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Ubuntu Special Needs Centre

Ubuntu SNC is eliminating stigma, fostering inclusion, and providing essential services for children with special needs throughout Kenya.

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What problem does your idea solve?

Throughout Kenya, many communities still associate disability with curses and bad omens. This cultural dynamic impedes the country's development of essential services for children with disabilities, prevents parents from accepting their children's disabilities, and makes social inclusion for these children almost impossible. We must provide specialized education and health care services while shifting the mentality surrounding disabilities to bring 10% of our population out of the shadows.

Explain your idea

We provide intensive services to our students (currently 50) that include physical rehabilitation therapy, life skills training and an individualized educational program. These programs result in children and teenagers learning to read, speak, walk, vital life skills, and develop occupational skills that result in independence and sometimes employment. Beyond this specialized care, we also aim to provide communities with more global services such as education and social inclusion events, essential pediatric medical care, at-home therapy, and phone consultations and counseling. These services are less individualized but allow us to serve a much larger number of families and get children with nowhere else to go into the system and connected to key resources. Our inclusion events connect community leaders and other children with special needs children to break through the barriers of stigma and lack of understanding. Our phone consultations and community trainings provide a safe space for families to learn how to identify and understand common disabilities, deal with the emotional stress of ostracization, and access key early intervention services. Finally, we will build greater access to essential services for special needs children throughout Kenya by working directly with mainstream schools to grow their capacity to work with and diagnose disabilities and by mobilizing partners in the government and Ministries of Health & Education to create tangible policy change.

Who benefits?

The Centre focuses on youth (ages 0-18) in Nakuru County with a variety of disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, down syndrome, autism, and epilepsy. Growing our program will enable earlier intervention for more children and improve access to services that provide physical, social, and emotional development. This will allow more children to live a dignified life as accepted members of their community while reducing financial and emotional strain on families and their communities.

How is your idea unique?

Nine years of experience has shown us that the depth of issues facing our students requires a holistic approach that fosters physical, emotional, educational, and financial development for our children and their families. We are also uniquely positioned to navigate the challenge of shifting public perception of disability throughout Kenya. Over the last 15 years, Ubuntu, our parent organization, has built valuable connections with business leaders, government officials, and other NGOs beyond those of a typical nonprofit. In addition to providing financial support, Ubuntu's success in building social enterprise programs and employing hundreds of Kenyans (including past students) offers a powerful audience. This loyal network allows us to rapidly mobilize community leaders, influence policy, draw attendance for inclusion events and trainings in areas where reception would otherwise be poor, and bring entrepreneurial minds to the table.

Tell us more about you

Our Centre is a program of Ubuntu, a larger nonprofit that consists of three social enterprise initiatives and a pediatric health care program that treats many of our students. The Centre's team is directly supported by an Executive Team in Kenya and our US office. We will continue to involve key donors and partners in the US and in Kenya (i.e. Whole Foods Market, Dell Chidren's Hospital, The University of Kansas Medical Center, Zazzle, Special Education Professionals - Kenya, Sarakasi Trust).

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

- How can we best leverage Ubuntu's Enterprise products and partners to raise awareness, bring more families forward and grow the capacity of the Centre? - How do we mobilize our expansive network to create policy change? Ubuntu's reputation with Kenya's Ministries of Health and Education and its impact in the business realm provide a powerful network, but how do we leverage that network to foster true political action? - How do we scale our full-time and at-home programs while maintaining the quality of individual care? - How can we improve our first level intervention resources? How can we become an information center for all of Kenya that provides key initial support for families coming forward and connects them to other resources?

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Kenya

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

Expertise in Sector

  • I've worked in a sector related to my idea for more than a year.

Organizational Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Idea Maturity

  • Early Growth/Roll-out/Scaling: I have completed a pilot and am ready or in the process of expanding.

How has your idea changed based on feedback?

This process has been enlightening for our team in considering how to more consistently gain essential feedback from our beneficiaries and how to apply it effectively. The nature of the Centre's work has required an active collection of feedback from our beneficiaries and the community but not with the specificity provided by focusing on each step of our user experience individually. This level of focus brought awareness to several key changes: -Monthly, not quarterly, inclusion and education events to meet the demand for more points of access and interaction for families seeking support. -Address a gap in resources for the siblings of special needs children, with a specialized class. -Establish a well-advertised hotline that allows more families to come forward discretely. -Increase our capacity to offer phone consultations, so that we can impact families out of our reach. -Continue growing our at-home treatment program to account for the lack of accessible transportation.

