When we see a person who is mentally or physically disabled we automatically think of their limits. It's easy to say “they won’t be able to do that.” However, for people with mental or physical disabilities there are no limits on their dreams. They see a world waiting to be conquered. They hope to triumph over their disabilities. They have the drive to surpass expectations. All they need is for someone to help them unlock these possibilities…
Someone like Sr. Ann Kamene Musyoka, Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN).
In May of 2016, Sr. Ann graduated with first class honors from ASEC’s Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program. With a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies from at Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), Sr. Ann was ready to take on the world. She knew she received this opportunity for a reason. She looks at her education as God’s way of asking her to use her newfound abilities to help the lives of others.
So, that’s exactly what she did.
Sr. Ann accepted a position as Director of Cheshire Home for Girls in Limuru, Kenya. The home provides a residential and training program for girls with varying mental and physical disabilities. It's easy for a person to look at this home and feel sadness for what these girls can’t do but that was not Sr. Ann’s reaction.
When Sr. Ann walked through the home her mind began buzzing with possibilities. She began thinking not about what can’t be done but what can be done. She began imagining how she can help every girl in the home reach for the stars. She saw bright futures for each girl she met. Most importantly, when Sr. Ann walked through the doors of the home she believed in not just the care the home was capable of providing but the dreams the girls were capable of achieving.
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Empowering young women and girls with disabilities
Sr. Ann immediately went to work on implementing programs to help the 35 young women and girls the home supports. She developed the land surrounding the home to become a farm. The two previously unused acres of land not only feed the girls, but also generate income to help sustain the home. Sr. Ann also teaches the girls to bake and they sell what they make to a local school.
These programs not only give the girls a sense of responsibility but also community. Each girl is contributing to the success of the home by participating in these programs. Therefore, each girl feels a sense of responsibility and ownership over the community they are building.
When Sr. Ann saw that these programs were successful she decided to help expand the possibilities of the program and the girls. Local fundraising efforts resulted in purchasing two ovens for the home. Their major donors are the local churches where the girls and staff take part in the church events such as Liturgy readings and choir. Through the generosity of donors, the home only buys 5% of the food they eat. The rest of the food is received by local donors and the resources from their land.
Protecting young women with disabilities
According to the United Nations, women and girls with disabilities experience double discrimination, which places them at higher risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation.
Sr. Ann understands that the girls from the center are vulnerable and that people may try to take advantage of them. To help the girls understand unsafe situations, Sr. Ann partners with a group called Youth Changes Kenya who helps the home work with a Child Protection officer and connects the home with lawyers as needed. Volunteers from Child Protection come and teach the girls about self-defense and sexual violence.
However, Sr. Ann’s work does not stop here.
Fighting for justice for girls with disabilities
Sr. Ann is proactive in her role to seek justice for the girls at the center. When a young girl in her care was raped and became pregnant, others told her to forget about seeking justice and care for the girl. However, she believed something had to be done. Sr. Ann marched down to the police station and filed a police report and the man eventually admitted to his crime.
About 90% of the girls at the home have experienced sexual abuse. Although justice can lead to victims receiving a sense of healing, Sr. Ann understands that the mental anguish of being victimized just doesn’t go away. Sr. Ann recognized they were in need of mental health services but knew the home could not afford to hire one. So, she reached out to a local university and they now send a team of five counselors to the home regularly.
Teaching communication skills
Having the strength to speak up for marginalized members of society, Sr. Ann knows the value of effective communication skills. To help the girls better develop their communication abilities she has also gotten volunteers from the Special Education Program in Kenya to provide speech and language services to the girls. Through these services the girls have unlocked a power they always had but never knew how to use. This has helped the girls stand up for not only what's best for each individual but also what’s best for the home as a whole.
The power of education in "thinking outside the box"
Looking back, Sr. Ann attributes her strategic mind and ability to think outside the box to what she learned in the HESA program. As a result of HESA, Sr. Ann looks at everything with a keen eye for possibilities and potential. Even in the most hopeless of situations she is able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. However, Sr. Ann does not think of herself as a hero or a savior. Those titles are reserved for the girls at the home who inspire Sr. Ann every day to seek justice for those who have been mistreated in the world.
Sr. Ann is simply acting in response to the difficult situations she has found herself, but it is her creative and strategic ability to rise to these challenges which makes her so special. ASEC’s HESA program has given Sr. Ann the ability to find innovative ways to solve the problems she faces. She says,
“I would be in a very bad situation if I was given a home like this to run and then I don’t have the knowledge and skills--that would be terrible. …I have been able to use the skills I got in school to maximize on the resources we have.” -Sr. Ann.