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Equipping Community Leaders to Support and Include Children with Disabilities

Kupenda's community leader trainings reduce harmful beliefs and practices while improving care and inclusion for children with disabilities

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What problem does your idea solve?

In Kenya, community leaders have a strong influence on community beliefs and practices. Although some support and advocate for children with disabilities, many others conduct harmful “healing” practices and share inaccurate information that encourages discrimination, neglect, abuse or even murder of these children. Many of these leaders also encourage families to pursue other remedies instead of medical care, leading to increased morbidity and mortality among children with disabilities.

Explain your idea

Kupenda is developing workshops that train community leaders on disability definitions, causes and treatments and the needs and rights children with disabilities. Although the workshops are tailored for each group, all 3 trainings include participatory presentations and discussions about disability, with an emphasis on global legislation (i.e., the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) and local laws (i.e., national and county-level Persons with Disability Acts) to help participants understand their legal mandate to protect the children with disabilities. Our workshops also include testimonials from people with disabilities from within the participants’ communities to help convey the reality, urgency and proximity of disability justice needs. At the end of the trainings, our facilitators help participants develop Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound action plans that guide them in replacing harmful beliefs and practices with scientifically accurate information and appropriate care and referrals for children with disabilities. In the months following each workshop, we contact group representatives from each training to support action plan implementation and long-term sustainability of safe, inclusive practices. We are also exploring income-generating training for community leaders who may experience reduced income when they refer those with disabilities to medical clinics for care.

Who benefits?

In our first year, 240+ community leaders will complete Kupenda's disability training and use the knowledge and skills they gain to reduce stigma and replace harmful practices (i.e., burning, cutting, exorcisms) with effective care, counsel and referrals. These changes will improve the health and education access and outcomes and social inclusion for 2,700+ school-aged Kenyan children with long-term disabilities. We will then disseminate our refined model to partners beyond Kenya.

How is your idea unique?

Although much research has been conducted on community leaders' social influence and many programs have engaged such leaders in advocacy and education initiatives, Kupenda's is the first to train these leaders on the biological, legal, and social factors that impact children with disability and call on them to take the lead in improving the disability landscape in their communities. To do this, we not only correct these leaders' misconceptions and harmful practices but also celebrate their accurate knowledge and useful practices. The program does not exist in isolation but is part of a broad spectrum of community-based interventions we implement to gradually shift disability norms among chiefs, teachers, parents, women's groups and nonprofits. Kupenda's advocacy programs have been developed and refined over 14 years through continuous evaluation and testing and with consistent, impartial financial support from philanthropists and private foundations in the US and Kenya.

Tell us more about you

Since 2003, Kupenda (“love” in Swahili) for the Children has been equipping children with disabilities to achieve their full potential through advocacy, education and medical care. We are a US 501(c)3 and with a Kenyan field office, Kuhenza for the Children. Kupenda supports fundraising and program design, while Kuhenza supports culturally-sensitive, locally-led implementation. We are seeking partnerships and professionals to help us develop and expand this training program in East Africa.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

Thus far, we have held 23 community and 3 traditional healer trainings. We are still researching to determine the best content for the supplemental leader training. Although we are developing these trainings alongside a skilled team of African professionals, community leaders, and individuals impacted by disabilities, we are still pilot testing the program to develop the most effective content, delivery models, and monitoring and evaluation strategies. We are also working to determine the program's impact on the participants, their communities, and individuals impacted by disability and assessing its cost-benefits. Finally, we are determining best practices for disseminating of the model and its results through partnerships in East Africa.

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Kenya
  • Tanzania

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

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

How has your idea changed based on feedback?

Interviews with our Kenyan beneficiaries, facilitators and advisors led us to expand our training content to include: 1) disability testimonies and data from the participants’ communities to personalize content and convey urgency 2) information on disability prevention during pregnancy/labor and through early identification/referrals to save lives and reduce costs 3) CPR training to affirm and improve participants’ skills 4) use of visual aids and videos to support scientific explanations. We also heard a lot of feedback on community leaders’ reluctance to attend trainings due to fear of arrest for witchcraft, theft of their traditional remedies, judgment from Christians and the educated, and loss of income during training time and from referrals vs. treatment. In response, we implemented a stipend for workshop attendance, a new community-entry and invitation model, training content on alternative income-generating strategies and confidentiality/security protocols for participants

Who will implement this idea?