Who will implement this idea?

As the Centre's team in Kenya grows from an Occupational Therapist, a Special Needs Educator and three program assistants, it will be supported by the entire Ubuntu team (100+) and numerous medical and educational partners in the US and in Kenya. We will leverage the strength and spread of Ubuntu's enterprise products by utilizing packaging to educate our consumers, erode the silence and stigma surround the conversation and convey the numerous avenues available to the families we hope to serve.

Using a human-centered design approach, you may uncover insights that lead to small or foundational changes to your organization’s existing strategy or processes in order to unlock the potential of your idea. How would your organization go about making such changes?

Ubuntu’s team of community health workers is constantly surveying our communities, our staff, and program beneficiaries to track impact and identify opportunities for growth. Appreciating the importance of their work, our team has created systems of communication and decision making that allow all of our programs to remain nimble and able to adapt to feedback on the fly. This allows us to quickly secure buy-in and engage the entire team in making necessary adjustments. In fact, during this process, it became clear that we needed to speed up the timeline on bringing inclusion events to local primary schools. So we immediately rallied Ubuntu's program heads and our advisory board (medical and educational experts from US and Kenya) to put on our first integration event at a local school.

What is it that most attracted you to Amplify instead of a more traditional funding model?

Amplify encourages two values that define Ubuntu's approach, challenge your assumptions and listen. We knew this process would challenge us and force us to refine our own understanding of how to design and adjust our programs in response to feedback. Additionally, Amplify's commitment to truly tackling an issue and fostering dialogue around it is far more attractive to us than traditional funding opportunities that are too often concerned with finding an ideal marketing partner, not a solution.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

From our years of community immersion and the feedback we collected during this process, we know that the biggest day-to-day struggles our end-users face are the social pressures of stigma, a lack of knowledge on where to get help when they are ready to ask, a need for more full-time care options that allow parents and siblings to earn a living or attend school, and the ability to find transportation to the rare resources that are available to them. On a systems-level, our end-users are challenged by limited access to essential health care, limited access to and understanding of the government resources that are promised to individuals with disabilities, a primary school system unable to accommodate their developmental needs, and a lack of representation in the political realm.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question you need to answer to get there?

By 2022, we aim to scale the Centre's programs throughout Kenya, serving 500 children through our full-time classrooms and at-home programs and 5,000 families through our weekly pediatric health care clinics and initial intervention consultations. How do we leverage the reach and reputation of Ubuntu's enterprise programs to grow the capacity of our Centre's programs and create significant changes in public policy and disability awareness on the national level?

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this idea together?

  • More than 2 years

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed idea live?

  • Between 5-10 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country you intend to implement your idea in?

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $50,000 and $100,000 USD

If your team/idea/organization has a website, please share the URL below.

Ubuntu Foundation: Ubuntu Made:
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Team (2)

Ubuntu's profile
Kelvin's profile
Kelvin Chege-Ubuntu

Role added on team:

"Kelvin is the Occupational Therapist at the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre. He provides individual therapy plans for children in our full-time classrooms and at home while also establishing himself as a leading voice in the fight for the rights of children with disabilities in Kenya."


Join the conversation:

Photo of Nancy Wagi

Quite a wholistic approach here all in one!Kudos!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Ubuntu Team! We’re excited to share with you feedback and questions from the Amplify team and an external set of experts. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your idea. Your idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

- Your idea is clearly articulated, and you identify a key need to provide support and services to PWDs - great job!
- Tell us about how you have integrated your users into the development of your idea. How did the Beneficiary Feedback phase go? We want to know the the extent to which users themselves and/or their family members have been involved in the design and delivery of this project and the special needs education.
- To what extent are these children able to be educated in inclusive settings with the correct facilities and training? Or in other words, to what extent does this center serve children with complex needs in segregated environments? To what extent do you work with families and communities to foster an 'environment of comfort and acceptance' outside of the center? Tell us about it!
- As you think about scaling your project, do you have specific hypotheses you want to test? What are some insights and lessons learned from your previous iterations?

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - June 4 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of Ubuntu

This has been an inspiring process, thank you for the feedback!

The user feedback phase was specifically very helpful and informative. Although Ubuntu is built on a commitment to collecting feedback from the communities we serve, we hadn't ever collected feedback on such a specific level or documented it to this extent. We utilized our entire team (including Ubuntu's Community Health Workers) to survey a wide array of community members such as our current students, past students, the families of our students, the families of children currently on our wait list, our partners in Kenya, the heads of Ubuntu's other programs, teachers and administrators at local mainstream schools, etc. This process not only highlighted a number of key issues we want to address, it provided clear ideas on solutions to those issues.

