Perspective of two extremes

Jane Wanjiku (right) explains how her daughter Grace Rwenu (left) faces discrimination and stigma for her mental state.
Jane Wanjiku (right) explains how her daughter Grace Rwenu (left) faces discrimination and stigma for her mental state.

By Grace Magu, Kenya

Living close to a ‘sport of kings’ racecourse in Nairobi, Kenya brings to mind  George Owen’s book –The Animal farm; whose storyline evolves around behaviors illustrating that all animals are not equal and if they are, some are more equal than others. My neighborhood is characterized with precisely that. When I pip on one side of my window, I see the racecourse and a group of people willing to pay a fortune to gamble and cheer their favorite horse; while on the other a view of an informal settlement (Kawangware) trapped in poverty.

At the heart of the informal settlement, lives Grace Rwenu (31), in a two-roomed house with her parents and two other siblings  She is the second born in a family of four  and has a mental condition that keeps her under 24 hour care.  Her condition developed from premature birth.

‘At birth, I was worried about her growth’ says Jane Wanjiku, Rwenu’s mother. Just like any other child, she was enrolled into kindergarten but her condition worsened when she reached school-going age. ‘She always lost direction to school and often wandered off to risky places’, laments Jane.

Neighbors and good Samaritans brought her home whenever she got lost. As this became a common occurrence, Jane decided to lock her at home in efforts to keep her safe. She hoped that one day Rwenu her daughter would behave like any other child her age.

‘Since her childhood [more than thirty years ago], I do everything for her. When I go to sell vegetables am not at peace for fear of her safety’, narrates Jane.  She is forced to break from her vegetable business, at least twice to attend to Grace and change her pants.  “It is very challenging on few occasions I travel far in search of vegetables to sell in the market.”

Her situation worsened some two years ago when she couldn’t lift or hold a cup. The concerned mother took her to hospital where the doctors said had a stroke. One side of her body had paralyzed.

None of her neighbors wish to be associated with Grace and none would accept to look after her. The stigma associated to her daughter and other physically challenged persons in Kenya calls for action and awareness. According to a survey conducted by Association for the Disabled People in Kenya (ADPK):

Attitudes displayed by other people around PWDs is a bigger problem than medical condition most have to cope with: People living and interacting with PWDs tend to treat them differently in relation to their disabilities.

Poverty, lack of social support, access to healthcare is one among other challenges facing the livelihood of people with disability. Around 10 per cent of the world’s population or roughly 650 million people live with a disability. According to the UN Development program (UNDP) eighty per cent of persons with disability live in the developing countries.

For Jane, the thirty years of home based care for her daughter has been a visit to hell and back. But despite the challenges, HOPE is the last thing she would allow to die, for it has kept her daughter alive and encouraged in the midst of stigma. She remains optimistic that one day, our society will show compassion and dignity, to people with mental and physical disabilities.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.