“I just want to assist the disabled,” expressed Teresia Waigi. However, she has been doing much more than simply assisting children with special needs through Jeremy Academy in Limuru, Kenya. In addition to educating, Teresia and her husband Charles have been effecting change in everything from the community’s sentiments toward children with disabilities to parental concerns regarding their children’s futures.
In 2002, three years after founding Jeremy Academy, Teresia and Charles created a special education unit that would serve not only to aid students with disabilities but also to provide hope for children who would have otherwise suffered ostracism from the community. With the help of education, Teresia set out to “encourage [parents] to bring children to school and give them an opportunity” to learn.
Teresia remarked that inspiring a group of discouraged parents who have children with disabilities is extremely challenging. Through counseling parents in meetings, she convinces them that “it’s not only academics that can make a person. Even learning basic skills – living skills – is important.” Parents whose children have been part of the program have also promoted it to others, encouraging more families to see hope for their children.
The school integrates children with disabilities into its general population of students to foster a community of understanding and mutual learning. “Both the disabled and the ones who are normal learn from each other,” she commented. On a daily basis, children without disabilities and children who learn in the special education unit interact during “tea time” and lunchtime. Additionally, the children with special needs spend time in the preschool, learning nursery rhymes and poems. They also learn everything from personal hygiene and housekeeping, to vocational skills and academics.
Jeremy Academy does not confine children with special needs to remain in the special education unit. Instead, they send children who they feel have progressed to Standard 1, and some go on to complete primary school. After graduating primary school, students with special needs have the opportunity to go to vocational schools. Currently, Jeremy Academy has three specially educated children who have finished Standard 8, two of which have gone to vocational schools and one who is thriving in a high school.
Though Jeremy Academy has continued to surmount great feats in a society that has, in the past, stigmatized disability, they face many challenges when it comes to facilities and materials. The lack of basic necessities for special education, such as beads for embroidery or building materials for carpentry, hinders the great progress the school continues to make. Additionally, specially trained teachers are often more expensive to employ. Children with physical disabilities and those who are blind cannot attend the school with ease because of the lack of wheelchair access and Braille typing machines.
Despite all the challenges, Jeremy Academy’s special education unit continues to make strides in education in East Africa through its successes with special needs children.