“Meet Maria Omare of The Action Foundation, passionate about transforming the lives of children and families with disabilities, read her story below”

” I would describe myself as a social entrepreneur, health coach and human rights advocate. I consider myself an introvert and in my free time I enjoy reading, writing poetry, making jewelry and spending times outdoors.

Professionally, I am the Executive Director of The Action Foundation (or TAF) where we work to transform the lives of children with disabilities in low income areas and empowering their caregivers through various projects.As a registered dietician, I work as a health coach for individuals and organizations.

I am passionate about social change and inspiring people to think beyond their limitations.

The Action Foundation (TAF) is a youth led, volunteer based, grassroots organization in Kenya located in Kibera slums that was established in 2010. Our mission is to improve the lives of children with disabilities in low-income areas and enable them to lead healthy and dignified lives. Since March 2012, we have been operating a rehabilitation center for special needs children at Mashimoni Village in the heart of Kibera. Most families that we encounter cannot provide their children with disabilities with the special care and nutrition critical to the child’s development, due to lack of financial means, skills, and knowledge. We initiated “Zambarau” a social enterprise which works to empower the mothers of the children to produce hand crafted jewelry and accessories and this has helped to support their livelihoods.We also have a parent-support component in our rehabilitation program where the parents are given technical skills and knowledge to care for their children and ensure that they have proper nutrition.

After completing rehabilitation at The Action Foundation, children are integrated into society to the extent possible, for example through enrollment into special and mainstream schools. TAF also works with volunteer doctors to enable the children receive medical and at times surgical procedures at a reduced or no cost.

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I was inspired to start The Action Foundation when  my experience as a volunteer opened my world to the realities of the lives of special needs children. In my second year at Kenyatta University where I studied Food, Nutrition and Dietetics, I volunteered at a sports camp organized by Special Olympics Kenya as a nutrition and health trainer during school breaks. Working with the children was a beautiful and life-changing experience and at the end some of the children had achieved milestones such as increased mobility, self-confidence and improved social skills.

The organization initially started out with reaching out to children with disabilities in schools in Nairobi, including those in Kibera and Mathare slums, through sports, art and giving health talks. As a nutritionist, I understood too well that special needs children are at risk of nutritional deficiencies because of feeding related problems, more so in the case of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Cerebral Palsy. I was thus giving nutrition talks to parents of children with disabilities. As a result of holding disability awareness events, we were able to recruit more people to be part of the work

We encountered cases of neglect and physical abuse particularly in the slum areas. Girls with disabilities suffer double discrimination because of their gender and impairment and are more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse. This led us to specifically focus on children with disabilities in low income areas, as we felt that is where help is needed the most.My experience of growing up with a visually impaired cousin, Lawrence also cultivated my interest in disability issues.

What keeps me going…

Being positive and the joy of knowing that my life has a higher purpose keeps me going. Four years down the line we have had quite a bit of recognition nationally and internationally, which also includes the awards and fellowships I have received. In May 2014 I won a SET Africa award for Social Innovation  alongside other 24 young leaders selected across Anglophone Africa. In  March this year we were 2nd place in our category at the National Disability Inclusion Awards organized by Action for Children with Disabilities.

The most important award to me however is bringing real change into the lives of the special needs children we serve.My idea of success is being at peace with myself and inspiring change in others. I am glad to have found something that fulfills this and that keeps me going.

Impact….

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The way we measure impact at The Action Foundation goes beyond the numbers of children who have benefited from our services. Going a step further, we seek to ensure sustainable change in quality of life of the child and that of their families. Understanding that the children come from a community where isolation and discrimination is rampant, we also work to change perceptions and attitudes towards disability. This is in the long run helps to achieve an inclusive community for all, despite our different abilities.

 TAF has provided physiotherapy, day care and nutritional care to 36 special needs children, 12 of whom have gained the ability to walk thanks to corrective surgeries we have facilitated with the help of our partners. Some of children have graduated from the rehabilitation program and gone to schools through partial scholarships and others will be graduating at the end of this year. The Action Foundation has also been able to bring together young people from within and outside Kibera to work together towards our vision. I believe in that one of the greatest resources we have is the individuals who over the years have invested their skills and passion in our work as this has helped us grow.

What inspires me every day….

Seeing to the lives of children with disabilities transformed inspires me every single day, I am excited that children at the center are learning slowly but  learning to walk, talk,  feed themselves, bathe,  groom and clothe themselves. They are able to zip buttons, adjust braces, cut nails, brush teeth and many other skills. The children are slowly being integrated into the society and no longer viewed   as social isolates; they are gaining social skills to play and even to interact with their peers.

The future I envision for The Action Foundation…

The challenges faced by children with disabilities cut across the continent and we are definitely looking at expanding to other regions in Africa in the future. We endeavor to collaborate with other like-minded organizations to make inclusion and equal access to opportunities a reality to all children. Our approach can be scaled to other countries in Africa and this is part of our broader vision .We also want to be part of initiatives that will develop local solutions to the health and social problems faced by special needs children in Africa.

How you can partner with us…

We invite people to sign up to volunteer through our website. In kind, donations of dry food items, diapers, toys, and physiotherapy equipments can be dropped off at our center at Frepals building in Kibera or we can arrange to pick them up.

Cash donations can be made online through the donate page in our website or by M-PESA- PayBill number 542564, Acc No: TAF. For further information call +254 717 038 401 or email info@theactionfoundationkenya.org. 

You  can also visit us at our center any day from Monday to Saturday. We are open from 8am to 3pm.

Facebook : The Action Foundation (Kenya)

Twitter: @TheActionKenya

Contacts of the The Action Foundation and  links

www.theactionfoundationkenya.org

info@theactionfoundationkenya.org

http://www.theactionfoundationkenya.org/blog/

 

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