When Maria Omare and I studied for tests and exams, we were barely friends. But she was the girl in my large class of 130 people I cared little for who founded a non-governmental organization for physically and intellectually challenged children. I would be lying if I said that I have a soft spot for children in general. They do light me up, I have a baby-sitting history, I interact with them quite a bit, but I don’t sigh too deeply when I see a beautiful baby. I offer to change diapers because it needs to be done and I don’t like to be uncomfortable either. I will feed a child. I will play with children and read to them and be the one their parents call when they want to ask what stars are or what an omnivore is. Yet here I am still wondering whether I want children of my own; mostly because I believe that parenting is a sacred task, not a hobby or task or part-time fulfillment of societal expectations, and as such I have a problem with settling for the role as a good mother as opposed to a fantastic mother like my own.
The Action Foundation is an organization started by Maria while she was still in campus. On many weekends, while most of the campus populace was busy getting drunk or going out for hikes or sleeping in, Maria and a few volunteers would visit various schools to engage in fun activities and some educational programs for children with autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and other such challenges. I went along a handful of times as a volunteer, but stopped after leaving campus. However, I met Joe Mwendwa, who is a clinical psychologist and good friend who works with autistic children. With time, I met people I knew who had a physically and/or intellectually challenged child, friend or sibling. Needless to say, It all started with my encounters at The Action Foundation. What I distinctly recall is the fun and life-changing children I met who made me look at life differently. I stopped taking smiles, physical touch, art and music for granted. I learned that life is precious and fragile and beautiful irrespective of the wrapping it comes with.
Simon is my favourite story to this day. He has autism and he is greatly gifted. He is tall and handsome and quiet and can make beautiful throw rugs once the pattern has been drawn and cut out for him. I met at a school in Nairobi one one of the play days. Since he can only follow sequences, he would write numbers one to ten in their correct order and get confused if he stopped halfway because something more interesting got his attention. At this point, I would start the sequence with him and he’d be okay on his on from there. At one point, quite out of the blue, Simon reached out and touched my cheek. I have never worked so hard at suppressing the urge to burst into tears. My eyes are welling up as I type this.
You see, people like Maria know that they are helping children and families get by easier, but they are less likely to receive a “Thank-you” from people like myself whose lives have been changed through what they do. This post is my little way of saying that The Action Foundation was the beginning of many beautiful experiences in my life and the lives of so many others who have been inspired by the human angels who yet walk this earth. Maria Omare and The Action Foundation volunteers, on behalf of everyone who may have or may have not already said this, thank-you.