Kenya's Joyland

Special Schools for the Physically Challenged

Teacher Sam Owino: paying it forward.

When Sam Owino stands in front of his classroom supported only by a pair of crutches, he is doing more than anyone who knew him as an infant would have thought possible. As in most of the developing world, children born with disabilities face many obstacles. Jobs are difficult enough to come by for those without disabilities — Kenya has an unemployment rate of 40%. Even where jobs can be found, there is almost no accommodation for those with disabilities. The few sidewalks that exist are often badly cracked and crumbling, making negotiating a wheelchair nearly impossible. Almost no thought is given to the needs of the disabled in building construction or transportation. Families tend to pour their limited resources into children with the most promising futures, while children with disabilities are often left behind, their potential unexplored. Most are forced to survive by begging in the streets, only to while away their days with emptiness. 

Sam Owino’s life took a different path when his parents brought him to the Salvation Army’s Joyland School for the Physically Disabled. Starting in primary school and continuing through the secondary level, Sam excelled in his academic studies while receiving valuable rehabilitation services. He went on to university and received his teaching degree with further certification in working with the disabled. 

Where did he want to teach? Where he is today. Back at Joyland. 

Keeping equipment operational is an ongoing challenge.

Joyland was founded in 1974 as a rehabilitation center and school by The Salvation Army in Kisumu, a beautiful city on the shore of Lake Victoria in western Kenya. Joyland is comprised of two schools: The primary school covers grades 1-8, while the secondary school, which opened in 1994, rounds out the pre-university education. Joyland offers vocational courses as well where students are taught life skills including tailoring, making their own uniforms and farming programs. If young people pass their primary school exam, they can go on to secondary school and then to university. If not, they are channeled into vocational education to learn trade skills that will support them in the future.

Because many students come from homes far from the schools, almost all students live on site in dormitories. A total of 250 students live, eat, study and work together. With changes in the law, up to 20% of those who enroll in Joyland need not be disabled, providing these students an opportunity for not only to benefit academically, but to develop empathy for their schoolmates and offer them practical support as well. 

The complex includes dormitories, classrooms, kitchen facilities, a rehabilitation center, recreation areas and a pool that is functional but in need of repair.

The schools serve students with a variety of needs, including those with muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, mental illness, spina bifida, epilepsy and those who have been injured. Those with multiple disabilities find support and fellowship at Joyland. Each child is assessed upon admission and given specific treatment goals with options outlined for their needs and potential. 

The students’ needs go beyond their visible, physical disabilities. Most have suffered emotional and psychological trauma, often as a direct result of their physical condition. They struggle with hopelessness and thoughts of suicide. When it is time to leave Joyland, some have nowhere else to go and see no hopeful prospect for their future; they fight to remain even when there is no longer a place for them. Reflecting on this, one staff member shared that he is haunted when he recognizes one of Joyland’s former students living as a beggar on the streets even though much effort went into helping him or her avoid that very scenario.

Joyland has been built largely by project grants through the Salvation Army’s Overseas Service Funds. These funds are generated mostly through internal giving by soldiers, officers and friends of The Salvation Army. Monetary support from the government is included to maximize use of funds designated as match money. Additional funding comes from some of the Salvation Army’s 126 territories around the world and from other sources such as civic organizations (Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc.) and donations from individuals and foundations. Despite the multiple streams of funding, it is a struggle for the Army’s Kenya West Territory, headquartered in Kakamega, Kenya, to keep Joyland in operation.

Broken wheelchairs, braces and other equipment form a collage of perseverence.

The physical plant is generally in good condition, but closer inspection uncovers glaring needs. A room for rehabilitation is nearly bare because the equipment is either in disrepair or unavailable. Broken wheelchairs, braces and other equipment are stacked high against the wall. Joyland’s only vehicle is inoperable, damaged beyond repair. Due to the lack of walkways, the rainy season is not simply an inconvenience but a hardship. Many students have to drag themselves along the ground to get from place to place; pools of rainwater and mud only increase their misery. Dorms are badly overcrowded. 

Despite the obstacles, remarkable work is being done by staff and students. At regional competitions held recently in Kenya, the students came out on top in para-volleyball, athletic field events and board games and were also awarded the overall trophy as the best region in sports. Many of the students have gone on to successful careers, disproving the prejudices many still hold regarding the disabled. One young man opened a workshop upon graduation where he is the employer. 

Joyland is an island of hope, a place where those without a chance are given a means to change the course of their lives. It is like so very many other valuable services rendered by The Salvation Army throughout the world, not only in Africa, but in Asia, the Pacific islands, Latin America and the Caribbean. 

If you would like to help or to learn more about any of the worldwide services of The Salvation Army, contact The Salvation Army World Service Office at http://sawso.org or call them at (703) 684-5500.

Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor-in-Chief and National Literary Secretary for The Salvation Army, with offices at national headquarters in Alexandria, VA. 


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