The church has for a long time been referred to as a family. Not because the members are blood relatives but because they share a common faith, pilgrims to a common destiny brought together by a common baptism through which their unity is understood as the means of grace. This grace however, cannot be experienced in full if and when part of the family is struggling in one way or another.
The church as well as the larger society has for a long time not given much attention to people living with disabilities, the mentally challenged and the elderly persons. The responsibility for these persons has always been left squarely in the hands of the immediate family members who are in most case stigmatized and lack both the knowhow and the resources needed to take care of their affected family members.
This generally calls for actions that embrace persons with all kinds of impairments in order to provide a holistic discourse that invites a critical analysis of various needs and situations that push them to the periphery as well as appreciating their lived experiences.
In this case the church and the society should be able to articulate a theology and praxis of inclusion for impaired persons marked by critical social analysis, humility, hope, and love.
My point of entry in this venture draws back to my time in USA where I had an opportunity to observe how the government treated people with mental health disabilities or other physical impairments.
To the government, the people with disability were a priority and the community in general treated them with dignity, something I wished to see happen in Kenya. In preparation for this, I took several courses on mental health, visited group homes and residential houses, day care programs, homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation centers and charter schools just to have a glimpse of what their lives were like. I was moved by the standard of care given and how everyone was treated with dignity. Not with excessive sympathy to feel embarrassed but with empathy to feel empowered. This not only opened my mind to their needs but challenged me to take action.
Earlier, I had spend 4 years as an undergraduate in India and disability was seen as a curse in some parts of the country and without proper support from the government, disability was a burden and financial drain to the family resources. While in Kenya, the society had from time to time turned a blind eye to or basically had not seriously thought through it.
My stay in Boston was short and as I boarded my flight back, I knew exactly where my heart was. To create awareness of mental health and physical disability as well as try to reduce the stigma associated with it.
Soon I took a position with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) as the Regional Organizer of Woman’s Guild Nairobi region. ‘Has my vision changed’ I wondered, but a deep voice inside me was very clear, the vision has not been thwarted. Woman issues are community issues, society issues, social issues and political issues. Yes, it was my dream starting from the roots. I was leading the women, the mothers of those physically and mentally challenged who deal with such disabilities of their loved ones on a daily basis .
The PCEA woman’s Guild Nairobi region is not as small as it may sound. It stretches from Nairobi to Mombasa crossing to the neighboring country of Tanzania all the way down to Mbeya a town at the boundary of Zambia and the Republic of Malawi. It takes over an year to transverse this entire region
In my capacity as The Woman Guild Organizer of the PCEA Church in this vast region, I meet many Presbyterian ladies who are members of the ‘Woman’s Guild” and who work tirelessly to serve their Churches and serve their families with honor.
Above: Helen and the Woman’s Guild donate food to Mathari Mental Hospital
Some are mothers with mentally challenged children, mothers with physically challenged children, mothers with delinquent children, others are mothers who suffer economic hardships, some are single mothers, widowed mothers, divorced mothers and some who suffer social stigma or social injustice for being women.
Soon it was clear that my work was not just to organize and coordinate and recruit ladies to join the Woman’s Guild but was to be a friend and a mother to many. To laugh, cry and mourn with them to help those with disabled children cope as well as create awareness of the social stigma associated with it.
Women don’t cry alone like most men do. They look for others, share their pains and cry together. As a Woman’s Guild Reginal Organizer and a mother to many, my phone never stops ringing. I pick it up and listen to their pain, their sorrows, their fears, their disappointments, and in some occasions, we laugh together, celebrate a graduation, a wedding, a child birth or other good events that happen in families.
Mrs Muchogu and a group of Woman’s Guild going to console the families of the Garissa University attack
However, It’s almost impossible for women to seat down to enjoy nyama choma (goat meat) because they have accomplished or resolved their pressing issues. women issues never end. they cover the entire spectrum of the society. Children affairs, economy, education, health, politics, relationships and the list is endress.
I can never forget the emotional moments with mothers after the Garissa university terrorist attack, the Mpeketoni attack, Westgate shopping mall attack and many other traumatic event
Having worked as a woman leader, I respect all women especially those playing leadership roles for their unending effort to resolve unending issues. I am not trying to minimize the work men do, but women issues are never ending. I have met with many women leaders and recently we held a day of prayer for this country.
picture bellow: P.C.E.A Woman’s Guild day of prayer for peace.
As a Woman’s Guild Organizer, I work very hard on helping women realize their spiritual potential in order to live fulfilled lives.
And when it comes to those living with disabilities, I act as a resource and try to create awareness because I believe that lack of information about physical and mental disabilities have led to stigmatizing individuals and caregivers to the extent that those affected are not able to seek help even when this help is available for them and some of these persons are hidden in home for fear of further stigmatization and segregation by the community members. Creating awareness not only help those affected reclaim their self-worth and speak for themselves but also helps the Church and the community to change their perception about disability and begin treating them with dignity.
Hellen Muchogu is married to Mr. Samuel G. Muchogu. They have 3 children and 5 grandchildren. Hellen also spend her free time speaking to the youth, young adults and married couples. Hellen grew up in a family that love to sing and together with her siblings, they have recorded and produced a CD “Matukuini Maya” (the world of today.)