In Recognition of Autism Awareness Month

If you happen to walk through the Dagoretti Children’s Center (DCC) compound on any given day, you will bump into the many children who are residents of DCC. Some of the kids might hug you, and others may shake your hand with a big smile… while others might cautiously hold your hand and sniff it several times before walking away.

Some guests at DCC are taken aback by this unusual behavior; others may wonder if the children are being rude. What they may not know is that these children have autism, and that is their way of greeting and familiarizing themselves with new people.

The DCC hosts several kids with a variety of disabilities including autism, a mental condition that is characterized by difficulty communicating, forming relationships with other people, and understanding abstract concepts. The condition is present from early childhood.

April is Autism Awareness Month, a time to educate others about autism so as to promote inclusion and acceptance in the community. DCC’s Rehabilitation Coordinator, Stephen Muga, recently met with parents who had visited the DCC seeking therapy sessions for their children to talk more about Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“We share information with parents, staff and community members, because most people do not know about autism,” Muga said during the meeting.“We serve a population that is vulnerable, so they do not have first-hand information about autism.”

On a daily basis, the rehabilitation unit at DCC works with autistic kids and provides occupational therapy services by guiding kids through the activities of daily living, as well as speech communication and social skills training. The team works with children on sensory integration, having them experience various sensory stimulants to help them have an adaptive response in relation to their environment.

On a monthly basis, the rehabilitation team serves about 27 kids with autism. Muga says that kids with autism have difficulty in expressive communication, social skills, and everyday activities like brushing teeth or putting on clothes. Others have problems with fine motor skills such as writing. Some cannot write but are able to speak. The rehabilitation team uses each child’s areas of strength to build upon their life skills.

Apuka (2)He adds that there are high-functioning people with autism, such as Mandela, one of the autistic kids at DCC. “Mandela is incredibly smart and his autism is not always obvious to the untrained eye,” says Muga. While Mandela does not have developmental problems and he clearly articulates himself, he rarely looks at people in the eye and he will always sniff someone’s hand when greeted.

Muga emphasizes that children with autism are very different from one another. Some kids have extreme developmental delays, while others may be extremely intelligent in academics but may avoid eye contact or grow upset to changes in routine and lack social skills.

His message to all for this month’s autism awareness is the importance of understanding that each child or person with autism needs to be treated with an understanding of who they are.

Muga’s work at the DCC are possible only through support through people like you. Donate here.

Caring for the Whole Child: World Disability Day

At Feed the Children, we are committed to supporting the health of children—it’s a vital key in eliminating hunger around the world and helping kids be kids. As part of this work, the Feed the Children office in Kenya celebrated World Disability Day on December 3. We joined with Nairobi County Government, the Ministry of Health, and other non-governmental organizations to mark the day, held at Nairobi Pentecostal Church.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities began in 1992 to promote awareness and mobilize support for persons with disabilities. Events around the world draw attention to the benefits of an inclusive and accessible society for all. The theme for this year’s event was ‘Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment for People of All Abilities’.

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The Feed the Children office in Kenya has been providing care and protection for children living with disabilities since 1993.  Through the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) program, the organization provides thorough care to special needs children living at Feed the Children’s Dagoretti Children’s Center (DCC) and also to those living with their families in Nairobi, and Kajiado Counties.  The children living with disabilities and developmental delays have access to free occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and orthopedic services.

A child receives physical therapy from trained staff.
A child receives physical therapy from trained staff.

Through the generous support of Feed the Children sponsors, the project provides assistive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, calipers, and special seating aids, along with maintenance and repairs of those devices. We help put together forums to increase awareness of issues facing persons with disabilities and partner to prevent and treat various disabilities facing our communities. The project also partners with local hospitals to help children with the greatest needs undergo corrective surgeries, enabling them to live a decent and independent life.

Feed the Children also holds monthly workshops for parents who have children living with disabilities.  The workshops educate and equip parents with skills so they can help their children achieve optimal independence in activities of daily living.

