Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hear the cry of Anna.

When you mention child issues I can’t help but think of my cousin’s child called Anna. Now Anna is 11 years old, she has a twin brother called Dennis. A few weeks after they were born, Anna’s mum, Francisca, noticed that Dennis was a bit slow and did not respond to different stimuli as fast as Anna. He did not kick in the air the way little babies do. He did not notice light as fast, and mostly he never cried. It turned out that Dennis is retarded. Sometimes I think he has bipolar disorder as well, because he takes a drug called Tegretol. Once in a while he would get epileptic feats. As it turned out, Francisca’s husband disowned them. He believed that Dennis’ condition must be genetic and must have been inherited from Francisca’s lineage.

On a normal day, Dennis takes his drugs three times a day, which have to be mixed in his food because he has kind of gotten tired of taking the pills. If he does not take his pills he gets epileptic fits. At the age of 11 he has to be taken to the toilet otherwise he will wet his pants. He can not make a real conversation and most of the time he spends with his grandmother at Thika market, around 40kms from the Nairobi city, where his grandmother sells carrots to earn a living.

Meanwhile Francisca has moved to Nairobi to do casual jobs in horticultural centers. At these centers she works to pack different kind of vegetables. If she gets lucky and lands a job in a day she will get between Ksh.100-300 (estimated US$1.5-2) per day. Francisca can not fully support her family because she has no permanent job. Her highest level of education was up to high school. This makes it hard to land a job in a City like Nairobi which has thousands of jobless university graduates.

For this reason, Francisca’s children, Anna and Dennis, will continue to live with their grandmother. As it is Anna is already 11 years old but she can not even read the entire alphabet. Why? Because she has taken into being a mother for her retarded brother, she cooks, she cleans, she baby sits him, which leaves no room for extra studies. Even when she goes to school she can not concentrate because she has this heavy burden weighing on her mind; her twin brother.

One Sunday afternoon, it is said, that Anna had contemplated suicide. She was found near a river close to home by one of the neighbors trying to dive in. She was crying beyond consolation, but the neighbors took her home.

May be there will never be a chance for Dennis to go to school in his condition, but I feel Anna should be given a chance. Once she is educated and lands a job, she could take care of her brother or hire a professional nurse. But if Anna does not go to school, her future is already dark as it is. On the other side someone willing to take Francisca to acquire more skills to get a decent job, could change their life.

There is a lot of distress in living with a child with special need, especially if that child is your sibling. May be now more than ever Anna needs counseling. She needs to understand that it is not her fault that her brother is sick. To understand that it is not her fault that their father left. To understand that it is not her fault that they are poor. Because when all this is done, may be she will believe in her self. Then her confidence will change they way she studies. Then they way she studies will change the world. And she will be another Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the younger sister of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy and founder of the Special Olympics. Shriver helped found the Special Olympics in the 1960s. Now, more than 1 million athletes in more than 160 countries participate in Special Olympics and meet each year. Or may be she will champion her own cause. And if she doesn’t at least she will be able to change her destiny and that of her special twin brother, whom the world passes unnoticed. Whose dreams may never be captured because we can not understand his language. Whose talents we may never recognize because he was too slow, and the world was moving too fast, because there was no time to notice if he had any talent.

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