Project operations and funding will be managed by our U.S.-based Executive Director. Our Kenyan Director and Project Officer will facilitate the trainings and support data collection to inform program improvements and expansion. Local chiefs and community leaders who have partnered with us for years will support community entry and participant recruitment and follow-up. Our U.S.-based Development Director will write, revised and disseminate project outcomes and resources for program scale up.

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?

Kupenda and Kuhenza work closely to develop, implement and assess our strategic plans and budgets and to revise these as needed. Our U.S. and Kenyan Executive Directors speak weekly to review operational goals, address challenges and update programmatic strategies, based on available data and feedback from staff, beneficiaries and supporters. Major operational modifications are presented to the Kupenda and Kuhenza Board of Directors for feedback and approval prior to implementation. This regular communication and openness to change has allow our work to stay modern, refined and locally-led. Most recently, it has also allowed us to update our community leader training content and delivery approach, based on the feedback we collected from beneficiaries and supporters for this Challenge.

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

Although we’ve pilot tested our community leader trainings, we now must assess and refine the model and delivery strategy so we can expand our impact. To do so we need investors, like Amplify, who provide not only funding, but also design support and who value beneficiary input. We are grateful that Amplify supports Kupenda's efforts to make our beneficiaries our leaders and design partners. This keeps our work culturally appropriate, locally-led and positioned for substantial, long-term impact.

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?

1) Although community leaders are often highly-respected by their communities, many are impoverished due to the poverty of those they serve. Tithe and client fees are often meager and many of these leaders are uneducated, making income diversification a challenge. 2) Traditional medicine has permeated African society for centuries and is practiced by most citizens, even those who claim Christianity or Islam. While some traditional practices are helpful, many cause harm and even death. Awareness of these harmful practices is growing and causing traditional healers to be arrested, replaced by modern practitioners, or forced to close their practices. These realities have created fear, suspicion, secrecy and competition among healers, which limits their willingness to work openly with others.

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 improve medical outcomes among 50,000 children with disabilities by educating and empowering 15,000 community leaders (5,000 directly in Kenya and 10,000 through global partnerships) to effectively advise, treat and refer families impacted by disability. - How do we measure the short and long-term impact of our community leader trainings and incorporate that data into evidence-based program modifications that will support improved health for 20,000 children each year?

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 $100,000 and $500,000 USD

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

Kupenda: • • • • Kuhenza: • • Kupenda was registered in the U.S. in 2003 and created a partner organization in Kenya in 2008, called Kuhenza. Kuhenza works with local leaders to help thousands of children with disabilities access education and medical care each year. Kuhenza’s Board and staff keeps our work culturally sensitive, locally-led and federally recognized within Kenya
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Attachments (4)

Kupenda Disability Guidebook for Kenya .pdf

For many Kenyans, it is difficult to access accurate literature about disability and books carrying such information are often expensive and written in a language understood only by professionals. In response, Kupenda for the Children developed this guide which describes common disabilities, their characteristics, causes and treatment in simple language which can be understood by lay people. We distribute these during our advocacy workshops and to those who visit our resource center.

Kenya Disability Law Guidebook_020717.pdf

Written in simple English by Kupenda staff and professional legal consultants, the "Kenya Disability Law Guidebook" offers a legal framework for understanding and responding to questions related to the rights of children with disabilities in Kenya. It provides a one-stop reference to help readers understand the current laws related to General Rights, Caregiver Rights, Healthcare, Employment and Financial Assistance. We distribute this to our beneficiaries and advocacy workshops participants.


This brochure provides a brief overview of Kupenda for the Children's history, staff, programs and impact.

Kupenda Advocacy Program Brochure 2017.pdf

Since the greatest barrier to assisting children with disabilities is a lack of awareness, Kupenda commits the largest percent of its budget to activities that educate communities about disabilities. When community members and local leaders have a better understanding of the issues impacting people with disabilities, they often provide innovative strategies to make their communities more inclusive. This brochure describes Kupenda's Advocacy Program model and the impact it is having in Kenya.


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Jessica Charles and Team - Congratulations again! Check out this blog post highlighting the winners of this Challenge:

Photo of Jessica Charles

On Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 12:40 PM, Scott Shigeoka <> wrote:
Hi Jessica,

Here's some feedback for your sentence and idea. Thanks for joining the storytelling workshop!

