Special Needs Olympics and the joy of certficates

When Ryan and I got married, we had to sort through all of our things. This can be a challenge no matter where you are living. Who knew we collectively had so much STUFF – much of it with no value other than sentiment. So, when you are planning to move overseas, much of that “stuff” has to go- only the most treasured things remain.

Certificates may not have been one of them. From violin recitals, to gymnastics participation, it seemed that every childhood activity gave out a certificate stating proudly that “fill in the blank” had completed something. I remember treasuring them as a child. In adult life, they have lost a bit of their glamour.

I’m not sure what it is, but certificates seem to hold power in Kenya. After each training that is conducted – whether it is for CHE, micro-finance or preschool – you can be sure that no certificate will be lost or unnoticed.

In the midst of the children and parents receiving certificates for various accomplishments, there are many children who go unnoticed. Children whose mental or physical capacities have limited what they can participate in on an every-day level.

When ninety-five church members from Parkview Christian Church came to Missions of Hope recently, we knew that several from the group would participate in “special needs sports.” Two MoHi staff members that work with these kids put their heads together, prayed, and came up with a plan, as Parkview team members prepared on the other side of the ocean. They eased into the week together, playing sports games with kids that are able to be in school with the rest of the children. Later, they visited kids with more severe disabilities who are unable to leave their homes. From children that cannot see, hear, to those with severe cerebral palsy, these home visits can be some of the most challenging. Disabilities carry stigma, and many parents refuse to let the community know that they have a child who is “different.” The conditions that some of these children are kept in are unbelievable, and I will not be describing them here.

But, things are changing.

They are small steps, but steps none the less.

They change when the CHE disability staff member visits the same homes week after week, offering hope and support.

They change when short-term teams, interns and apprentices pour themselves into doing the same, reaffirming the value of each child.

They change when a working professional pauses her career to assess students that have had challenges in the classroom and offer practical ways that they can learn.

They change when a loving couple comes to share about their children that have special needs, and live full of joy.  When they offer gifts to equip a resource center in memory of one of these sons who worked in a thriving business before he passed away.

Things are changing in the homes of Mathare, amongst families impacted by special needs.

They change – one hard-working, committed parent at a time.

This week, things were changing as the community learns that these kids can have fun.

Home by home, this team taught some of the games to parents, to help them feel comfortable before inviting them to come to the field on Thursday, where the first special olympics would take place.

In the end, they came, they participated, and everyone ended the day spent from the energy, joy and love that covered the Pangani field that morning.

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Parkview Team members assist children as they participate in wheelchair sports. Photo Credit: Nikki Giacobbe

At the end of the day, each child received a certificate for participating.

I came down the stairs to watch, as team members held kids, laughed with parents, and anticipated the close of the program.

The first name was called – then the second – and the third.

“Sarah*!” Instantly she popped out of her chair, beaming as she walked forward to receive her certificate. A row of hands stretched out to her for congratulatory high-fives, but she saw nothing else. Hands on either side of the paper she stared at it all the way back to her seat.

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A child receiving her certificate.  Photo Credit: Nikki Giacobbe

These certificates will be kept for a long time, but the experiences will not be forgotten. The first day of fun, celebrating children that have a range of things that have made them “different.” As they walked, or were carried up to receive their recognition, this was likely the first time they had been celebrated in a group. And, as things change, we hope that it is not the last.

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Parkview Christian Church Senior Pastor Tim Harlow and Missions of Hope Director Wallace Kamau join in on the silly dance to celebrate. Photo Credit: Nikki Giacobbe

The day ended with all around participation in a round of a silly song complete with dancing and laughter. Parents, kids, team members and staff, celebrating what God has done, what He is doing now, what is still to come.

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The Parkview Christian Church Special Needs team together with the day’s participants. Photo Credit: Nikki Giacobbe.

*Names Changed for this blogpost

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