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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."


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Photo of Nancy Wagi

Quite a wholistic approach here all in one!Kudos!

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