In today’s post, our friend David Anderson, Ph.D. shares about his experience working alongside Kenyan leaders and schools to welcome persons with disabilities through his role as president of Crossing Bridges, Inc.
One of the brightest and most capable students I had in over 30 years of preparing special education teachers was a Kenyan woman whom God led to Lock Haven University (Lock Haven, PA), where I was teaching in the mid-1980s. My relationship with Eva has continued over the years since she received her degree and returned to her homeland, where she eventually opened a private school, Acorn Special Tutorials, and began serving children with various disabilities.
It has been my privilege to travel to Kenya a dozen times since 1997 to teach at Daystar University or Great Commission School of Theology, to speak at conferences for pastors and church leaders about the opportunity (and responsibility) to minister to and with families affected by disability. I’ve also had the opportunity to teach students in the diploma program Eva created which prepares teachers to work with students who have a disability. Eva has become a widely-respected and outspoken advocate for the inclusion of children with special needs in Kenyan schools, and I am blessed to partner with her in these efforts.
Education for Students with Disabilities
Although Kenya is a signatory of the United Nation’s “Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities,” (which includes the right to an appropriate education), many social, cultural, and economic factors in Kenya impede full implementation of the Convention (the same is true in many developing nations). Schools in the private sector are more active in seeking to include children with disabilities in their programs. The government schools have been slow to open their doors, especially to students with significant disabilities.
In July 2014, Eva and I visited Little Helping Hands School, a private Christian school in Naivasha, to observe several classes for young children with special needs and offer feedback and encouragement to the teachers. It was good to see the effectiveness of those who had attended seminars on special education I presented in 2013, but their need for additional training was apparent. Little Helping Hands School desires to incorporate the children with special needs more directly in its programs. At the school’s request, we will return next year for this purpose.
Eva also arranged for me to present seminars on inclusive education at two schools in Nairobi. One session was for the Kindergarten Headmistress Association, at the Kensington Kindergarten School. About 30 students studying early childhood education attended this seminar, along with several of their teachers. Questions asked by the students evidenced their desire to understand how to include students with disabilities into their classrooms.
The second session was for the teachers at Logos Christian School, which serves students from early childhood through 8th grade. Although this seminar was on a Friday afternoon at the close of school, roughly 50 teachers and administrators were in attendance—a sign of their interest in moving forward with including students with disabilities in their programs. This school has also requested that we provide more training next year.
I noticed a significant increase in the Kenyan schools’ interest in inclusive education since my first visit in 1997. On this most recent trip, I was able to encourage the Christian schools by sharing information about the effective inclusive programming at Grand Rapids Christian Elementary and Middle Schools. I was also able to help these present and future teachers understand how inclusive education has more to do with the heart than simply head knowledge as we explored what “normalcy” and “disability” mean, and some theological principles that are the basis for inclusion (e.g., interdependence, community, hospitality, etc.).
I’m looking forward to returning next year to continue training teachers and fostering an inclusive environment in Kenyan schools.
How can you support international inclusion efforts?
Prayer. Pray for Eva and Clara as they move forward to implement inclusive education in Kenya.
Connect with Crossing Bridges. Visit our website to learn more about ways you can get involved – directly and indirectly – with our inclusion efforts.
David W Anderson, Ed.D., is Emeritus Professor of Special Education, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, where he served for 15 years as Director of Graduate Programs in Special Education. He is also President of Crossing Bridges, Inc., an international ministry focusing on issues of disability and special education, which seeks to promote inclusive practices in churches and schools.