Raising a disabled child in Maasai land

By: Rading Biko Gerro.

Yiamata Lootasati in her compound in Elangata Wuas, Kajiado county
Yiamata Lootasati in her compound in Elangata Wuas, Kajiado county

She wakes up at 5 a.m. to cook breakfast to send the other children to school on time. She then proceeds to care for the cattle by taking them to the water shed then rushes back to care for her disabled daughter. At around midday she has to walk distance to fetch water for her family and she has to rush back to care for her disabled child. This is the daily life of Yiamata Lootasati, the 35-year mother of 9 who has a disabled child.

Once in her home one cannot miss the sight of Yiamata either at work, tending animals, carrying a baby, breast feeding, fetching fuel wood from the surrounding thicket, carrying water containers, or building and repairing a manyatta. The classic multitasking of the female species.

In between her burdensome chores of the day the Maasai woman is also a beader with such intangible high skills built into her cultural knowledge and practices.

Most of her struggles are shaped by circumstances and the challenges of her time including deep seated patriarchal attitude. The woman is simply faced by the “triple burden”: to reproduce, to produce and to bear all the other social roles.

The 2009 Kenyan census estimated that there were 1.3 million disabled people in the country, only three percent of the population. Though the numbers are hard to verify because some children with disabilities are kept hidden and out of family counts.

Stigma plays a role in the discrepancy and adds to the problem. Families will keep children born with disabilities out of sight from their neighbors.

Mengea Lootasati is aged 15 years but she does not look her age due to her disability situation, she was born normally like any other healthy baby, but her parents realized she was disabled five months later. Yiamata described her daughter as being healthy when she bore her and it was very hard for them to realize she was disabled.

Yiamata caring for Mengea at their Homestead
Yiamata caring for Mengea at their Homestead : Photos- Biko Rading

“Mengea was overweight when I gave birth to her and we thought she was just  overweight. She would take long to move her arms, but later we realized she was disabled,” laments Yiamata.

In Maasai land myths about the causes of disability persist and in one case, neighbors blamed the disability on bad spirits. They claimed that a murder committed by a previous generation was being punished through the disability of Yiamata’s daughter.

The family did not seek out modern medicine until traditional methods were exhausted. That’s when Action Aid Kenya and Loodikilani women network stepped in 2013 and sensitized her concerning disability. Apart from education, Action Aid Kenya catered for the daughter’s therapy, which she has been undertaking for one year.

Doctors says that Mengea’s case is a special one since her parents did not realize her situation early. “Doctors says her left side is entirely paralyzed and she will only be able to use her right side in her entire life,” narrates Yiamata, a tear flowing down her cheek.

Most parents with disabled children do not even consider the option of educating them. Some are kept tied up and even caged. Yiamata plans to enroll Mengea to a special school.

“Action Aid have trained me on the right for girl child education and that why we have decided that we shall enroll her in a special school. She would meet other children with her special needs, and would not be discriminated,” Yiamata says smiling.

According to Kenyatta National Hospital staff disabled children who get care at health centers are often unsupported when they return home. For children like Mengea, the cost of traveling to the nearest clinic is too great even when care is free.

Though raising a physically challenged child, Yiamata is an enthusiastic woman. She has challenged many to fight stigma and discrimination faced by People Living with Disability across Maasai-land. Through the training, vows to educate other women in Elanga Wuas on the need to care and love children with special needs because they too are children.

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