To learn more about how you can sponsor a child, click here.

A Heart for the Orphan: Providing Help and Healing Around the World and Here at Home

Feed the Children began in 1979 with a simple mission: to stand with hungry and vulnerable children and to work for a world where no child goes to bed hungry. Our mission is rooted in Christian values and the belief that, like Jesus, we are called to care for “the least of these.” Whether we’re providing a box of food and essentials for a family of four in Kentucky or feeding an entire school in the Philippines, we believe we are serving Christ himself: “for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” (Matthew 25:34).

Most of what we do supports children right where they are—in the families and communities that know them best. We build feeding centers to supplement the meals kids receive from their families. We construct latrines and hand-washing stations in villages and provide preventive medication to slow the spread of disease. We give parents the training and support they need to make good health decisions for their children and increase their own livelihoods. We call this the four-pillar strategy—Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods—and it’s working to transform communities and lift them out of poverty, one family at a time.

But some of the children we serve have no family. Around the world and here at home, children are abandoned every day by the ones closest to them. It’s a desperate decision with life-long consequences. But there is hope: “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted… you are the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14).

You Can Help Foster Hope

Here in the United States, we are a “helper to the fatherless” in a variety of ways, but we’re especially excited about our new Foster Hope backpack program that serves children in foster care. When children are removed from their home and placed with a foster family, they often come with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing. And many of them are young—half of all children in foster care in the U.S. are five or younger, and 85% of them are ages 10 and younger. We’re partnering with churches across the country to provide backpacks to these children, filled with the things they need, plus a little love too.

Congregations get involved with Foster Hope by giving both financial resources and time. It costs just $20 to sponsor each backpack, which contains a coloring book and crayons, a spiral notebook, shampoo, body wash, toothbrush, toothpaste and a teddy bear. We ship the supplies directly to churches, so members of your congregation can roll up their sleeves and fill the backpacks, pray for the children who will receive them, and deliver them to a local foster-care agency. For an additional $5, you can also provide a 50” x 60” fleece blanket for each child.

Foster Hope launches in conjunction with Orphan Sunday, November 8, at churches around the country. But the program is ongoing throughout the year. Our work continues, because the needs continue. Learn more about Foster Hope by emailing church@feedthechildren.org or check out our informational video about the program.

Hope for the Orphans

At Feed the Children, we believe our work is urgent. It’s Kingdom work—building a world where kids can be kids and dream of a better future for themselves. Through our network agencies, Feed the Children distributed over $344 million in food, other necessities, educational supplies, and medicine, impacting close to 9 million individuals in the U.S. and over 4.9 million individuals globally in fiscal year 2014.

Casa del Niño, Honduras
Casa del Niño, Honduras

Feed the Children currently has two facilities specifically for orphans, Casa del Niño in La Ceiba, Honduras, and the Dagoretti Children’s Center in Nairobi, Kenya. Casa del Niño first opened its doors in 1996 and currently houses some 40 boys ages 7 to 18 years. The boys receive three nutritious meals a day and opportunities for sports and art activities. All children attend school and classes may include computers and English. All told, we’ve provided a stable home, love and care for more than 500 Honduran youth over the years.

But too many children still struggle. And who’s more vulnerable than a child without a parent in their corner?

But the children we serve are also our heroes. Their zest for life, their curiosity, and their courage in the midst of tremendous struggle are what keep us going. God has not forgotten these children. And neither have we.

We’d like to introduce you to some of the heroes we’ve gotten to know through our work with orphans around the world. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of these young people—but their stories are all real.

