In April 2018, we travelled to Kenya to receive a very special container of wheelchairs. This was our first shipment of chairs from Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM), a US-based charity that designs and manufactures high quality, rough-terrain chairs, with whom we are now proud to be working in partnership.
By combining their wheelchair supply with our local contacts and expertise, we have so far been able to distribute 353 life-changing wheelchairs, restoring dignity, freedom and independence to hundreds of Kenyans.
Giving mobility to the millions of people who lack it around the world is a huge job – and we recognise that we can’t do it alone. That’s why we’re so grateful for partnerships with like-minded organisations like FWM, who share our goal of getting the right chairs to those that need it most. In the interconnected world we live in, there’s nothing stopping us from working with others to make a change. Together, we can change the world!
Kevin is 5 years old and lives with his mother Jane and younger brother in Nanyuki. He has cerebral palsy, which has meant that he has never been able to walk. Before he started attending the Walkabout Daycare & Support Centre, Kevin spent most of his time at home, not able to socialise with other children his age. A single mother, Jane was also forced to stay at home with Kevin, unable to go out to run the business that used to provide vital income for the family. Kevin joined our centre in 2016, and thanks to the regular therapy he has received so far, he has learnt to walk with a rollator and stand without support. Jane says that he loves coming and interacting with the other children – so much so that sometimes he refuses to have breakfast in the morning because he’s worried about being late!
Walkabout Ambassador Arielle Rausin, a 21-year-old Team USA Paralympic athlete from Florida, joined us in Kenya in 2017, after raising enough money for 10 wheelchairs in the 2017 London Marathon. All the children on the distribution loved talking to Arielle about her racing, and she taught them how to push and transfer into their new chairs. For many of the recipients, and for their parents, meeting Arielle demonstrated first-hand all the possibilities that are available with the mobility of a wheelchair. And there really is no better way to learn how to use your first ever wheelchair than practicing with a world-class athlete!
Joseph is 6 years old and lives with his father Samuel, mother Julia, and baby sister Eunice. Samuel is a self-trained plumber, but the work is temporary and he is often without a job. Since Julia is forced to spend all day at home looking after Joseph and Eunice, she is unable to work, and as a result the entire family must survive on less than $2 a day. All four of them live in a tiny single room in one of the sprawling slums of Nanyuki, Kenya.
Joseph suffered from pneumonia when he was just four months old, and again a year later. As a result, he has been unable to walk and has little strength in his hands. Because of this, he has not joined a mainstream school like most children his age, in spite of his clear intelligence.
Since Joseph joined the Walkabout Daycare and Support Centre, he has made incredible progress. He loves being around other children, and now that he has been given the opportunity to learn, he is excelling in his education. The staff at our centre are confident that he will soon be able to join a mainstream school.
Julia will now have time for a job and hopes to start a small business selling vegetables and charcoal. This will give the family a crucial second wage to live on, which will make a real difference, giving both Joseph and Eunice a brighter future.
In July 2017, we visited Laikipia County, Kenya, where we distributed 228 paediatric chairs alongside our amazing local partner, UDPL. This means that we have now distributed over 1,000 wheelchairs in Kenya, reaching 21 out of the 47 counties, and impacting an estimated 3,000 lives!
When we began distributing chairs with UDPL back in 2014, the need in Laikipia County was immense. Many of the people we met had never before had a wheelchair, and had been forced to drag themselves along the ground to get around or simply spend all of their time inside their homes, isolated and stigmatised. As we began to give out wheelchairs, we started to see a change – every time we returned, we saw fewer people in need from Laikipia, In fact, people were coming from further and further away to get to our distributions – a great indication that what we were doing was really working.
Now, over 1,000 Walkabout wheelchairs are changing lives in 21 counties right across Kenya. That’s 1,000 people that are more visible in their communities; able to work or go to school, and living with the dignity. freedom and independence that they deserve. Thank you for helping us to make this happen!
At 6 months old, Patrick contracted meningitis. He has been paralysed ever since. Maralal, where he lives, is a small town in a very rural part of Kenya; access to education is limited here and in surrounding regions, and the prevailing attitude towards disability is once of prejudice and superstition.
