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My sister’s tragedy decided my fate

By Jael Musumba | August 9th 2020 at 11:00:00 GMT +0300

Tell us more about yourself and your background.

I was born and raised by a single mother. We were four siblings, three girls and one boy. One of my sisters was born mentally challenged and this caused us a lot of social stigma, especially my mother. Growing up in a slum did not make it easier for us. We lived in Mathare slum and my mother sold weed and chang’aa to survive.

What exactly did your sister suffer from?

We did not know for sure, all we knew is that she was different. Sadly, the people around us could not accommodate her disability.  My mother was often mocked by people. We could not go anywhere with her to avoid being abused.

How did she cope in such a harsh environment?

It was not easy. We really struggled to fit her into a community that never accepted her condition. The only solution was to keep her indoors.

How did your sister’s condition affect you?

It was hurtful to be stigmatized and rejected because of the condition. Because of all this pain and rejection, I gained interest in studying psychology so that I could be able to understand the situation and at least make it more manageable.

Were you able to achieve this?

I did eventually, but it was a nightmare for me. My mother could not raise enough money to take us to school. Being the first born among my siblings, I had to drop out of school at some point to do odd jobs and supplement my mother’s income. Lucky for me, I got sponsorship by the Focolare Movement under St Teresa’s Church in Eastleigh. They took up my education and sponsored me to college level where I studied sociology. Afterwards, I did a course in psychology.

Where was your mother then?

Unfortunately, my mother passed on. Her death forced us to move to my grandmother’s place. Our grandma raised us and helped us to manage my sister’s condition.

What happened after college?

I volunteered at the Mathare Sports Association working with mentally challenged people in my community. I did this for more than three years after which the association nominated me for an exchange program in Norway.

While in Norway, I worked in centers for people with mental and physical disability. I was awed by the care and attention people with special needs were given there. That is how the idea of opening a similar center back home came to mind, though it was a tough decision to make.

Why? When I came back home from Norway, my brother was gunned down. He was only 19 years old. This incident made me think of opening a center for youth where we could nurture their talents and sensitize them on crime and drug abuse. Again I thought of opening a center for people with disability like my sister. I settled on opening a center for people with disability. That is how the Mathare Center for Hindered People came to be.

Were you proud of your decision?

Yes I was, because these people with mental challenges needed a place to call home but very few people could share and show them love. Some kids were even living like prisoners because their parents didn’t want them to be seen in public.

How did the community receive your idea?

It was overwhelming and challenging at first. Parents who did not know how to handle their special children found relief. But I had to educate and encourage those who found it hard to bring their kids openly. Our center has grown in popularity and people come from far to seek our services. So far, we have over 100 children in our care.

What has been the impact of your work?

It has been great. Before we started, many parents were ashamed of walking with their special needs children. After educating them, they became proud of their children. The stigma and abuse has been replaced with love and care.

What is in the future for you?

With my brother still in mind, I decided to go on with my plan to start a community center for youth. We also provide free sanitary towels to girls and panties and vests to boys. I believe we should never forget where we came from. When you get uplifted sharing is one way of opening more doors to blessings.


Disability social stigma
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