Ubuntu Special Needs Centre
Ubuntu SNC is eliminating stigma, fostering inclusion, and providing essential services for children with special needs throughout Kenya.
When we first came to Maai Mahiu, we found a community of children with special needs and their mothers being mistreated and secluded. Ubuntu Special Needs Centre was created to combat stigma and injustice by providing therapy, education, and vocational training to youth with special needs in Maai Mahiu.
This video was made for The Acacia Fund, a fundraising and awareness group for the Ubuntu SNC created in partnership with the University of Kansas Medical Center. This video was created before our recent rebrand when Ubuntu was still named CTC International and the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre was the Malaika Kids Program.
Our students have individualized learning programs but we also emphasize learning within a more typical classroom dynamic to prepare our students for mainstream schools. These classes group students not by their disability, but by their learning ability and proficiency to encourage peer-to-peer learning.
Our full-time occupational therapist, Kelvin Chege, works one-on-one with children that require physical rehabilitation. He provides therapy and training to students in our full-time classrooms and children that cannot come to us through frequent home-visits.
Although home visits are extremely rare for programs like ours, at-home support allows us to reach far more children by not limiting our work to only those that can attend our classes. These visits also allow us to set families up for success in caring for their children on their own. During a recent home visit, we were able to help Faith's family install new exercise parallel bars at to assist in her ongoing therapy plan.
The Centre emphasizes creative learning and educational play. These teaching methods are especially crucial in developing key life skills and functional independence.
The Special Needs Centre also hosts trainings and shares updates with the families of special needs children in our communities. These events help parents better understand their child's disabilities and what services or resources are available to them. We hope to grow the reach and frequency of these events.
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.
We celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities with a huge event focused on fostering awareness and social inclusion. Ubuntu's community health workers and network of partners help mobilize surrounding communities to attend these events so that we can break down social barriers and teach people to celebrate children with disabilities, not fear them.
One of Ubuntu's social enterprise initiatives is Café Ubuntu, located at our Headquarters on a beautiful piece of land. Built in partnership with Whole Foods Market, the Café provides the perfect hosting environment for social inclusion events and education/awareness trainings for the Centre. The Café's partners and customers provide another untapped audience that we hope to engage in our efforts to eliminate stigma and increase access to essential services.
One of Ubuntu's social enterprise initiatives is Café Ubuntu, located at our Headquarters on a beautiful piece of land. Built in partnership with Whole Foods Market, the Café provides the perfect hosting environment for social inclusion events and education/awareness events for the Centre. The Café's partners and customers provide another untapped audience that we hope to engage in our efforts to eliminate stigma and increase access to essential services
Ubuntu's Headquarters also includes a playground that provides a perfect environment for our special needs students to interact with their peers from mainstream school after classes and on the weekends.
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.
Our students are family. For many of them, Ubuntu is the first place they have ever been truly understood and the first time they have truly had a voice. We foster an environment of comfort and acceptance that empowers our students, like the rest of the Ubuntu family, to take care of each other and celebrate the true nature of Ubuntu: I am because we are.
User Experience // Prince is an example of a child who would benefit from the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre. He has suffered from cerebral palsy and grand mal seizures since he was born. Both have limited his mobility and muscle development preventing him from being able to walk. Due to his disabilities, he has been unable to attend school or socially integrate with his community. His mother is unable to secure full time employment and rarely leaves home due to Denzel’s around-the-clock needs.
User Experience: The Awareness Phase // Prince’s family learns about the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre (SNC) when they see information about the project on the back of an Ubuntu water bottle. They also hear from neighbors about community events at the Centre geared towards awareness and inclusion of children with disabilities. The family now has an anonymous hotline number, email address, website, and an awareness of Ubuntu’s presence locally.
User Experience: Initial Contact and Counsel // Prince’s family reaches out to the SNC staff by calling the discrete phone number listed on the back of the water bottle. They speak to an SNC staff member who assesses Prince’s disabilities and needs, explains how the program can help, connects them to key resources, signs them up for the next medical clinic, and sets an appointment for Prince to visit the Centre.
User Experience: Assessment and Care // Prince’s family visits the SNC and enrolls him in the full-time classroom program. The SNC staff creates a specialized plan to tackle his physical issues associated with cerebral palsy, educational gaps from inability to attend school, and social development needs. The staff keeps his family involved in the process so that even at-home the biggest roadblocks are being removed.
