At Bridge the only barrier to Brian’s dream was his own ambition

Bridge believes in the importance of advocating inclusion. In Kenya, children learn from each other and ensuring that they are surrounded with children of differing abilities, tribes, religions and gender is essential for not only their personal development but the development of community cohesion.

Many families struggle to provide a decent education for their children and in Kenya, disability can make it even more difficult to access a good school. Supposedly integrated schools often argue that their institutions lack adequate facilities to accommodate children with special needs. For those in underserved communities access education is difficult at the best of times, extra requirements can make it even more so. UNICEF estimates that there are at least 93 million children with disabilities in the world and they are often likely to be among the poorest members of the population.

Ahead of DFID’s inaugural disability summit this summer, hundreds of advocates from African and international research institutes have been brought together by Leonard Cheshire this week, to consider a new three year study called Bridging the gap, that examines why policies in African countries, including Kenya are failing to meet the needs of people with disabilities and what can be done to bridge the gap between policy formulation and implementation.

A human rights report released in Kenya in 2013 found that educational facilities in Kenya for children with disabilities “face particular challenges” noting that such schools “are few and inadequately resourced.”

The 2013 seminal Kenyan Truth and Justice Reconciliation Commission, highlighted the challenges facing children with disabilities in a report presented to President Kenyatta. The Commission tasked the Ministry of Education to implement “robust plans” to integrate children with disabilities into mainstream education saying that schools should tailor their facilities to suit children’s specific needs. However, despite these recommendations, five years on, children with disabilities still face challenges accessing education.

The World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education found that although enrolment rates and completion rates in both primary and secondary schools had rocketed across the developing world in recent years, those children with disabilities have been left behind and the education gap between children with and without disabilities has grown. According to their report, The Price of Exclusion: Disability and Education, less than a half of children with disabilities complete primary school and three in ten never step foot inside a classroom.

The Disability and Education paper published by the Economic and Social Research Council and the UK’s Department for International Development found that even where the number of children with disabilities enrolling in mainstream schools is increasing they are on the whole not learning, as social exclusion is preventing them from gaining the benefits attributable to quality education.

Often, the urgency of tackling disability in schools can be forgotten, unless a child directly impacted tells their story.

Brian Muriuki is 16-years-old from Karatina in Nyeri County, central Kenya. It’s a largely rural, agricultural community. A problem with his spinal cord means that Brian uses a wheelchair.

He is part of a family of seven and one of his siblings is also disabled; struggling with mental health issues. His parents are raising their family in one of the many underserved communities in Kenya. His father provides for the family by driving a boda boda while his mother is small scale farmer

For years Brian and his family struggled to find a school that could adapt to his needs. For a long time he attended a public school that was miles away and even more difficult to reach because of his wheelchair. His family worried that he wouldn’t be able to complete his primary education and that his future held limited hope.

Then, three years go he joined Bridge Academy, Karatina. His life changed. He could get to school and Brian wasn’t made to feel like a boy with a disability, but simply as another member of the class. His classmates made sure that he was comfortable and much of his love for the school comes from his affinity with his teachers who ‘were so kind to me’ and ‘where I did not understand, they booked me extra classes to help me because they understood my problem.’

Brian wants to be an engineer but in the past he thought that his wheelchair would be an insurmountable barrier. Bridge taught him that the only barrier to his dream was his own ambition.

In 2017, Brian sat his primary school leavers exam (KCPE), he scored an amazing 269 marks; enough to make him eligible for secondary school. This is despite missing nearly half of the school year due to illness.

His Academy Manager was not surprised at his results saying that “Brian is a very vibrant, disciplined and intelligent young man. If he was in good health and in school full time then he would have been amidst other top performers in the country. I believe he would have scored 400 in his KCPE”

Strong KCPE scores and the opportunity to attend secondary school means that his future as an engineer is getting ever closer.

He says: “The kindness and support of my classmates and teachers at Bridge has given me the confidence to chase my dream.”

According to research carried out in 2008 by the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development and the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, 67% of children with disabilities receive some primary education but just 19 per cent complete secondary school.

Brian is one of the many children in Kenya whose disability has meant that life is harder than necessary. There are some schools that will give them the hope and confidence to pursue their dreams but not all children are lucky enough to access them.