#ThroughHerEyes is a monthly column dedicated to sharing the stories and perspectives of under-represented women. Each month, photographers from the Lensational network, who come from low-income communities across Asia and Africa, share their work and perspective on a topic. Lensational is a youth-led non-profit training the new generation of female photographers & videographers from the margins. Azickia is proud to partner with their movement and contribute by sharing the stories of the women they support.
This essay is a collaborative effort between Mercy Wambui, Naomi Njeri and Jecinta
Ms Lydia is an English teacher at Nkaimurunya Primary school in Kenya. In addition to teaching, she has spent her whole career taking care of orphaned children, and serving as a guidance counsellor Unknown to her when she first became a teacher, her work as a counsellor would unearth a lifelong passion for being a ‘mother’, as she describes it, to neglected children.
As long as she can remember, Lydia felt drawn to children who appeared left out, or were described as ‘aloof’. She was curious to understand what their stories were, and why they stayed away from the group, while other children played together.
Gradually, as Lydia paid attention to these ‘outcasts’ at school, she started to think about ways she could uplift their spirits.
Unfortunately, strained resources did not allow Ms Lydia to complete her studies in guidance and counselling, but her brief training and passion for the subject were enough to land her a first job: an assignment as teacher and guidance counselor at a local primary school in Ongata Rongai, Nairobi.
It was there that she came to know about the sad realities of orphaned children, and children with disabilities, who attended the school.
Their stories broke her heart.
Children with disabilities had been greatly neglected. In addition to being grouped together with other students during classes, their special needs at school, and at home were overlooked.
At home, the children were ostracized and compared to other children by their families, In more extreme cases, they were subject to sexual and physical abuse.
Most of their families were ignorant to the special care and attention they needed. And teachers at the school were, too.
It wasn’t long after that Lydia enrolled into further studies in special needs education. She felt that with training, she would be equipped to provide the children with proper care, and be able to interpret their needs to their parents.
But this was just the beginning of the journey for Ms Lydia. Her studies equipped her with the skills needed to provide care and tender, but those skills weren’t enough to make the kids self-reliant.
What would happen after they left the school? Would they be able to take care of themselves? Lydia thought hard and long about what would happen to the children. Progressively, she found an avenue to explore.
Days spent observing special needs children had taught Lydia that they were just as quick at learning handy skills.
She embarked on a journey to teach them just that: hand skills, ranging from bead crafts to farming, which she had to learn first, to then be able to pass on to her students.
It has been one year since Ms Lydia started providing crafts lessons to her student, Malvin’s story here being one of her greatest successes.
Juggling both her care of special needs children and teaching regular classes is challenging. Ms Lydia feels as though she isn’t able to offer the help and support she wishes to offer to her special needs students. In addition to being strained in resources and support to advance the curriculum for special needs children, Ms has always faced a lack of cooperation from most parents in attempts to set up workshops that would teach them how to give tender care to their children at home.
She is always trying to do more, and is currently working on incorporating carpentry and tailoring. amongst other skills, to her curriculum. Each skill takes a great deal of commitment, for her to learn, and to pass down to her students.
Moreover Lydia also experiences her fair share of ostracising from colleagues and family, who often call her efforts a waste of time “thii kuri irimu iciu ciaku”, they say in their local language, while she seats with them : ‘go back to those retards’
But Lydia’s hope is not lost, she believes that there are many like minded people who would love to see the success of these children as much as her.
We also hope that by shining the spotlight on her great work, Ms Lydia can receive attention, and the support needed to further advance her work with vulnerable children.