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Special needs children in Kibera gain their balance through yoga

By Lydia Limbe | Published Sun, December 7th 2014 at 00:00, Updated December 6th 2014 at 23:09 GMT +3
Yoga, the union of body and mind

Yoga is misunderstood by many. Some think it is a cult. Others feel it is against religion. But what is yoga really?

In simple terms it is the union of the body and mind. Even in light of this misconception about yoga, those who have come to understand it are reaping the benefits.

Take for instance some of the special needs children being cared for by the Action Foundation at Laini Saba in Kibera. Most of the children here have special needs like spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome, hydrocephalus.

There are many whose hearing is impaired and others are deaf and blind. Maria Omare, the founder of Action Foundation, and her team bumped into yoga, literally.

“We were invited for the Saturday Community class one day. At the end of the two hour session, we thought this may be good for the children that we cared for. We therefore made the request and Africa Yoga Project promised to send a teacher,” she says.

To be the designated teacher for the special needs children was a no brainer for Magdaline Adhiambo. She has been a yoga teacher for four years, but from April this year, she started doing what she calls aided yoga with her 13-year old brother who is cerebral palsied.

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“Since he was a toddler, he has been going for therapy at St Josephs Chapel Kariobangi. I started seeing significant difference when I started doing a fusion of yoga and therapy,” says Magdaline.

Her brother is able to call out the names of his family members, and he can also look at someone straight in the eye.


It is this first-hand experience of handling a special needs child that Magdaline brings to the Action Foundation. She says the first few weeks were spent on bonding.

“Special needs children are very sensitive,” she says. “They have to get familiar with someone and feel comfortable before they can trust him or her. So the first few weeks we just came in and played with them, while understanding their personalities.”

The resident physiotherapist, Timothy Dajom, says that even though they had requested for a teacher, they did not know in specific terms what the results would be.

What has transpired has been a pleasant surprise.

“Part of physiotherapy is  giving a massage. Once the child is above the age of five, massaging does not give any results. I have seen that yoga is good for the children who are above five,” says Timothy.

For instance, he says Clinton Ogeto, who is nine years old could not sit unsupported. His head had to be turned right or left, and he could not form words.

He lacked balance and coordination. He can now turn his head on his own; he can smile and is beginning to form words. His mother, Lydia Kwamboka, says he now makes an attempt to roll his tongue and chew. “He was very stiff,” says Lydia. “Before I brought him to this centre, he used to spend the whole day crying, but nowadays he is so calm and gets excited when he hears that i am bringing him here.”

Hussein Musa, who is also a yoga teacher, assists Magdalene in the weekly Tuesday classes. He is a yoga teacher with the African Yoga Project, and teaches yoga to deaf children.


During my visit, I found him aiding a boy do a standing posture. The boy suffers from hydrocephalus and cannot stand on his own. To move, he drags himself.

Maria founded the centre after she realised that that children with special needs in Kibera are either chained under the beds or locked indoors for fear of stigmatisation, while the real reason was lack of information.

She took the initiative to find lasting solutions, and has since put together the center from donations of well wishers.  The centre cares for 38 children, some of whom have been enrolled to various schools.

Only 12 come daily for day care services. Since the centre highly depends on well wishers for survival, Maria decided to start income-generating activities that can help the parents pay for their children’s therapy sessions.

“We noticed that some of the parents are good at weaving. So we created space where they can work, and helped them create trendy designs, and well as look for markets,” she says.

“Some of the children also draw and paint. We select the best pieces, digitise them, and turn them into greeting cards. With the the profits from these activities, we can have therapy on a regular basis, as well as feed the children.”

Timothy notes that even though they did not know the specific benefits of doing yoga, this has been a learning curve for him and for Action Foundation team.

“Yoga does not discriminate. The young and old can do it. They have benefits that are essential to man, like better better sleeping patterns, removal of toxins, makes you strong, among many more,” says Timothy.

“I am impressed by the milestones we have achieved with these children. I am glad that we found a solution that is working for them.”


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