Feedback on our individualized services, those for our full-time students, was very positive and predominantly focused on how high the demand was for an increased capacity in order to incorporate more children from the wait list. One key piece of feedback confirmed our survey of the community in January that called for an increased focus on at-home care. Transportation has always been an issue for the children we work with, so being able to increase our capacity to bring services to the individual is key. We will expand the hours we dedicate to at-home work but we will also explore options to create temporary satellite campuses.

Feedback on our more globally focused services provided great insight into how we can fill more gaps in the system that will allow us to serve thousands more children.

Photo of Ubuntu

Here are some of the key pieces of feedback we received and how we will incorporate them into our design moving forward:
- Increase our social inclusion events and the educational events for the families of children with disabilities. They provide key resources, psychosocial support, and offer more opportunities for families afraid of stigma to come forward.
- Shift to monthly, not quarterly, inclusion and education events to meet the demand for more points of access and interaction for families seeking support.
- There are no resources for the siblings of children with special needs. These children have their own set of issues to face but are often forgotten in our attempts to serve their siblings. They can feel like a secondary concern after their siblings, they don't know how to handle ridicule at school, they don't how much to help or not help their siblings, and they often feel guilty about their own development. This was very valuable feedback as many siblings already attend our events but are too rarely engaged or addressed directly. We will make sure to incorporate sibling concerns in all of our events but we will also begin hosting events specifically focused on sibling education so that families that are struggling most in that area can get the focused help the need.
- Create a more discrete avenue of connection. Although our offices are open to all kinds of business and therefore offer decent cover for families to come to us, we need an even easier and discrete way to connect with families in need. Therefore, we have created a hotline that will allow families to consult with our team, be connected to key resources, join our waiting list for our school and medical camps, and even set up a meeting at the Centre or at-home.
- Change the packaging of our Ubuntu Water, Ubuntu Café and Ubuntu Made products to incorporate information about the hotline (image of the water bottles which are distributed at the cafe can be found above in the 'how has your idea changed' section). Leveraging our established distribution will not only help get this information to the families that need it, it will help standardize the conversations that need to be had surrounding disabilities in Kenya.
- Community leaders and families are looking for advocacy and educational materials that they can share. They also expressed a need to create resources that do not rely on literacy. We are in the process of figuring out what those resources should look like and how we should disseminate them so as to prevent waste.
- Although limited, few people were even aware of the government funding and services that they might be entitled to. This will become a point of emphasis in our educational events and our phone consultations.
- Expand our social inclusion events to schools. One large goal for many children at the Special Needs Centre is to eventually be integrated into the regular school system. Exposure initiatives at these schools will help bring down social barriers about special needs. We have already hit the ground running with this idea by having a social event with Essy Academy, a local mainstream school, and the response was very positive.
- Long-term goals for our families that were formulated in part from this feedback phase include creating an avenue to assist in providing health insurance for children in the Centre, seeking government support on purchasing equipment for persons with disabilities, and finding more accessible public transportation.

Photo of Ubuntu

To your question of how we serve children with complex needs in segregated environments - our social inclusion events are a large part of how we bridge that segregation gap. By bringing people out to our land and hosting celebrations, we are automatically realigning how people are used to connecting to and interacting with children with disabilities.

Expanding social inclusion events to mainstream schools in addition to those we host at the Centre and the Cafe significantly helps bring down social barriers about special needs. Not only does it help other children learn how to interact with children with special needs, but it also changes how teachers perceive children with special needs and their place within the school system. This exposure helps create a culture where children grow up with an understanding of persons with disabilities and one where the community comes together to care for them, not fear them.

Leveraging the reputation of our commerce brand (the Cafe, water, and Ubuntu Made products - is another key tool that we rely on to narrow the gap of social acceptance of people with disabilities. These programs allow us to create full time jobs in the community, including benefits such as healthcare for our employers and their families. By creating meaningful connections locally, fostering a culture of respect, and establishing strong relationships between our partners, our suppliers and our customers, we are able to draw attention to the mission of the Special Needs Centre.

Photo of Ubuntu

In terms of scaling the project and future hypotheses, one goal is to make it easier for families to plug-in to resources beyond the Centre by improving and bringing more attention to those resources.

Ideally we will be able to create enough success through our programs and our mile deep, inch wide approach that we can leverage them in a way that facilitates change on a national level. We hope to inspire similar programs in communities that are not yet within our reach.