Kupenda's trainings for pastors, traditional healers, and imams help to reduce harmful beliefs and practices while improving care and inclusion for children with disabilities

My feedback:
I think overall, this is a really clear sentence. What I'm hearing: you provide training to a particular group of people for two specific reasons.
I'm curious if "inclusion" is the right word in this sentence, or if there's another word that can better support what you're saying here.
Is there a particular area of the world you're working in?
I'm curious what "reduce harmful beliefs and practices" mean. When I read more into your idea ("what problem does your idea solve") that's when it becomes clear to me. That's a really important piece of context.
I'm very intrigued by your idea. Its specificity makes me want to learn more. It seems like you have a clear grasp on your users and needs. I'm curious to learn more about how this specific group (pastors, traditional healers and imams) already interact with children with disabilities, and what Kupenda trainings do to shift what already exists (based on the needs of the children, their families and the leaders you train).
I'm curious about how you reach the spiritual leaders and encourage them to participate in the workshop/training. Is there resistance? Why are they willing to participate?
What questions do you have that you haven't solved yet? What are your current needs? Sounds like Kupenda has been around for a while, would be curious to get a high-level understanding of your insights, what you've learned and your tangible impact in Kenya.

Scott Shigeoka
Community Designer & Storyteller, OpenIDEO
Follow me on Twitter: @scottshigeoka

501 The Embarcadero
Pier 28 Annex
San Francisco, CA 94105

Photo of Jessica Charles

Hi, Scott.

Thanks for this feedback and the helpful storytelling training! Here are my answers:

- Perhaps “community acceptance” is a clearer phrase than “inclusion.” The main idea we want to convey is that, because pastors, imams and traditional healers are such popular opinion leaders in Kenya, they can help children with disabilities to be accepted in all aspects of society – from clinics to schools to social gatherings to religious services. And that, instead of being accepted as a separate “disability group” within these structures, they can actually be infused into the existing groups. In short, we inspire spiritual leaders to help these children access the same rights, health care, education and loving community as people without disabilities.

- We work in Kenya and Tanzania and will expand our model through partnerships with development organizations in other nations.

- “I'm curious what ‘reduce harmful beliefs and practices’ mean.” In Kenya, traditional practices like burning and cutting rituals are painful and ineffective. Spiritual beliefs that place blame and shame on the child and his/her family can be equally as damaging. Some of the practices and beliefs have even led to the murder of these children.

- “I'm curious to learn more about how this specific group already interact with children with disabilities and what Kupenda trainings do to shift what exists…”

Pastors counsel families impacted by disability and may advise caregivers to pray or fast in order to show their faith in God’s ability to heal the child. Unfortunately, if the child is not healed, pastors often blame the families for a lack of faith.

Traditional healers perform rituals to heal the children. This may involve innocuous herbal remedies or harmful cutting and burning practices. Many of these healers propagate the belief that disabilities are causes by curses or demons and convince families to pay them for traditional practices that are intended to “cure” them by lifting the curse or exorcizing demons.

As with pastors, Muslim imams in Kenya often counsel families impacted by disability. Although we are still researching how they interact with the children themselves, we have learned that many imams have infused traditional religious beliefs and rituals into their own practices.

Kupenda holds workshops to help these faith leaders understand the biological causes and medical treatments for disabilities so they begin to refer these children for medical care, rather than treat them with prayer or harmful rituals. We also draw on information from their religious texts to help them understand that children with disabilities are worthy of love and acceptance and that they have a spiritual obligation to protect and care for these children. By presenting legislation about child and disability rights, we further emphasize these leaders’ legal responsibility to protect children with disabilities. Finally, we have each group develop action plans that help them identify, support, refer and protect children with disabilities in their communities and follow-up regularly to ensure they are implementing these plans.

“I'm curious how you reach the spiritual leaders and encourage them to participate in the workshops…”

We approach spiritual leaders through 1:1 meetings or their chiefs and colleagues. Often times, inviting these leaders through their chiefs and colleagues helps to establish trust and convince them of our collaborative intentions. This is particularly effective when we communicate with them through spiritual leaders who have already completed our trainings and who have seen the benefit of our content and trust our intentions. Such an approach is particularly important among traditional healers, many of whom are suspicious of outside parties due to a history of judgment from Christians and arrests from government leaders seeking to reduce dangerous witchcraft practices. We also reduce resistance by validating helpful traditional and religious practices.

