Kuhenza for The Children’s founder and director Leonard Mbonani has more than 40 years of experience working with children and young adults with special needs.
He has had several different positions within Kilifi County, all of them in the service of the most vulnerable in our society, children with disabilities. His knowledge in this field is unparalleled and so is his compassion. Together with his incredible ability to connect with people, he is the heart and soul of Kuhenza for The Children.
Despite his busy schedule, I was able to steal a little of his time to answer the following questions.
Leonard, what started your interest in working with children with special needs?
When I was growing up, I had an aunt who was deaf and I often watched how she was mistreated by people and how she struggled to make herself understood. It made a big impression on me and I wished I could help her. I think that’s where I first felt that this was something that I could do and where I could make a difference to people’s lives.
You must have seen a lot of changes during the years you have been involved in this work. Are they mostly good or bad?
Today over 60 % of our society are aware that people with disabilities are people just like you and me and that they have rights. The government has increased the number of programmes intended to improve the lives of children with disabilities and they have also increased funding for those programmes. I salute the few county governments that have passed Disability Bills at their County Assemblies. So I must say that through the many years I have worked in this field the changes have mostly been positive. Through engaging with the Governor, we managed to get the Department of Health to finance two Occupational Therapists, one at Gede Special School and one at Marafa Special School. In addition, the Department of Education has employed a trained ECD teacher with experience in sign language to Gede Special School.
If you look back at the work Kuhenza has done over the years. What do you feel is the biggest achievement?
There are many achievements that I am proud of. The most important one is that there is no doubt that Kuhenza has saved the lives of many children who would otherwise have died of diseases, malnutrition or lack of specialized treatment. Other children thought they would never walk and now they are walking because of physiotherapy, surgery or just encouragement given by Kuhenza’s staff. Another important achievement is that we have brought over 700 community leaders on board. Through training provided by Kuhenza they are now helping us reach many families impacted by disabilities.
There are always challenges in life, which are the ones Kuhenza is facing as an organisation?
Yes, like any other organisation, Kuhenza is experiencing some challenges. For many years we have been trying to address the deeply rooted negative beliefs of the community regarding disabilities. It will take a long time to change them, but we will persevere and hope that one day no child will be ostracized or neglected because disability is connected with witchcraft or punishment from God. Another challenge for us is the fact that our parents tend to become over dependent on the organization. They look to us for almost everything in terms of their children’s needs. We work hard to establish parents support groups where they can help and support each other and we will continue to do that. I also fear that we, as an organization, can become over dependent on one donor. At the moment we have one main donor and it would bring Kuhenza to its knees should they fail to fund us for one reason or another. We need to continue to look for additional sponsors and of course we are particularly grateful for the ones we already have.
What plans does Kuhenza have for the coming years?
Kuhenza has big plans for the future. Last year we managed to purchase 6 acres of land not far from our office in Gede. Our plan is to build an Advocacy Centre where different community groups can come to learn about disabilities. We want people to be able to come to us and get access to information and data about disability so they are better equipped to deal with the challenges disability brings. We want it to be a place where children and parents can get guidance and counselling services and we want it to be a place where people with disabilities can access help with devices such as wheel chairs and other equipment. Another important goal for us is to continue to empower community leaders so they can go out and serve children with disabilities in their community. We want to teach these community leaders to counsel families who are impacted by disabilities, to refer them to hospitals and schools as well as include them in all the social activities in their community. Finally, we want to keep pushing for the County Assembly of Kilifi to finally pass the Kilifi Disability Bill. That will be an important achievement.
Thank you for your time. I know how busy you are. Please keep up the good work.
I know, that as soon as Leonard Mbonani sees me close the door, he will be on his phone, checking up on one of the many children he cares so deeply about.