The Star (Nairobi)

6 February 2013

Kenya: Fighting for Nomads With Disabilities

According to statistics, there are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Their culture involves a lot of movement in search of food and pasture and it's a matter of survival for the fittest. The disabled members of this nomadic communities suffer the most, with most of them dying young.

The Northern Nomadic Disabled Persons Organisation (Nondo) is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) formed by Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) from the Northern Kenya. It aims to improve the quality of life of PWD in the wider Northern Kenya, by eliminating all barriers that are hindering their full and effective participation thus giving them a platform to network, learn and have a voice.

It is the first organisation of its type that caters for these marginalised and voiceless group of people.

The executive director of the organisation, Harun Hassan said, "In Somali culture if a goat is sick or has a broken leg, you slaughter it. If it wasn't for religion and the law then a disabled child would suffer the same fate. They consider such a child as stress and these children are never given the opportunity to get an education. Already with the gender issue and the low literacy levels, this child has no chance at all."

Northern Kenya is generally an arid and semi-arid area where rainfall is scarce and unreliable. The economic activities possible are pastoralism and small-scale retail trade. The counties of northern Kenya are ranked among the poorest in Kenya. It is isolated from the rest of the country by its lack of infrastructure.

Northern Kenya has all the makings of challenges for PWDs from the harsh weather, high illiteracy levels, escalating poverty to long years of marginalisation. In addition to this, many different communities-largely nomads - use the same resources of land and water. Tribal clashes, with livestock rustling and banditry, are a common occurrence in many areas.

"Before the organisation started operating in the area, there was no plan to empower them. The culture associates disability to a bad omen. If you cannot build a Somali traditional hut or milk a camel or cook a meal, as a woman, you are disqualified as a wife. But for men, disability is only visible if you are poor. If you have a camel and some goats you can still marry. I understand that society doesn't intentionally discriminate against persons with disability but this is so because the level of awareness is low," said Hassan.

"When families are moving from one area to another in search for pasture, the disabled are carried on the backs of donkeys or camels but in extreme circumstances where the family doesn't have enough beast of burden, they are left behind with enough food and the homestead is fenced to keep away the wild animals. When the family finally settles in the new area they go back to pick them.

For them, property is more valuable that humans," he said.

Hassan started the NGO after his own disability in March 2007. Before then, he too was oblivious to this group of people.

"I never thought that I would ever be disabled and then I got in accident on my way to Mandera from Nairobi just as I was on the last 200km after clearing 900km. I suffered a spinal cord injury and I was paralysed from my neck down. I later regained the use of my hands. I spent a whole year in hospital.

"Before my accident I had no interest in people with disability I never knew they even existed in the nomadic areas. That is when I started asking myself how they live here and what happens when the families start moving following the rain patterns. As a young boy I grew up herding goats and that is where the idea of starting an NGO that caters for the need of the nomadic communities sprung up.

I grew up in a trading centre so there was not much moving in search of pasture," he explained.

After the accident, Hassan had given up on life and asked to be taken to his rural home in Kutulo, Mandera.

"There, I had decided to go and die. But once I got there, people of disability in the area came to visit me and talked to me. I accepted my condition and started getting healthy and having a better outlook of life. After this awareness, focus shifted from myself to the persons with disability in the region. I was happier. I had a purpose in life. I started Nondo, a mass movement of people with disability in North Easter areas like Mandera, Turkana, Wajir, Garissa, Marasabit, Samburu and Isiolo."

Nondo seeks to raise the level of awareness among PWDs, provide assistance devices-integration/participation-expensive; repairing; cost of transport and funding opportunities-poverty; awareness to access funding opportunities.

Hassan described the experience of working with the community.

"I recently had a lengthy call with a mother who has a disabled child with spinal injury. I had to convince her not to keep her locked up in the house alone. I usually engage parents to bring out their children and let them be like all the other children. We have also trained parent who have children with disabilities to approach others who have not accepted their children," he said.

The organisation also provides education and economic empowerment.

"Disability is only visible when you have no education. That is when we see the disabled poor and on the street begging. We have programmes on governance and urge them to participate in community affairs. There are some who told me that they do not need a national identification card because the police don't arrest them. This they don't have voter's cards and don't participate actively in society.

I'm glad that a teacher in Mandera who is a person living with disability is vying for a county representative seat."

"I believe that when we are represented in all aspects of governance then the decisions made will have a positive trickle down effect to people with disability in far flung areas. If not we will continue struggling to ensure that we have a member in all school committees civil society, APDK and district development committees."

Some of the challenges that the organisation faces according to Hassan is access to the vast northern eastern region.

"North Eastern is a vast area and efficiently penetrating it to provide services for the persons with disability is proving to be hard. There is also the issue of insecurity with the rampant rustling and banditry. The PWDs become the first casualties because they cannot run away fast enough. Some are even used as human shields.

Nondo, which has now been in operation for two years, was awarded the Malaika Tribute Award for Activist of the Year, which was presented by anti-jigger campaign ambassador Cecilia Mwangi during the gala dinner at Safari Park.

"I was rude to Daddy Owen when he called me and told me I had won the award. I thought it was one of the prank calls made by conmen telling me that I had won money. But he told me to Google it to get more information about it. The award encouraged me to create awareness about disability in the context of nomadic communities in Kenya."

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