- “What questions do you have that you haven't solved yet? What are your current needs?”

Although Kupenda has existed since 2003, we are still working to develop our spiritual leader training program. So far, we have run 23 pastor workshops and 3 traditional healer workshops and are still researching to finalize content for our Muslim leaders’ workshop. With each group, we are working to learn more about the most effective workshop content and M&E systems. We are also exploring other training approaches through research and discussions with organizations like The Carter Center in Liberia and projects like the Faith Effect in Ethiopia and Nigeria. We would love research and design assistance as we develop this project – both to learn the full spectrum of what other resources and models are available and to tailor content, delivery and evaluation methodologies for our target populations.

Thanks again, Scott!


Photo of Angela

Hey Kupenda,

Very excited to see your idea on the shortlist. I'm interested in hearing more about how your idea could be applied to refugee/IDP camps in East Africa, especially in communities where persons with disabilities come from different countries and cultural backgrounds, and represent a wide variety of communities and religions.

Thanks - have a great day!

Photo of Jessica Charles

Thanks, Angela. We love to think about possibility of using this idea to train spiritual leaders in refugee and IDP camps in East Africa.

The first step would be to conduct a needs assessment to determine which religions are most widely represented in the camps and how religious and traditional beliefs are impacting care, education and inclusion for children with disabilities. Kupenda's community needs assessments would be conducted through interviews and focus group discussions with key stakeholders as well as families impacted by disabilities and the individual and organizations working to assist them. Available demographic and programmatic data would also be reviewed and evaluated to determine and prioritize the communities' needs in relation to disability care and justice.

Once completing this thorough needs assessment, Kupenda's team would then work with local religious leaders and partners to tailor our training content and delivery style to the existing needs and then pilot test this model to determine its impact. Since these workshops are centered around dialogue and discussions with the religious leader participants, this would provide another form of data collection and learning from the participants. After the workshops, group representatives would follow-up with participants to determine how they were implementing their action plans to improve the lives of children with disabilities and make the camp culture more inclusive. Based on these conversations and program data, we would make updates and revisions to training content and delivery style to ensure our model was as effective as possible in the camp environment.

If necessary, our spiritual leader trainings could be supplemented with Kupenda's medical and education services for children with disabilities and advocacy trainings for government officials, health care providers, educators, families and community members. As these interventions began to improve the landscape for people with disabilities in the camps, we would celebrate the progress through Disability Awareness Days. These days involve dances, songs, poetry and plays performed by children with disabilities who have benefited from Kupenda's programs. Representatives from local government, schools, NGOs and families impacted by disability are also invited to speak about disability justice alongside Kupenda’s Kenyan leadership team. Community members who attend these days develop greater awareness and compassion for children with disability and learn that they need to support and encourage all children, no matter what their ability, to reach their full potential. During these days, Kupenda staff also help many more children with disabilities and their families connect to proper education and medical resources.

I hope this helps to provide a vision of how Kupenda's work might be implemented in the East African refugee/IDU camps. We would be eager to explore this possibility and to learn new, innovative ways to implement our model from local partners and experts in these new regions.

Thanks again, Angela!

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Hi Jessica Charles and Kupenda 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.

- We love that your idea uniquely tackles an important stakeholder group - religious leaders. Great job! Not only did you unearth a target audience for workshops that have incredible impact on the lives of community members, but you clearly articulate your insight into long term relationships and roadmapping.
- We're curious to know how you have involved other members of the community into the development of your idea. For example: will persons with disabilities and their families be involved in the training? how will you support engagement and ownership of the change in their communities?
- Share with us more details about your workshops. For example: how many have you had? What’s the structure? The presentation content? What are examples of roadmaps? (These roadmaps don't necessarily have to be already created, but your imagined or desired roadmaps!)

