|September 2001 | Archive | View images | © Magali Delporte
|This year in April, on a few acres of land in Nairobi, the 'Tenth Kenyan National Games for the Blind and Partially Sighted' were hosted in the capital. The competition was fierce and the 430 youngsters had a lot to fight for.
They wanted to prove that disability is not inability' in a country where blindness is often considered a curse; it is not uncommon for a father to blame the mother for his child's sightlessness. The competitors wanted to return home as achievers, children who 'can do' rather than children who are dismissed because their siblings are more obviously 'able'. Above all, they wanted to 'tulisherekeya sana!' - make friends.
Strangely, in spite of the fact that all the participants in the football, netball and volleyball games were partially sighted, there were no spectacles to be seen. This was not because the children (aged between 10 and 18) didn't need glasses they all had sight of 6.18 or lower after correction - but because spectacles cost a minimum of 900 Kenyan Shillings. To lose or break something worth ten pounds is just too big a risk for most of the children.
The albino children have particular problems. Not only do they normally need to wear glasses as thick as jam jars, they also have to wear hats, long sleeves and shoes to protect their 'alabaster' skin from the sun - an unusual dress code in a country where kids run around in virtually nothing. Unfortunately, the 'Mzungun Mwafrika' (white Africans) often ignore these precautions and risk their health trying to be accepted by their black brothers.
It is quite a challenge to spot completely blind children in Kenya. There is no such thing as a guide dog in the country and other tell-tale signs such as white canes are scarce.
As an example, blind children can play table tennis; it is called Showdown. The surface is divided in two by a wooden plank, rather than a net. The ball is filled with ball bearings and to score, players need to get the ball in a hole situated on the opposite side of the table. Sixteen year-old Margaret Kea excelled in this category. Blindfolded and wielding a racket, she batted the little ball with great skill under the plank, reacting with great skill with her ears instead of her eyes.
Margaret's blindness is the result of hereditary reasons. Her brother Salim, who also did well in the games, is also blind, along with their other brother and two aunts. Utchi, their widower mum, is totally sighted. With this family history, it is not difficult to imagine the joy of the children returning home with their trophy.* Two of them come home with plastic buckets (the winner's prize) and some basins and jars (second and third category).
Blindness and restricted vision affects children in Africa to a much greater extent than European children Trachoma, optic nerve atrophy, retinal detachment, and vitamin A deficiency are highly prevalent, often caused by lack of hygiene and poor diet.
The Games were held in a tolerant and accepting spirit. No one complained about having to run on a flooded pitch, about torn shoes or about not being able to identify the goal. The whole thing was just about sport, a means of self-expression, an expression of energy, competition and fulfilment. For once, these hundreds of children were more than just ignored nobodies, more than just blind children. They were respected athletes who, as some reporters suggested, might well find themselves competing in the Paraolympics.
|* These prizes may seem a bit meagre to a western audience but are special for a poor Kenyan family.
They were all bought by Sight Savers International who also financed the accommodation and travel expenses of the children participating in the Games. Without this sponsorship, the event would not have been possible and the children would still be at home with no access to education.
Sight Savers International's website is www.sightsavers.org
|September 2001 | Archive | View images | © Magali Delporte|