User Experience: Medical Clinic Visit // Prince attends an Ubuntu medical clinic to identify the long term cause and severity of his disabilities. He is started on medication for his ongoing seizures which would otherwise significantly impede any progress. His treatment is tracked in the medical clinic database to inform monthly care from a local pediatrician.
User Experience: Independence and Life Skills // Prince attends classes 5 times a week, gaining confidence and engaging in life skills trainings with his peers. He learns everything from hygiene basics to social training, all centered on peak performance instead of perfection. Through individual sessions with an Ubuntu occupational therapist, Prince increases mobility to the point where he can walk for the first time in his life.
User Experience: The Socialization Phase // Prince builds comfort interacting with SNC peers and the Ubuntu community. Through social inclusion events he also feels comfortable with other children and in seeking help from adults when necessary. As he develops physically and socially he is prepared to join the mainstream school curriculum and the gradual integration process is started working alongside local teachers.
User Experience Final Phase: Advocacy and Employment // Years later, Prince has successfully integrated into and graduated from a mainstream school. He is able to secure a job with one of Ubuntu’s many business partners and is now an advocate for PWDs and an example to the community of what intervention programs can accomplish. As he attends SNC events alongside other program graduates, he helps his community to better understand disabilities and reduce associated stigma.
Denzel Kibira is an example of how important early intervention can be. His family had attended one of our educational sessions in 2012 and decided to enlist him in our full-time classroom when he was 6 months old. He was dealing with Cerebral Palsy caused by jaundice and meningitis. His therapy was focused on training him how to roll, crawl, stand, and eventually how to walk unassisted. This is him learning to walk at 3 years old after intensive therapy.
Six months later, Denzel was walking independently and could navigate comfortably on uneven ground. Throughout his physical rehabilitation, we focused on building key social and communication skills that would allow him to navigate his disability within a mainstream school.
In 2015, Denzel graduated from our program and was able to join a kindergarten class within a local mainstream school where he has been doing very well. He has empowered himself live beyond his disability and now plays outside with his friends, attends school alongside his community. He has even helped his teachers better understand disability. Like with most of our graduates, visit him regularly at school to monitor his progress and support the school staff in maintaining his development.
George is another shining example. When he first joined us in 2008, he was unable to attend school because his teachers weren't equipped to educate a student with down syndrome. He was forced to stay at home most days and his mother was unable to secure employment because she needed to stay home with him. After 6 years in the program, he secured a full-time job working for one of Ubuntu's social enterprise programs and his mother worked for Ubuntu's highly successful product line, Ubuntu Made.
This NPR article shares the story of one of our first students, Mike. It shares the common yet immense struggle that Mike and his mother Alice faced before they found Ubuntu SNC (previously CTC International's Malaika Kids Program). Since then, Mike has flourished in a community that loves him and Alice has turned her employment as an Ubuntu artisan into financial independence. This is what it's all about.
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).
One of the biggest questions we hope to answer with the IDEO team is how to best utilize Ubuntu's reputation and reach to shift Kenya's mindset towards disabilities. A huge part of that reputation and depth of impact is reflected in how Ubuntu empowers its employees. We empower our team physically, socially, financially, and entrepreneurially by providing resources beyond on-the-job training. With these programs, employees have created 26 businesses outside of Ubuntu, employing 40+ people.
Ubuntu has a team of Community Health Workers that is focused on listening to the needs of surrounding communities, disseminating key information, and tracking impact. This group of women have their fingers on the pulse of the various communities they embed themselves in and are crucial to our ability to host events and rapidly mobilize groups of people. These women are an ideal group to work with the IDEO team in researching and implementing human-centered design ideas.
Ubuntu's largest enterprise program, Ubuntu Made, has employed hundreds of Kenyans across a variety of communities. This enables us to educate and connect with audiences that are otherwise hard to reach such as the various Maasai communities that we work with. Reaching these groups is extremely important in raising awareness and shifting entrenched cultural attitudes towards disability in Kenya.
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?
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.
We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.
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.
During feedback from our Kenya team we became increasingly aware of the effect that stigma and associated fear has on people's willingness to reach out to the Centre. By revising materials that we distribute in the community, such as labels on the water bottles that we sell at the Ubuntu Cafe nearby, we can more effectively open up entry level communications with potential users/families. We plan to add more visual imaging to make our objective clear and to provide an anonymous hotline number.
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?
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: www.ubuntu.life
Ubuntu Made: www.ubuntumade.com