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 Jessica Charles

Kupenda has held 23 pastor workshops and 3 traditional healer workshops in Kenya. We are still in the research phase of developing our Muslim leader workshop. These one-day trainings are facilitated by our Kenyan Executive Director in partnership with local religious leaders and village chiefs who have helped us develop the training content and recruit the participants. We have developed a 50-page facilitator’s guide for the pastor workshop, complete with lesson plans, worksheets and resources. We have developed a draft of the traditional healers’ workshop guide and are still researching to develop the Muslim leaders’ workshop content. Although each training is tailored to the participants’ sect and community needs, all three workshops include the following elements:

• Discussion of Personal Beliefs, Experiences and Definitions of Disability
• Discussion about What Participants’ Religious Traditions and Texts Say about Disability
• Presentation and Discussion of the World Health Organization's Definition of “Disability”
• Scientific Symptoms, Causes, and Definitions of Disabilities
• Scientific Treatments, Cures and Prevention for Disabilities
• Testimony from a Person with a Disability or a Parent of a Child with a Disability
• Development and Presentation of Participants’ Action Plan
• Presentation and Distribution of Kupenda’s Disability Guide Book
• Presentation and Distribution Kupenda’s Disability Law Guide Book (Kenya-specific)

Discussions take place in pairs and small groups. Presentations are made by the facilitator and supplemented with photographs, videos, data and testimonials from those impacted by disability.

During the action planning phase of our workshops we guide participants in selecting representatives to report on action plan implementation. In the months and years that follow the workshop, the representatives collect data from their group members on actions they have taken to support people with disabilities and the impact these activities have had on those individuals and their families. This data is then reported to our field office. Although we have pilot tested this data collection system, we are still in the process of tool development and full-scale implementation.

Our 1-year roadmap for this idea is as follows:
• Month 1: Finalize workshop facilitators’ guides and implementation model
• Month 2: Finalize data collection tools and system
• Months 3-6: Pilot-test facilitators’ guides and data collection tools and system in Kilifi County, Kenya
• Months 7: Collect, clean, and collate program data and facilitator / participant feedback
• Months 8-9: Revise facilitators’ guides, implementation model and data collection tools, based on feedback and results
• Month 10: Begin Phase 1 testing with finalized model and tools in Kilifi County, Kenya
• Month 11: Begin to support other Kenyan and Tanzanian partners in implementing the training program and collecting data from their respective regions
• Month 12: Share results and model with colleagues and potential partners at national and international conferences

We have involved our beneficiaries and their families as well as local leaders and stakeholders in all aspects of this program development. Specifically, we have:
• Engaged medical professionals in developing the scientific explanations of disability for our trainings and disability guidebook
• Engaged religious leaders in helping to clarify and simplify the workshop content for a lay audience
• Engaged impacted by disability in sharing their testimonies at our workshops and providing feedback on workshop content
• Engaged spiritual leaders, medical staff, local special education experts and chiefs in providing feedback on the workshop content, participant recruitment and delivery model
• Engaged spiritual leaders in discussing and resolving barriers to participant attendance, activism, and reporting

Kupenda is uses the following strategies to support community-level engagement and ownership of the change:
• We support workshop participants in developing and implementing personalized action plans to address disability justice issues in their communities
• We support workshop participants in selecting representatives to report their activities and the impact of these activities to Kupenda’s field office on a quarterly basis.
• We acknowledge and celebrate participants’ disability activism by inviting them to present at our trainings and share the impact of their activities at our Community Disability Awareness Days
• We invite families and children who have benefited from these changes to share their testimonies at our trainings and Community Disability Awareness Days
• We ask spiritual leaders who are involved in our programs to help recruit workshop participants, co-facilitate our training sessions, and develop and provide feedback on our workshop content, disability guidebooks, grant applications and communications materials

Photo of Virginia Williams

Hi Jessica,

Using faith leaders to find solutions is great, as they are highly respected members of their communities and extremely influential. The fact that you are planning rigorous M&E to determine what are the best strategies to have the most impact will be key. Is there a specific activity that you could highlight in your proposal, and or an individual whose story would bring the importance of the faith leader’s role to the fore?

Photo of Jessica Charles

Hi, Virginia. Thanks for your message. We’re really excited about this project and, indeed, the importance of faith leaders in Kenya is a critical aspect of our work that should be emphasized. One story who comes to mind is of our colleague, Salome, a traditional healer who has been working with Kupenda for more than 8 years to improve the impact of our outreach to other traditional healers, reduce harmful traditional practices, and improve care for children with disabilities.

As most people know, traditional healers are critical community leaders in Kenya and many other sub-Saharan nations, especially in rural communities that are far from clinics and hospitals. This story shows how traditional healers have a strong influence on attitudes and behavior related to disability and health care knowledge at the community, national and even international levels.