One question we hope to answer with future iterations of outreach programs is can our consistent work with mainstream schools actually empower their growth in being able to accommodate children with disabilities. Bringing children with special needs into a consistently visible position at local schools will likely allow us to open fruitful conversations about a wide range of changes within the schools that will narrow the gap between the Centre and mainstream education.

Many of the changes that we are already able to begin implementing based on feedback will hopefully have measurable results within a short amount of time. We are eager to see how shifting some of our marketing to be more visual and creating the anonymous hotline will effect the reach of our message and willingness of families to come forward for information.

Photo of embracekulture

Very impressed with the school! Glad to see that you integrate vocation training with academic achievement, which is critical in developing independence and combatting stigma by showcasing disability is not inability.

I am very curious about your outreach program outside of the school. Do you have a formalized training program for families? My organization embraceKulture ( and we are testing a more formal program. However, I think there is much we could learn from you and we be eager to discuss in more detail.

Also please check out our mobile solution ( We have had success using mobile phones to spread awareness in the community and encourage families to enroll children in centers like your own.

As for funding the school, do you charge school fees?

Photo of Ubuntu

We do have a formalized training program for families, which includes social inclusion events, awareness events, and family training on-site and in-home. Through feedback from the families we've identified other opportunities for growth in our program, however. We're looking to begin including specific training for siblings, and plan to host more events at the Centre (from quarterly to monthly).

Thank you for bringing our attention to the concept of a mobile solution - this was actually something that came up in our user experience mapping exercise and through feedback from the Maai Mahiu community. Because of the stigma of PWD in the region, many individuals are unwilling to come forward for fear of being labelled or judged. Providing a mobile phone number to reach the Centre allows anonymity for those who are not yet ready to reach out in person. We love what you all are doing with screening and diagnosis of children with autism in Uganda. We do hope to get to the point where we can help to counsel families on this level in order to expand our reach within the region.

One of the challenges that we are now looking to tackle is how to disseminate a mobile/counseling number so that we are effectively leveraging our enterprises in the area and reaching as wide of an audience as possible. We would love to discuss the challenges you have had using a mobile solution in your communities. We have had issues in the past but feel that this is an opportune time to move forward in this direction. Can you give us insight into the response rate you have encountered, or any barriers to response that you have targeted?

And yes, we do charge a very nominal school fee but we are working to make the program more self-sustainable. We have noted, though, that this 'buy-in' to the program helps to solidify commitment to the program on a more holistic level.

Photo of embracekulture

Ubuntu, Thank you for the response. Very impressed with your program. I would love to learn more and discuss our experiences with mobile. One area we have tested in providing trainings for parents and community members online. We have had interesting success and hope to explore more options related to this. Perhaps we could set up a skype call. Please send details to my email

Photo of embracekulture

Ubuntu, Thank you for the response. Very impressed with your program. I would love to learn more and discuss our experiences with mobile. One area we have tested in providing trainings for parents and community members online. We have had interesting success and hope to explore more options related to this. Perhaps we could set up a skype call. Please send details to my email

Photo of Ubuntu

Perfect! This sounds great, we will definitely be in touch!

Photo of Tim

I've been very proud to be a strong supporter of this program for many years. I am physician that has taken teams to this area every year for the past 9 years. Several years ago I joined the Ubuntu Board, and of all of the Ubuntu programs, the special needs center has had the most special place in my heart. The work that the staff does with these children is amazing, and because of their focus, expertise, and energy several kids have been able to be integrated back into the traditional school system. Several years ago I founded the Acacia Fund whose purpose is to raise funds and awareness for special needs children in developing countries. Our first and primary partner is Ubuntu Kids. We have seen the money raised go to great use, and over the years have been able to support the hiring of an occupational therapist and special needs teacher, as well as provide operational support. In the future we would love to help provide additional therapists (including speech) and teachers, and ultimately would love to build the children a new school. The Acacia Fund feels very strongly that there is outstanding leadership of the center, and know with additional support even greater things lay ahead!!

Photo of Lesa R. Walker MD, MPH

In my professional role as a public health physician, I have worked at the state and national levels in the United States, helping create quality services systems for children and youth with disabilities and their families for over 30 years. I was fortunate to visit the Ubuntu special needs school back in 2011 (when Ubuntu was named "Comfort the Children International" or "CTC"). I was visiting as part of a CTC team that taught art to high school students in Maai Mahiu. I was so impressed with the special needs school and the dedicated staff. The students with special needs and their parents flourished as a result of the school. It was evident that the community was becoming more aware and inclusive of people with disabilities. I support this idea 100%. The Ubuntu leadership is committed and has a track record of engaging and supporting grassroots community innovation and transformation. I know that the futures of so many lives in Kenya will be changed for the better as a result of the expansion of the school and the other components of this project.

