“Flash complained one evening that one of his legs was painful,” explains his mother, Rose. “He went to school the next day, and when he came back in the evening the whole of his lower limbs were in pain.” Flash was immediately taken to hospital, where he was diagnosed with polio. Unfortunately, he lost the use of both his legs.
“Polio has caused a jumpy, jovial and playful boy to become immobile,” says Rose. “He has lost sensation in most parts of his body and is now dependent on us for everything.”
Flash’s life changed completely after contracting polio. Unable to move himself, he stayed at home for eight years, sitting in the same spot for days at a time. “I became bitter when I saw other children going to school and I was just sitting at home,” he explains.
Soon after his diagnosis, Rose visited a rehabilitation centre at Nyabondo, more than 80km from the family’s home, to see if it was suitable for her son. Yet she found it overpopulated, mostly with older people with physical disabilities who weren’t very responsive. She knew Flash wouldn’t be happy there and decided to care for him herself.
Rose used to run a hair salon, but she had to close the business to care for Flash, and life for the family became very difficult. “Flash’s hospital bills grew and our little savings were depleted. Affording very basic things such as three meals a day became a tall order. We had to move from the two-bedroom house where we used to live to a single room,” she explains. “My self-esteem was eroded and I felt as though people were always talking about me. I didn’t want to go out. That was the darkest period in my life.”
During this time, Flash’s parents thought that his dreams of getting an education had been shattered forever, and they lost hope of him ever going to school.
In January 2017, Rose heard about Sightsavers’ inclusive education programme and Flash was assessed at the Education Assessment and Resource Centre in Homa Bay. It was agreed he would do well at Nyaburi Integrated Primary School, where the programme is being piloted.
“I am so happy to be back at school. The headmaster gave me a wheelchair so I can now move around as much as I want.”
At the school, Flash and other children with disabilities are taught together alongside pupils without disabilities, in the same classrooms, as head teacher John Opee explains. “Able-bodied learners have been very helpful to their disabled peers,” he says. “This makes us believe that the future for inclusion of people with disabilities is bright.”
Mr Opee explains that the school building has been modified with wider pathways and corridors, to enable pupils to get around more easily, and teachers have received specialist training on how best to work with children with disabilities. “The school is now very disability-friendly, which makes the mobility of our learners with disabilities easy,” he says.