When we met Patrick at our distribution, his mother Grace brought him along with his 3-year-old sister Joy. At just 32, Grace manages to feed, clean, carry and care for Patrick, as well as her four other children. This was Patrick’s first ever wheelchair – and despite repeated attempts by his younger sister to fit the wheelchair herself, Patrick was soon seated by somebody slightly more qualified. The constant smile on his face made it impossible to question his feelings about his new chair – and the table tray served immediate purpose as a lunch tray, and soon after as a musical instrument.
Grace’s biggest concern was that Patrick had been unable to attend school like his older siblings have. Despite her repeated attempts to organize for Patrick to be admitted, it has not been possible. There is a primary school in Maralal that admits a few other disabled children, with one stipulation – that they must have a wheelchair. Now that Patrick has his chair, he will be able to start at this school in just 3 weeks. For Grace, and many other mothers and fathers we meet, giving their children access to education is their primary goal, and the most important aspect of the mobility that a chair provides.
But there is so much more that happens when Patrick, or any child, is given a chair. In this area, the lives of people with disabilities have been restricted to their own homes. There can be no doubt that Patrick’s own horizon has widened now that he has access to education, but also now that he has increased visibility and movement around his rural community – as a laughing, lovely and bright boy – the local stigma and suspicion surrounding disability must decrease.
Anne lives in rural Kenya, and was an unmarried girl of 22 when she gave birth to her first son. There were substantial problems at the birth, and after 5 days in intensive care the doctors told Anne that her son had little chance of surviving. That day she named him ‘God Given’ because, as she puts it, “whatever happened, he was still God’s gift to me, and I loved him”.
Given, as he is now known, is 4 years old and has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. With Given’s father out of work and unable to contribute financially, in an attempt to support herself and her son, Anne used to walk every day to the centre of town to pick up washing with Given strapped to her back with a scarf. She would then begin the hour walk home with Given in place, and the large bags strapped to her front; the contents needed to be washed, dried and returned within the day before Anne could be paid.
Life was clearly difficult for Anne – the only economic opportunity available to her required substantial physical labour that was tiring in itself, without the added weight of a 4 year old child.
Anne first asked social services for a wheelchair over two years ago, but despite repeated follow up requests and recommendations from local doctors, no wheelchair was forthcoming. In a characteristically resourceful bid to provide Given with the support she had been told he needed, Anne fashioned her own version of a wheelchair at home.
When Anne and Given arrived at the Walkabout distribution day, they were among the first families to receive a wheelchair. Given was initially unsure of himself in the chair, the sensation of being so secure unfamiliar to him (he was used to being strapped into his home made version with a length of rope). Within minutes of adjustments by expert physiotherapists, the chair was fitted to his body shape and size, and he was soon smiling again.
Anne too was absolutely thrilled, and brimming with ideas for the future. The chair is life changing for both mother and son. Anne plans to immediately start her own business selling her ‘Mandas’ cakes at a market stall in the neighbourhood – a huge step up from washing and unthinkable until today. As for Given, he will soon be able to go to the only place his mum has ever wanted him to go – a place that seemed an impossible dream until now – school.
The mothers of children we meet around the world often have a similar story to Anne – they are struggling and alone in giving their child the love, support and care that they know they need. No woman should be forced to make a choice between leaving their child at home or being unable to provide for them – and that’s why a wheelchair is so important; not only for the recipient, but also for the person that cares for them.
In December 2016, following our trip to Uganda, Team Walkabout travelled straight to Kenya, where we distributed 230 wheelchairs with our longstanding partner, United Disabled People of Laikipia. This distribution was particularly special as we were accompanied by one superstar volunteer, Lulu Dillon, pictured above.
Last year, Lulu embarked on a gruelling 500km trek across Spain, along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Accompanied by our very own Programmes Manager, lzzy, who walked beside her, she managed to raise a phenomenal £11,520 from more than 100 friends for Walkabout. We were ecstatic to have Lulu as part of our Kenyan distribution as she single-handedly funded a quarter of the value of the container and 60 of the 230 wheelchairs we fitted!
The dedication and generosity of people like Lulu never ceases to amaze us. If you find inspiration in Lulu’s story and would like to be more involved with Walkabout, please get in touch. You too can help change lives!