Many years ago, Salome was unable to bear children and struggled to find a solution after her first husband left her and her second husband was becoming impatient. She consulted a local traditional healer who told her the issue was her weight and gave her herbs to help lose this weight. The herbs worked. Soon Salome had trimmed down and become pregnant. The pregnancy and labor went smoothly but at the end of the delivery Salome found she was unable to deliver the placenta. She called on the same traditional healer who arrived in the birthing room and, again, provided herbs that resolved the problem.

Salome was overcome with gratitude for the traditional healer who had helped her twice and vowed to learn the herbalist trade so she too could help others in her community. The traditional healer taught Salome all she knew even going so far as to take her to remote forests where she could gather the necessary plants and herbs she needed to practice. Within a few years, Salome had a lucrative, successful practice.

Salome’s warm personality, successful career, and resourcefulness helped her reputation to grow and soon many local NGOs and government officials were asking to learn from her. Although she is illiterate and speakers only Giriama, Salome recruited one of her nieces to translate for her so she could build partnerships and share her knowledge.

Over the past few decades, Salome has shared her herbal knowledge the Kenyan government, the Kenya Forest Service, the European Union and many nonprofit organizations in Kenya. She trains these partners on her herbal solution and even hosts university students for training. Most recently, she was contracted by the government to compose songs that spread messages about the importance of consulting trees and animals for care.

Our team at Kupenda also works closely with Salome to improve care for children with disabilities and reduce harmful traditional practices. Salome helped us to organize our first disability meeting for traditional healers in 2016 and, over the years, has engaged her traditional healer colleagues in referring hundreds of children with disabilities to Kupenda for care, services and counseling.

Because traditional healers in Kenya are sometimes accused of witchcraft and arrested, many do not trust external parties. Saloma has helped us to address this challenge by speaking to traditional healers about Kupenda’s collaborative goals and intention to support and strengthen, rather than criticize or eliminate their practics. By co-facilitating our workshops, Saloma has helped traditional healers, traditional birth attendants and soothsayers learn how replace harmful traditional practices with more effective strategies and, when necessary, referral children with disabilities to clinics and hospitals.

Salome’s story is an example of how religious leader in Kenya can have an enormous impact at both the community and national level and can help to improve care for children with disabilities.

Photo of Amanda C. Lim

I think this is a great idea. As someone who is from the San Francisco Bay Area, I grew up seeing/assuming that problems can be addressed through technology, new apps, etc. Although that's definitely helped, I feel that many people focus too much on improving technology and not taking into consideration the different cultures and dynamic within communities outside of our own bubble. The most advanced technology can be created, but it means next to nothing if communities don't embrace them. By utilizing spiritual leaders, these communities are able to follow and gain help through their usual means in a more comfortable setting. I guess my main question would be, what are common challenges with on boarding spiritual leaders with your workshop series? Are there any challenges or causes of friction that could cause the program to not extend across the many different communities in Kenya and Tanzania?

Photo of Jessica Charles

Thanks for this great feedback, Amanda. We agree that community buy-in is critical for effective and long-term social change. To support this we work, not only with spiritual leaders, but also with their co-leaders and support networks including village chiefs, government officials, community groups, etc. to ensure our work is culturally appropriate and community-led.

Despite this holistic implementation strategy, one challenge we continue to face is the economic needs of our traditional healer participants who depend on their practices to earn an income. We are working hard to ensure these professionals feel valued and supported in using traditional practices that effectively treat disabilities and encourage them to share these approaches with other professionals during our meetings and workshops. However, we are also helping traditional healers to understand which practices are not helpful and that may even be harmful so they can stop these treatments, and where necessary, refer patients to local clinic and hospitals.

Because these referrals often result in reduced income for the healers, we are also working with them and their chiefs and colleagues to brainstorm alternative earning strategies and income generation activities. So far, we have successfully linked some of our healers with local research organizations so they can package, market and sell herbal remedies that have proven to be effective in preventing and/or treating certain illnesses. Our plan is to continue supporting traditional healers in developing accurate medical knowledge and useful business skills to expand their practices and grow their businesses. Our support for their economic viability and growth will (and has) build trust so we are seen as their colleagues and partners rather than as threatening to their reputations and livelihoods. We believe this sense of mutual trust and support will help to prevent potential friction and enable us to successfully expand the model across communities in Kenya and Tanzania.