Heroes Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Our Abandoned Baby Center, part of Dagoretti Children’s Center in Nairobi, is filled with pint-sized heroes who inspire us every day. Samuel, for example, was brought to the ABC about a year ago as a toddler. A woman whom we believe was Samuel’s mother asked another woman to hold him while she used the public restroom in a busy commercial area of town. She never returned.

samuel
Samuel at Dagoretti Children’s Center

Our staff has been caring for Samuel, ensuring his physical, emotional and social needs are met. They are also conducting the necessary searches and documentation to see whether kin can be found for Samuel. In the meantime, Samuel delights and charms the staff of Dagoretti. He’s an enthusiastic eater, he plays in the sand, and his favorite toy is a toy phone. He willingly shares with the other children. “Samuel loves attention,” said one Feed the Children staff member. “When you show him that you care, he will not let you go.”

Nathaniel is another one of our heroes. Nathaniel came to us after his mother passed away and his aunt could no longer adequately care for him and his siblings. Nathaniel had a twin sister, but she was so poorly nourished that she had to be admitted to the hospital rather than Dagoretti. Tragically, she died in the hospital.

When Nathaniel was admitted to Dagoretti, he showed classic signs of malnutrition: pale, swollen face, discolored hair, a white tongue from lack of blood, and a distended stomach. Most heartbreaking of all was his vacant, moody expression. And at 2 1/2 years, he could sit on his own but could not crawl or stand.

After only a month in Dagoretti, Nathaniel was transformed, able to stand with support and grasp items on his own. After six months, he seems like a completely new child. He is now in good health, he walks steadily, his speech has greatly improved, and he has hope and a future. “Feed the Children saved Nathaniel’s life,” says Purity Nyamu, one of our social workers. “If we hadn’t admitted him [at the Center], I doubt he would be alive today.”

Meanwhile we’re working with Nathaniel’s aunt to get her the support she needs so she can care for Nathaniel long term. Our ultimate goal is to reunite Nathaniel with his family—but we’ll be in his corner no matter what happens.

Or consider eleven year old Agatha, who was brought to Dagoretti Children’s Center when she was six years old. She was malnourished, hardly ate, was a slow learner in social settings, and could not stand or walk without support. At the DCC, she was provided with a nutritious diet that enabled her body to grow and develop. She also attended continuous rehabilitation exercises as part of a treatment plan to build strength and coordination in her leg muscles. As a part of the Dagoretti community, she spent time with other kids at the early learning center, which helped improve her coordination, cognitive and social skills.

agatha
Look out world–she walks!

Agatha has made great progress, but in her five years with us, she’s never been able to walk on her own—until a few months ago. Agatha brought the Dagoretti Children’s Center to a standstill in July, when she took her first unassisted steps at age eleven. It’s a miracle that wouldn’t have been possible without the teamwork of dedicated staff at the DCC, staff at our headquarters in Oklahoma City who support the field work, and generous donors around the world, including corporate partners and congregations like yours.

Our final hero is the one who’s captured our hearts most recently. When Sarah was about a year old, there was a fire in her home, resulting in a six-month hospitalization. She was eventually discharged, but is an amputee. Home life continued to be chaotic, and Sarah found her way to Dagoretti Children’s Centre when she was 2 years old.

Dagoretti became a place of healing, including physical therapy, fittings for prosthetics, and continued rehabilitation. Sarah was ultimately reunited with a grandmother, whom she visited during holidays. And she began attending school, where she proved herself to be bright and curious.

Sarah at high school graduation
Sherlyn at her high school graduation

Today, Sherlyn is 19 and is attending college in the United States, where she is studying biology and chemistry. On her way to the airport, she was escorted by a busload of fellow children and friends, Feed the Children staff representatives, her grandmother, and an auntie (see photo at the top of this post). There were tears of joy and sadness, laughter and hugs. It was a bittersweet experience for Sarah, who said, “I am blessed, and intend to pass the feeling along to others too.”

We know the feeling, Sherlyn. We at Feed the Children are humbled to be Christ’s hands, feet and hearts around the world, and we invite congregations and groups around the country to stand with children like Sherlyn, Agatha, Nathaniel and Samuel right here at home. To find out more about the Foster Hope backpack program, or any of our programs, email church@feedthechildren.org.