Voices from the field Thu, 19/01/2012 - 16:37

In Kenya, hope for people living with disabilities

Dario Woodland, 25

Kenya is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, and the International Rescue Committee supports them and native Kenyans with clean water, health care and protection during emergencies, and with job training and education on legal rights and protections.

The IRC is the only provider of health care in the Kakuma refugee camp in north-western Kenya, where our community-based rehabilitation programme is providing life-changing assistance to people living with disabilities. This week IRC grants intern Jane Yang is sharing some of their stories:

I met Dario Waodiond in an IRC orthopedic workshop, where staff members were busy making and repairing mobility devices and tools to assist people living with disabilities in the Kakuma refugee camp. He was sitting at a table in a dark corner of the room, but when we were introduced, I was immediately taken by his brilliant, warm smile. I assumed he was taking a break from retrofitting a pair of crutches or fixing the wheel on a tricycle, but Susan Waruhiu, the IRC occupational therapist managing the community-based rehabilitation (CBR) programme, told me otherwise: “Dario is one of our beneficiaries.”

Susan asked Dario if he would tell me his story. That’s when I noticed his legs. Withered and unearthly thin below the knees, Dario couldn’t support his own weight. He threw another smile in my direction as he calmly lowered himself onto the ground and, using his flip-flops to cushion his palms, made his way to a hand-powered tricycle provided by the IRC.

“From what my mother has told me, I was born okay,” Dario began, “but when I was three years old, I got polio. At the time, there was a war in Sudan. I was at a boarding school for Catholics and my parents were so far away. Then, one day my father came and took me to Lokichoggio [to escape the war]. From there, a village mate took me to Kakuma. I haven’t seen my parents since.”

Dario was 15 when he arrived in Kakuma in 2001. He was identified in an IRC-led assessment as a person living with a disability and given his tricycle, which is maintained at the CBR workshop. Prior to arriving in Kakuma, Dario never had a mobilisation device. With his tricycle, however, he could attend secondary school. Now a sharp 25-year-old, Dario proudly boasts that he is a “learned person.” And his education has paid off.

“In 2010, I worked with the IRC as a CBR trainer,” he explained. “Now, I am a medical assistant at the main camp hospital.” His duties include taking medical histories, recording symptoms, monitoring the condition of outpatients and clerking. The main camp hospital is a little less than a kilometre (0.6 miles) from his house.

When I asked Dario how he felt about the CBR programme, he became deeply reflective. “The CBR is a programme that brings people from the worst condition to a better one,” he replied. “Disabled people sometimes lose hope. The CBR programme is a lifesaver, taking them from the dark into the light.”

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