My mom was visiting with us in Kenya recently, and I decided to take her to Heshima’s Dignity Designs, a specialty jewelry shop I had heard great things about. I thought it would be a fun mother-daughter day out, and we could buy some lovely African beaded jewelry. What I didn’t realize was that we were about to learn about an inspirational program supporting special needs children in Kenya.
When we arrived at the shop, we met Heshima founder Tracey Hagman. She asked if we would like a tour of their children’s center before we started shopping, and we said, “Sure!” What we saw there touched and inspired us both.
Many special needs children in Kenya live a life with little dignity, and even less support. Heshima, meaning “dignity” in Swahili, provides assistance and services for Kenyan children with special needs, as well as their mothers.
Kenya sorely lacks institutions providing services for children with disabilities. Many special needs children in Kenya are kept at home, out of school, sometimes hidden from the community due to stigma. Those that do attend public school often languish, neglected, without any targeted assistance. Very few special needs children ever have the opportunity to receive the special education or therapy they need.
Heshima seeks to meet the needs of such children – children with cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, physical and learning disabilities, epilepsy, and other conditions.
Heshima provides meals, basic education, and specialized therapy (physical, occupational and speech) to the special needs children in their center. Heshima also supports the mothers of each enrolled child, providing them with training, employment, and much-needed income. Heshima moms are employed as water distributors, jewelry makers, or as assistants within the Heshima program.
We got a chance to meet many of Heshima’s children, moms and staff during our visit that day. The center is beautiful – bright, cheery, and full of brightly colored toys, bean bags, and books. The children were so HAPPY. As we passed through the center, some children were contentedly napping. Other children were starting their therapy sessions, using both locally made and imported devices to help the children develop their gross and fine-motor skills. Still other children were sitting in class, working on their handwriting or listening to stories. It was a warm, welcoming space full of smiles and cheer. I felt good just being there.
After we toured the center, we made our back to our original destination – the Dignity Designs jewelry shop, and picked up several gorgeous pieces. The proceeds from jewelry sales all go towards salaries for the Heshima moms, giving them the income they need to support their family. The jewelry is truly beautiful and unique!
I was so inspired to see the work that Heshima is doing with these wonderful kids. These children deserve love and support. They deserve to be seen for who they are as individuals – not as labels, stereotypes, or stigma. Their moms deserve to make a living wage, and to connect with and get support from other moms going through the same challenges. Thanks to Heshima, they’re getting all this, and more.
If you would like to support the work done at Heshima, you can visit their website to make a donation. The center operates almost exclusively on individual donations, and relies heavily on the support of people like us!
Are quality services for special needs children available where you live? What is being done locally to support people with disabilities in your country?
Photo credits: Heshima, used by permission.