Special Needs School in Africa

Kenya (K11) | View map
£197 p.w.

Price is based on 3 months
1 month

Special Needs School In Africa on the coast of Kenya

  • Volunteer to work with children with special needs in Africa
  • Qualified and part-qualified physiotherapist and occupational therapists urgently needed
  • Speech therapists and teachers for the deaf required
  • An incredible location on the Indian ocean
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Project summary

The Special Needs school is a residential school providing care, therapy and education for children with physical and intellectual disabilities and those with hearing impairments. Autism, cerebral palsy and congenital abnormalities due to poor maternal healthcare are the most common issues.

As one of very few such schools dealing with special needs, it attracts children from a wide area, with the children boarding at the school so as to make access to the services possible.

It shares the same site as a mainstream school which provides a degree of integration that is uncommon in Kenya. The provision of these services through a dedicated school is a success in its own right, as disabilities carry a stigma that often results in a child being kept at home throughout childhood, ignorant of how therapy and education can provide them with greater inclusion and an improved quality of life.

Most of the children are from families with little money, yet they manage to pay a small fee to access this school. There are over 110 children, 11 teachers and 7 support staff.

There is a local part-time physiotherapist at the school, but this resource is often diverted to other programmes elsewhere. Occupational therapy is not common in Kenya but there is a high requirement, and speech & language therapy (SLT) is not established, but there is a clear need. See Emily’s report as she pioneered speech & language therapy recently.

Many of the children have profound special needs and require one-to-one support but there is little local capacity, so volunteer help is important. Qualified, part qualified or even unqualified volunteers interested in working with special needs can help provide professional services and/or pastoral care. Help is needed to provide stimulating and enriching activities for the children.

There are over 50 children with hearing impairments being taught the national curriculum and so there is more opportunity here to participate in education activities for those with experience or ambition in this field.

Volunteers on a 2-3 month placement can combine their volunteering experience with teaching at one of our school projects that we support nearby.

Volunteer roles and responsibilities

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Your volunteer activities would be decided locally based on your experience and qualifications, and the requirements at the time. There is always a requirements for volunteers to help provide stimulating activities with an emphasis on creativity and practical work, as well as therapy and basic care. Some children need 1:1 support while others are more independent.

Children who are more able are integrated with the mainstream school and need additional support. There are roles for both physios and occupational therapists as well as teachers. On site there is also a class for deaf children where volunteers with experience would be of great help. Volunteers on a longer placement can combine this role with working at one of the local schools if they wish.

How you can make a difference

There is always a general shortage of care in the special needs school with the limited staff available having to focus on providing basic care and education. There is a real need to create more stimulating activities which are not normally provided and volunteers can help with this. Unfortunately there is a cultural prejudice against disabled people and volunteers offering support genuinely raises the self-esteem of individuals.

Speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists will all add capacity to the school and allow for new treatments, ideally with a skills transfer to local staff who are keen to learn.

What is distinctive about this project:

There are few facilities to support disabled people outside the cities and this school does a good job in creating a caring, supportive and professional environment. It is almost unique in being co-located with a mainstream primary school and providing some integration although they are separate organisations.

Blue Tiger Features:

This is a solid project that offers a real benefit to some of the most disadvantaged children, including those with physical disabilities. Volunteers may find the spartan conditions and difficult lifestyle of the children an emotional drain, although this also acts as a real motivation to a volunteer to make a difference.

This is in contrast to the attractive beaches that make up the front of Watamu and attracts tourists. This contrast is something that volunteers have to adjust to and get comfortable with.


The school is closed mid-November to January and 2 weeks in August and April


English is widely spoken throughout Watamu and Kenya generally.

Experience required:

The school will accept volunteers who are interested in working with children with special needs as a future career choice and therefore have no experience or qualifications as yet. Such volunteers should be able to demonstrate some awareness of the broad challenges and issues of this area of work.

Volunteers with experience in dealing with specials needs of children, including therapists and teachers for the deaf, will be especially welcome.

Good to know:

Watamu is part of a United Nations Biosphere Reserve and is an area of great natural beauty. There are miles of beautiful beaches with safe swimming. The coral reef is rich in marine fauna and flora and offers excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities. The volunteer’s accommodation is in a private compound that maintains a high level of security that is normally expected in the more affluent areas.

Price table

4 weeks8 weeks12 weeks16 weeks20 weeks

Includes: Comprehensive travel insurance (supplements may apply to older travellers), a good standard of accommodation (typically with a pool), airport transfers, placement fee and full pre-trip & in-country support.
Excludes: Flights, visas, vaccinations, daily transport to projects (budget £1.50 per day) and food (budget £4 per day when buying in local markets)

Things to see and do

  • Go safari
  • Mount Kenya
  • Elephant Orphanage
  • Giraffe Sanctuary
Wanjiru Macharia (Shiru)

Country co-ordinator

Wanjiru Macharia (Shiru)

Shiru graduated from the University of Amherst, USA with a Major in Marketing and a Minor in Psychology. She joined our team in 2012 and lives with her family near where our projects are based in the coastal town of Watamu. She knows Kenya intimately and has been involved in a number of conservation initiatives in the national parks. In addition to supporting our volunteers she works as an administrator in a busy office that share the grounds of our volunteer house.

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