Special Needs School In Africa on the coast of Kenya
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.
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.
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.
Read Emily's account of her pioneering trip, volunteering as a speech & language therapist in a special needs school in Kenya
Be prepared for anything, no-one can explain the shock of seeing the project/poverty for the first time and no-one knows what each day will bring, so throw yourself into it and embrace everything –, Student, Kenya