Photo of Kelvin Chege-Ubuntu

Hi Lesa R. Walker MD, MPH , so good and heart warming to hear about your lasting experience with us all those years back. We continue with the same spirit and dare to stand in the gap on behalf of this often times marginalised population. A life of dignity , independence,inclusion and limitless possibilities are what we envision as an ideal situation for anyone living with a disability. Are you still working as a public health physician for the children and youth with special needs?

Photo of Lesa R. Walker MD, MPH

Kelvin Chege-Ubuntu  Thank you for your great work! I am glad to see in your proposal that you would like to expand your model to other parts of Kenya. There are quite a few projects in this Challenge from Kenya. It would be wonderful if you could collaborate with each other. Yes, I still work in public health and also now volunteer quite extensively in efforts locally and globally to motivate people to compassionate action. It would be wonderful some day return to Maai Mahiu.

Photo of Sarakasi Trust Smiles for Change

Sarakasi Trust Smiles for Change is grateful for the partnership with Ubuntu School (formerly Malaika Kids) which started way back in 2008. We were drawn in by the unique concept of their program which addresses different challenges within the community. There has been great improvement in their program over the years. Their growth from a day care center to a special needs school shows their commitment to bring positive change in the lives of the children and their families.
We appreciate that Ubuntu School acknowledges the importance of our edutainment program, which uses art as a tool for child development, holistic healing, expression and communication. This is a worth wile program and we support any efforts to ensure its sustainability in the long term.

Photo of Kelvin Chege-Ubuntu

We very much appreciate your input Sarakasi Trust Smiles for Change . We highly recommend the edutainment program to other centres and schools that work with kids with special needs.We have tried and tested it and can attest to its benefit to our kids. We hold your partnership with us in very high regard.
We hope to continue working together even more frequently moving forward upon our success in this initiative.

Photo of SEP Kenya

Special Education Professionals (SEP Kenya []), a non-profit based in Nairobi, provides therapies for children with special needs and trainings for professionals, teachers and families. Our occupational therapists, special needs teachers, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists and psychologists practice a transdisciplinary approach that aims at triggering the child's fullest potential and empowering its social network. SEP doesn't operate in its own centre but partners with different organisations in order to support their staff, employees and children.

SEP's partnership with Ubuntu goes back to 2008. Our professionals resort to Ubuntu's centre in Maai Mahiu in order to support the local staff on their request. We provide consultations for children and trainings, covering a broad field of topics related to child development and disabilities. SEP's services foster Ubuntu's impact on their community and help them achieve their goals towards the enabling of children with special needs and the empowerment of their families and social networks.

The collaboration is based on a formal agreement between Ubuntu and SEP. Until now, SEP was able to provide its services without costs for Ubuntu. The strong link between our two organisations is further underlined by the fact that Ubuntu's therapeutical staff members are also active members of SEP, participating at SEP's CPD trainings and volunteering for the cause of children with disabilities at public events.

Over the years SEP was in a privileged position to observe Ubuntu's development. It's quantitative growth from a community support initiative taking care of a few children towards a centre including 50 students is accompanied by a strong qualitative improvement. Ubuntu's approach, linking medical aspects of disabilities with educational and social inclusion, has proved to have created an efficient and sustainable impact on the children's community. These benefits redound to the children's empowerment and independence.

SEP fully supports Ubuntu's submission to this challenge and looks forward to emphasize its collaboration in order to achieve our common targets.

Photo of Kelvin Chege-Ubuntu

Thank you @SEP for your comment and your support this far. Its truly been an amazing journey all this years where we've seen this program grow into a well grounded centre that employs all efforts to address the dynamic needs of the kids we serve.You have been with us, supporting in capacity building, networking and consultations , all this at no cost. We whole heartedly believe that our participation in this challenge and consequent benefit will see us better equipped with enough resources and know how to involve you even more optimally in our collaboration with your organisation.

Photo of An Old Friend

Great work you are doing @Ubuntu.

Photo of Kelvin Chege-Ubuntu

Thank you very much @Andrew .We consider it a great privilege to work with kids with with special needs. The possibility of being part of the betterment of a life even in the least extent is what humanity should be about.