Wednesday 6th April 2016

In early February of this year, I was very excited to be able to travel to Kenya to lead my debut Motivation Peer Training! Peer Training courses aim to assist wheelchair users to overcome some of the stigma that so often surrounds disability by giving them knowledge about their disability and tools to be able to assert their rights. By teaming up with more experienced wheelchair users, the training provides an opportunity for less experienced wheelchair users to improve their health, wheelchair skills and self-confidence whilst providing vital information regarding disability rights.

As Peer Training Programme Officer, part of my job role is to assist in the global coordination of Motivation’s Peer Training work. Although Motivation has been working in Kenya since 2011, this was the first ever course to take place in the country so was a huge moment for the Kenyan team. There is a severe lack of rehabilitation services available for people with mobility disabilities in the country, especially for those with spinal cord injury, so this sort of training is desperately needed.

During my Kenyan visit, I was told many stories of how people had overcome obstacles such as the stigma attached to disability. In one instance, a lady had been so desperate to be cured of her spinal cord injury that she visited a religious pastor with the hope of being healed. However, instead, the pastor told her she had demons and proceeded to stand on her feet, resulting in her being battered and bruised. Sadly, in some developing countries it is a common belief that disabled people are ‘possessed’; a wheelchair user myself, I have had first-hand experience of this in Tanzania where a group of people started chanting and clawing at me in an effort to rid me of my ‘demons’.  Peer Training seeks to address obstacles such as these through promoting a better understanding of disability and giving participants the confidence to assert their rights.

The participants really inspired me as they were open to sharing their experiences and encouraged each other to do well; it showed the value of wheelchair users supporting one another.

The women participants were so engaged that they even requested an additional evening session to further discuss topics relating to sexuality and relationships.

For me, one of the most powerful sessions was on assistance as many participants felt they were not in control of the assistance they received. They really saw the value of positive communication (i.e. politely asserting what it is they need) through a role play. In the past, I myself have often found it difficult to assert what type of assistance I require; I find that sometimes, despite having the best intentions, people will attempt to push you without asking. It is therefore a skill that is really important to learn so that not only are we more independent but feel in control of our lives.

Putting their newly acquired wheelchair skills to the test, one afternoon we were let loose in the local community where myself and the other participants enjoyed playing sport.  Unfortunately, I lost to a Kenyan racing champion during a slalom race – but only by a small margin, I promise! 

Watch Carol and I go head to head in the slalom race below!


         

"On our last evening, a few of us got together to let our hair down for some dancing – my fellow trainer, Fred, in particular, rocked some serious moves!" Lucy Norris

On our last evening, a few of us got together to let our hair down for some dancing - my fellow trainer, Fred, in particular rocked some serious moves! The night was truly memorable as one participant told us of her love for dancing and how she didn’t think she was able to do this since becoming a wheelchair user; it was amazing to see her and other participants dancing the night away! The camaraderie within the group was amazing and many agreed to remain in contact and meet up after the training had finished.

Some of the people who attended the course had the potential to become trainers themselves so I returned to the UK feeling optimistic that we will soon have a strong group who will be able to change the lives of many more disabled people living in Kenya.

The trip further made me appreciate how lucky I am to live in a country with decent healthcare and systems in place to support wheelchair users. This experience has made me proud to be part of such an incredible team and the full realisation of what a huge and positive impact Motivation’s Peer Training has on people’s lives.

On reflection, I can truly say that I learnt so much from everyone that I met during my visit. I was truly inspired that despite the many obstacles they face, the participant’s spirits remain unbroken and they continue to strive to bring hope to other disabled people. 

 Like this? Click here to find out more about some of Motivation's latest work in Kenya!