She couldn’t walk until the age of nine. Raised poor, a well-wisher paid for her surgery.
That’s when Anne Njeri, 35, made the resolve that she will cater for disabled children. Today, she runs a disabled children’s home.
“I am a married mother of three and the founder of Compassionate Hands for the Disabled Foundation, a children’s home based in Ruai. I was raised by a single mother in the heart of Korogocho after my father passed away.
I was born with physical hemiparesis, which deterred the normal development of the limbs on my left side.
With the condition, I could not walk and required help for the first eight years of my life.
My mother was a tailor and she worked hard to provide for my two sisters and me. It was challenging.
At the age of nine, Catherine Wagner, a missionary at Korogocho, offered to cater for an operation, therapy, and medication that enabled me to take my first steps.
She also offered to cater for my education. That was the beginning of a different life for me.
Her kind action brewed a desire in me to reach out to disabled children and give them hope and a new beginning.
There were days I allowed my disability to weigh me down, especially when I could not walk. There were times I would hide and feel incapable of performing chores.
My mother would be quick to remind me that I was loved and capable of performing the chores like my siblings, though by the use of a different strategy.
‘I want the three of you to bring me 20 litres of water each,’ my mum would order. ‘Anne, you can either carry the 20 litres, two 10 litres’ or four-five litres’ jerry cans,’ she would advise me.
I knew she was trying to tell me that I was capable of delivering and she wanted me to feel comfortable in my own skin.
This for me served as a telltale that she believed my disability was not an inability to achieve and perform like other abled persons. So who was I to feel different?
DAY CARE CENTRE
My mother’s support, love, and encouragement helped me ignore the jibes and stares that came my way, boost my self-esteem and become a go-getter.
In 2008, after completing a journalism course, I started working at a radio station in Korogocho as a radio presenter.
My shows focused on children and my frequent interaction with disabled children revived my childhood desire to help them.
After months of working and saving up, I opened a day care centre for the mentally and physically challenged children opposite my workplace.
The day care later became a home for abandoned disabled children. The children were residents. I received a large number of children than I had anticipated.
The rented room became too small for the 30 children I had.
I, therefore, started house hunting in Ruai and luckily a local church offered a rental house that would accommodate me and the children. We moved to Ruai in 2009.
By 2011, juggling work and the children’s home responsibilities was a tussle. I resigned as a radio presenter.
This move meant that I was now fully depending on well-wishers to support the children. There were days we lacked the essentials, but that did not make me lose hope.
I desired to run a better home and develop projects that would help me cater for the therapy, medication and basic needs of the children.
I shared my desire with a friend who encouraged me to fundraise. In 2016, she helped me steer the 1,000 golden hearts campaign, which would see a thousand people give a thousand shillings each.
We received overwhelming support that enabled us to purchase land.
A number of well-wishers including Safaricom foundation and churches enabled me to start building dorms and classrooms on the land and establish poultry, greenhouse, cattle, and biogas production projects.
The children require therapy, medication, counselling and special equipment to provide a comfortable life for them. Thankfully, the projects are able to cater for some of the bills.
I love the smiles on the 94 children that are currently in the home, the hope to live even after they had possibly lost hope.
To make this a reality, I have employees and volunteers who help with the various duties.
The construction of the dorms is still ongoing and I hope to start a school for children with autism and cerebral palsy in the future.
I want to give them a reason to be strong and believe that they have a purpose to be alive, just like my mother and my well-wishers did.
And that’s the thing. Parents’ love and compassion encourage a child with a disability to achieve.
My independence and self-love were nurtured by my mother. If my mother was not strong enough to ignore the ridicule of having a disabled child, I would have not founded my children’s home nor had a great purpose in life. I want to give that to my 94 children.
Everyone has challenges, both unseen and seen, persons with disabilities have theirs, which is visible, and that is the only thing that makes them different.
‘Mum, I will be a great achiever in life,’ I recall telling my mum two decades ago. ‘I will make you proud,’ I assured her. I am glad that has come to pass, while the rest is still unfolding.”