By Holly Washburn, a member of the SkillCorps Kenya April 2016 team
“Stories can be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can be used to break dignity of people, but stories can also be used to repair that dignity.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
I began this morning watching a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche called “The Danger of a Single Story” recommended by an old friend from high school. Watching this video was the perfect way to change my perspective on this trip and the reason why I am in Kenya. Chimamanda explains how we need to learn many stories to understand a culture. There are many struggles worldwide, but there are also many talents, victories, intelligences, and strengths.
As we arrived at the clinic this morning for the first time, I was eager to learn about stories with an open mind. As we were drinking tea and waiting for the kiddos to arrive, we met a beautiful woman who was beginning an internship at Kaizora. The workers are in an unpaid internship for three months before getting hired at Kaizora. This woman travels two hours to work in an unpaid position to better the lives of individuals with disabilities.
“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”
We were interested in learning about how autism is viewed in Kenya. She explained how in the past individuals with disabilities were viewed as demon possessed. Her cousin, who had cerebral palsy, died at age 21, because the family held these beliefs and did not seek treatment. However, these beliefs are becoming less common as awareness and acceptance is spread throughout the county. We shared how even in America individuals with physical disabilities are more widely accepted than “invisible” disabilities, such as autism. Her story did not gain pity from me, but instead it gained respect. This woman has the same passion and desire to change the world that we have.
“The consequence of a single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes a recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different, rather than how we are similar.”
After a day at this clinic, my eyes have been open to the similarities in our clinics. We are united in our desire to improve the lives of children with autism. I want to clear up and misconceptions about Kenya and the clinic that you may have. This clinic is very evidence- based and well trained in Applied Behavior Analysis. We are not there to “save the day” and make everything better. We are the for professional development on both sides. ABA therapists worldwide should seek to refine and improve their skills. I am excited to offer new ideas and train on strategies I have learned. However, I have already learned so much about Applied Behavior Analysis and I look forward to continue learning from the staff.
Along the same lines, many misconceptions I have heard growing up about many countries in Africa do not apply to Kenya. The hotel we are staying in is absolutely beautiful and the people are friendly and hospitable. There is running water, and TV’s and mini fridges in the room, and we each have our separate bathroom with showers. Nairobi is a city with successful businesses. We have already made two trips to the mall, where the clothes were more expensive that I would usually pay. Kiddos passed me in the mall riding hover boards, and I got a macchiato at a coffee shop with wifi. We had lunch Sunday at a beautiful restaurant with fancy food and paintings sold by the outdoor seating, The main difference between Nairobi and Indianapolis has been the flowers and lush trees that cover this country. My hope is that our perspectives can change from assuming differences, and instead we can ask about stories. When we have heard these stories, we can emphasize with challenges, respect cultures, and celebrate with victories.
“When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story of any place, we gain a paradise.”
I look forward to hearing more stories about individuals with autism and sharing these stories. Individuals do not deserve pity, but instead they deserve admiration, respect, and dignity. When meeting someone new or traveling, I challenge you to ask about stories. People are eager to tell their stories.
Lalasalama. Sweet dreams and hope for tomorrow. I have hope that we will continue to hear more stories worldwide, and these stories will be embraced and enjoyed.