Wheelchair Fuels a DreamBy Laura Reinhardt
Twelve-year-old Wavinya’s name means “Powerful”. People might think that is an unusual choice for a child born with twisted lower legs and unable to walk. But Wavinya’s mother, Esther, loves her girl dearly. “Because she was given to me by God,” Esther says. “I want her to have every opportunity.” For most of Wavinya’s life, Esther carried her everywhere — to church, to school, to community meetings. She wanted to make sure her daughter received an education and was also included in community activities. But there was a darker reason to that.
In some communities in Mwala, Kenya, where the family lives, child abuse is a big problem that can affect any child. “She’s more at risk because she can’t run fast and protect herself,” says Margaret, a World Vision project coordinator in Mwala.
As Wavinya grew, her increasing weight caused Esther to suffer from chest pains. But Esther refused to endanger her daughter by leaving her home alone. And Esther’s husband, Joseph, works as a subsistence farmer so the cost of a wheelchair was beyond the family’s reach.
Freedom in the Form of a WheelchairIn 2018, World Vision began a project called Scaling Up 8+ in Mwala to provide support for children with disabilities and their families. Part of this project was identifying children, like Wavinya, in need of wheelchairs and then ensuring that the chair is properly fitted to the child. That year, Wavinya received her wheelchair and fitting. Esther also learned about proper maintenance to keep the chair in top condition.
That wheelchair has meant freedom for both Wavinya and Esther. Now, Wavinya can get herself to school, to church, and to community meetings on her own. “In a way, it has liberated her to engage with other children because before she had to depend on other people,” says Esther.
Before the wheelchair, Wavinya felt isolated and neglected. Now, she can play games with her friends without Esther worrying. And chest pains no longer bother Esther, who is enjoying better health.
Citizens Speaking OutAnother aspect of Scaling Up 8+ was to ensure that society includes and embraces people with disabilities. One way of doing that was through World Vision’s Citizen Voice and Action (CVA) groups, who lobbied hard for the inclusion of all people. Though the project has now completed, wheelchair provision has been fully integrated into World Vision’s programmes in Kenya since then, with staff being trained on how to engage with children with disabilities and their families and to work with technical partners to provide properly fitted wheelchairs to the children.
Annastacia, a child well-being facilitator in Mwala, explains that through World Vision’s water, sanitation, and hygiene programmes, Wavinya has access to clean water at her school. By partnering with another organisation, they have built wheelchair-friendly latrines. CVA groups are also advocating for wheelchair ramps to be built throughout the community.
The Ongoing Gifts of SponsorshipLife continues to improve for Wavinya and her family. The year she received her wheelchair, she also became a sponsored child and her family received a cow. In rural Kenya, having farm animals increases a family’s status and provide manure, which enables crops to yield a more robust harvest.
For Wavinya, having a wheelchair has helped her to dream big. She now has her sights set on the skies. Back then, in 2018, her class studied different careers and took a field trip to an airfield where she learned about being a pilot. That has been her goal ever since. She does not feel hindered by her physical limitations, she is leaning into her powerful name.