World Mental Health Day 2017

Simon Ariang’ playing with Lego blocks as Mrs.Mary Benjamin, his head teacher at Turkwel Pre-shool looks on(photo by Ann Kathure)

“I like playing with Legos, but I prefer going to the other class more,” 7 year old Simon Ariang, mentally challenged South Sudanese boy quips. Although he suffers from mild autism he likes engaging with his peers in the other classes more.

Simon is a student at Turkwel  pre-school Kakuma enrolled in the special needs class where he and other 22 students come to learn basic living skills and play learning. He is diagnosed with mild autism and sometimes learning is a challenge. Although struggling, he speaks fluent Swahili and can also understand when spoken to. Due to his ability to learn faster than the rest in the class, he is often referred to the classrooms with the typically developing students who blend in well with him. He may at times forget things or be slow to remember but the Individualized education system which was introduced to the school for extended teaching beyond usual school roaster helps him to catch up.

Their curriculum for the mentally challenged mainly consists of drawing, playing with Lego bricks and basic living skills like how to bath, count, go to the bathroom among others.

Turkwel Pre-School has a total of about 1200 students who encompass those with special needs as well as the typical students.The mix of students helps in self-development however proves difficult to manage especially for the students with special needs. The school currently has 3 specially trained teachers who handle the special needs however there needs to be additional caregivers who watch over them during breaks and in class.

Mrs. Mary Benjamin the head teacher states that the challenge is usually in providing adequate care to the special needs students. “They are children who most times don’t consider themselves being different, so mostly have a tendency to join their typical peers in play and learning, we try to manage them without segregation for their safety, she says.”

Mary states that on days where there is provision of porridge the attendance increases, as it is a major motivator for the children who barely get 3 meals a day. “If it were possible we would be able to give porridge during break time every day of the week,” she says.


Abraham Makwach a parent to Malwal, a student at Turkwel Pre-school who is diagnosed with grand mal epilepsy says that Malwal looks forward to going to school irrespective of him being different.

“I push him on a tri-cycle to school every day, however difficult his treatment is, Malwal has changed so much with time as he used to be a very aggressive child. After school he has toned down and he engages with others calmly, he also tries to do normal daily activities like bathing himself by as they are taught in school,” he says. “The community after watching Malwal’s change has been motivated to bring their children with special needs to school too” he adds.

LWF receives support for special needs students from donors such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees –Kenya (UNHCR Kenya), Australian Lutheran World Federation (ALWS), Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration(BPRM) . LWF is able to continue providing assistance students with special needs within 6 pre-schools in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Their challenges offer many gaps in addressing their needs, like few care givers, less porridge to schools which leads to reduced attendance and also inadequate assistive devices to the challenged children.

LWF besides providing special education, also carries out home visits, gives soaps, clothes and sanitary kits to girls. On this World Mental Health day 2017 we recognize and celebrate the changes in inclusion of the mentally disabled however there is still a big gap to be filled in terms of awareness and resources.