Editor’s Note: James Boehm, VisionAware Peer Advisor, recently participated in a special mission to give blind residents of Kenya and Africa independence, mobility training and a new hope. He wanted to share through VisionAware his personal experience with the White Cane Initiative’s Team’s work. Other team members included Paul Mugambi, Hilda Mulandi, Laureen Agola, Karen Nelson, and interpreter Florence Mithika. The post was edited by Maribel Steel, VisionAware’s International Agency of the Month Correspondent.
Trip to Kenya 2019
While in Kenya, the team visited 4 cities and conducted 5 trainings. On each training day, the team planned for 20 mobility canes and 20 audio Bibles to be distributed. Security was high, and throughout the team’s travels, there were numerous security checkpoints where often the vehicles and their contents had to be searched. But the team was able to get their supplies through customs
Happy Recipients in Nakuru
On the first day, the training team and partners met to discuss logistics. Then the team set off to Nakuru, leaving. at 5:30am that morning and returning around 8pm.
The team met many older blind individuals who had never owned a cane. They expressed that previously no one had taken a personal interest in their ability to navigate independently. That day the team gave away approximately 20 canes and 20 audio Bibles. A fifty-five-year-old man named Albert was the first individual to receive a mobility cane.
The women were so moved by the team’s visit and their new canes and Bibles in Swahili, that they broke out in song. Many of them who spoke little English were able to say, “Thank you Global Cane!” over and over again.
One elderly lady had a skinny, heavy, metal water pipe that clunked loudly as she used it for a makeshift cane. She said, “No one has ever cared enough about how I’m surviving and how I’m living.”
Day 2–Visit to a College
During the 11-hour return trip to Machikos, eight volunteers in one van set off to visit a college for people who are blind, deaf, or have other disabilities. Volunteers were greeted by many hugs from the staff and students and were welcomed with authentic foods and tea. The team trained over 70 students although they were worried about running out of canes. A blind a cappella group sang a song based on Psalm; a student sang a poem that he wrote personally,in celebration of the empowering white cane – known as Swahili as “gongo.”
Training in Difficult Terrain
One of the directors gave James a tour of the grounds of the college and surrounding area, to demonstrate the rough terrain these students must learn to navigate. Although worried about running out of canes, the team was able to equip most students. Several students even donated their used canes to be refurbished! In addition, all students received mobility training from Karen and the team.
Visit to Primary School for the Blind in Thika
At a primary school for the blind in Thika on Day 3, the team was warmly welcomed by staff. The team was deeply moved and humbled when we heard there were 220 students and teachers who needed canes, yet the team had only 30 canes to offer that day. The team promised to return at a later date.
Excitement on Days 4 and 5 in Nairobi
James met directly with the heads of the Kenyan Union of the Blind and the African Union of the Blind. Both organizations were keen to discuss the progress of the current White Cane Initiative, as well as future collaborations with Paul Mugambi, who originally had the vision for the Kenya White Cane Initiative.
The team distributed the remaining 40 canes and 40 audio Bibles and also met inspirational people including a blind, female minister named Mary, who received her first accessible copy of a Bible. Another young woman who is a singer, songwriter, musician, grad student, and the host of two local TV programs received her first mobility cane.
Mobility Instructor Karen managed all challenges, including a young mother who came for mobility training with a baby on her hip! While holding the baby, Karen trained this woman and the rest of the students using the structured discovery method of training (instructional services consist of non-visual techniques, problem solving strategies, experiential learning, and confidence building experiences) including using the guide “The Feeding and Caring the Long White Cane,” found at YouCanGive.org.
This method was especially beneficial for the environment and terrain in Kenya. There are few sidewalks and shorelines to follow. The roads and walk areas are rough, rocky, and people selling anything that you can think of all along the road, crating numerous obstacles. The method encourages using all of ones senses and incorporating the feedback received from the tapping of the cane to identify obstacles and landmarks in the route.
The White Cane First Aid Kit!
Through the White Cane initiative, the team worked with an estimated 165 individuals, providing them a cane and mobility training as well as audio Bibles. Some learned basic mobility techniques to use in training individuals after the team’s departure.
The team also showed them how to restore canes. They were excited to be able to fix their own canes and named the kit of materials “The White Cane First Aid Kit.” While in Kenya, James also demonstrated the use Aira glasses to many of the blind individuals. This was the very first time Aira was demonstrated in Africa!
The team thanks everyone who helped, including the Global Cane Outreach for their assistance in providing the talking Bibles and travel contributions. At the team’s debriefing all members felt very positive about the trip. Paul stated, “This project has laid a great foundation for future missions.”
The team left feeling blessed to have made so many new friends and to have the opportunity to create life-long partnerships. On leaving Kenya, the team told our new family that this is not a “goodbye,” but just “until next time.” Further meetings are scheduled with the African Union of the Blind to focus on future efforts.