Our meeting was pre-arranged. John Opar came highly recommended by a fellow staff member at Heaven’s Family, and I was looking forward to meeting him on my upcoming trip to Kenya. But when I learned that he worked for a Kenyan government agency, I started having second thoughts.
It pains me to see disabled children and adults neglected, and I didn’t want to interface with another inefficient and underfunded government program in the developing world. But, since our meeting had already been arranged, I kept my appointment with John.
When we met, I quickly learned that John is a believer. And I also learned that he is disabled himself. As coordinator for People with Disabilities in Bungoma County, John’s responsibility is to utilize what meager help the Kenyan government allocates for disabled peoples in his rural region of Western Kenya. John shared with me his remarkable story…
As a young boy, John contracted polio, which severely weakened his legs and forced him to scoot on his hands and knees to get around. Other children treated him differently, sometimes cruelly. Even his own siblings mocked him. He regularly spent his days confined in a pit, where he learned to stand upright by bracing himself against the dirt walls using his upper body strength.
The story of most children growing up with disabilities in desperately poor circumstances ends right there. Parents keep them hidden due to embarrassment, fear of harassment by neighbors who view disabled children as a curse, ignorance about how to meet their child’s needs, or poverty. Often, it’s all of the above.
But John was one of the more fortunate children. As a child he was sent to Joy Valley School for Special Needs, where he was provided with compassionate care, leg surgery, and a basic education that prepared him for higher education as a young adult. Now in his mid-30s, John has a professional career (currently pursuing his Masters degree in social work), and he is married with four children.
I asked John if we could visit Joy Valley School, and during our slow drive there, he explained his frustration with limited government funding for the disabled. His agency usually allocates funds directly to care facilities to help with meals and teacher salaries, but funding is grossly insufficient. And students at such facilities are still expected to pay school fees—a cost many families are too poor to afford.
Our unannounced arrival was greeted with a little suspicion (me being a white foreigner didn’t help, nor did my camera with a big zoom lens). For his part, John had not been back to visit the school for nearly 20 years. Senior staff soon recognized him, however, and sincere smiles quickly diffused the less-than-comfortable situation.
As we toured the school, I could see the emotion on John’s face—forgotten memories surfaced about the place he called home for so many years. And seeing the help that disabled children were receiving—contrasted with the typical plight of Kenya’s disabled children—helped me understand the best way that Heaven’s Family’s Disabilities Ministry can make a difference.
Just by providing some funding, more disabled boys and girls whose families are too poor to send them to Joy Valley (or other facilities doing equally admirable work in rural areas of Kenya) could attend. Their stories can be like John’s story.
Since that trip, John has become not only a friend, but a partner of the Disabilities Ministry, giving us some of his personal time. Together, we’ve been able to help several impoverished children with disabilities attend Joy Valley.
My desire is for John to reach every disabled child with medical help, schooling, and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Thank you so much for your continued support of the Disabilities Ministry of Heaven’s Family! Your faithful giving enables us to continue to bless disabled children in impoverished nations around the world with the overwhelming love of Jesus Christ.