the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi, told ACI Africa April 27. “She is autistic and has cerebral palsy and so she doesn’t know anything about social distancing. She has pure love in her heart and she can’t stop embracing people to show how happy she is.”
Faith lived at Limuru Cheshire Home along with 60 other girls who have physical or intellectual disabilities, before the pandemic.
Sr. Rose Catherine, administrator of the home, called the girls’ parents and guardians to retrieve their children when schools were closed.
“Most parents we called were not ready to pick their girls,” Sr. Rose Catherine said, adding that many girls at Cheshire home are drawn from poor backgrounds and that most come from informal settlements around Nairobi.
The nun explained that Faith initially lived with her mother and three siblings in a Nairobi slum, but they moved to another settlement “three weeks ago when their house was washed away in floods.”
When their house was washed away, Faith’s mother gave out her children to different well-wishers and looked for a place to stay herself. Later, friends helped her to get a single-roomed house where she stays with her three children and goes out to look for menial jobs to sustain her family.
Such jobs are hard to come by amid the restrictions due to coronavirus, and the family may be thrown out of their home as the mother is unable to pay for it.
Sr. Rose Catherine said five residents of the Cheshire home were taken in by other families, as they had nowhere to go.
“I know all [the] families that have their daughters here and I have an idea of those that can accommodate a girl [who] isn’t their own. So when I made those calls, I would ask a parent if they were willing to take care of an extra girl. That’s how I got all the five girls a place to stay,” said Sr. Rose Catherine.
To ease the burden of the foster parents, Limuru Cheshire Home supplies the girls with basic necessities such as food, soap, and sanitary materials in their new homes.
Some families were reluctant to have their daughters back home, and Sr. Rose Catherine said the biggest challenge for girls with disabilities and their families during coronavirus is poverty.
Most of the families “live on daily wages, and with their girls around they can’t go out and work as they used to. All the girls at the facility are special needs cases and they need someone to look after them” at all times, the nun said.
The girls also come last in families that grapple with lack of basic needs, such as food. When there is little food to share, children with disabilities do not get any of it, Sr. Rose Catherine reported.
“I have been to a home where I found my girl watching her siblings eat. When I asked her brother why her sister wasn’t eating anything, he said there was very little food in the house,” Sr. Rose Catherine recounted. “Children with disabilities are treated as second-rate individuals. People only think about them when everybody else has had their fill.”
Many of the girls’ families have asked the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi for help since having the girls returned to their care, and Sr. Rose Catherine has made at least eight home visits in recent weeks.
On each home visit, families are supplied with food, masks, and sanitizer.
“What we have at the moment is only enough to keep the families going for one more week, yet we have outreach plans for next week. We can only plan and hope that well-wishers will come on board to touch the lives of these vulnerable girls and their families,” Sr. Rose Catherine said.